Recently, thanks to some pesky emissions-related issues with the Hustle Wagon(tm) that required it to be out of commission for a few days for repairs, the wife and I were fortunate enough to rent a Fiat 500.
I've liked this car since it was first introduced here. It's small, sporty and looks sort of like a cross between a Mini Cooper and a VW Bug, depending on the angle. Every time I've seen one on the street, I've remarked about how cool I thought it looked, so I was pretty excited to get the chance to ride in one as well as drive it myself. Well, for a small car, I thought the interior was quite roomy, at least for the front seat passengers. The back seats are another story, but this isn't really a car that's made for loading up the family and hitting the open road. It's a car that was made for commuting and running around town and in that capacity, I thought it performed admirably. When I got the chance to drive it, my appreciation for this car grew exponentially. This is a FUN car to drive! The model we had was equipped with both a sport setting for the automatic transmission and an "auto-stick" feature that allows you to upshift and downshift manually by clicking the centrally-located stick up or down. The sport setting causes the car to rev higher in the gears before shifting, simulating the performance of a sporty stick shift, while the auto-stick setting allows the driver to do the shifting manually - albeit without using a clutch. Both let you get some impressive get up and go out of this little 4-banger. Personally, driving the Fiat 500 was the most fun I've had driving a car since my old 1996 Saturn SC2 coupe with a stick.
In addition to the sporty transmission and fun-to-drive factor, the interior is pretty cool as well. The body-matched paint accents are stylish and the centrally-located gauges are brightly lit and highly visible. I liked the position of the stick shift too, which made zipping around with the auto-stick easy. The stock stereo wasn't amazing, which I expect from most compact cars, but it had an iPod hookup and did sound better than I thought it would.
I was pretty impressed with the trip features though, that easily let you view average and instant MPG, range, trip mileage, etc. quickly and easily using a stick off the steering wheel. In fact, all the major controls from the stereo to the climate control are within easy reach of the driver. Also, the cruise control was pretty cool too. It has a feature that I hadn't experienced with any other cars before, the ability to adjust your cruise speed up or down by pushing buttons on the steering wheel, so if you set the cruise control to 65 and the person in front of you is cruising just under that, you can drop back 1 MPH without having to hit the brakes or coast to reset the cruising speed. This came in quite handy as I was following my wife when we were returning the car (sad panda).
My wife and I often find ourselves renting cars for one reason or another, either for business or personal reasons, and I dig that because it's an easy way to test drive different brands and styles of vehicle in a far more "real world" scenario than doing a couple laps around the dealership and a quick jaunt down the nearest highway can give you. I mean, of course the car that you already thought was cool enough to want to test drive is going to impress you when you take it for a quick spin around the lot, you already like it and it's a brand new car. Chances are, if it just starts up on the first try it's going to impress you more than the car you're looking to replace with it. However, take that sucker on a 500-mile road trip or drive it around town for a few days and you can quickly find a lot of little, annoying things that could really get on your nerves over time. So, as we inch closer and closer to being in the new car market with each lengthy repair that our trusty Mazda has to undergo to keep it running smoothly, I look forward to opportunities to rent cars that we've considered buying just to make sure that, when we finally settle on a choice, it's the best one we could make for what we're looking for.
I like small cars, always have. My first car was an '83 Toyota Tercel hatchback, my second was a Honda Accord and the first "new" car I drove off the lot was my beloved Saturn coupe. I have always enjoyed driving small, sporty cars. I was thrilled to finally get the chance to drive the Fiat 500 and see if I would be just as impressed with the insides of the car as I was with the exterior and if it was as much fun to drive as it is just to look at. Well, after a few days of cruising that little sucker around city streets and on the highway, running some errands and handling business and all the other "real world" day-to-day stuff we would potentially need this car for if we actually owned it, my final review of it was incredibly positive. It's cute as hell to look at, really fun to drive and comfortable and well-appointed enough to handle a spontaneous jaunt to the coast or a kick-ass road trip to Vegas. There have been quite a few cars that I really liked until I actually got a chance to drive them, but in the case of the Fiat 500, I really liked it until I drove it and then I loved it. Awesome car, I totally want one.