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First Drive: Fiat 500

Good things do come in small packages.

by on Jan.28, 2011

The Fiat 500 finally arrives in the States.

Who says good things come in small packages?  Probably anyone who gets the chance to drive the new, U.S. version of the Fiat 500.

The Italian microcar has won a procession of awards back on the home continent, including the much-coveted World Car of the Year.  But the question is whether American motorists will give the U.S. version of the Fiat 500 a similarly warm reception.

This is a Costco nation that lives by the motto, “bigger is better,” and nowhere is that more apparent than in the automotive industry – though there are some telling hints of a shifting mindset.  While demand for the struggling Smart fortwo is rapidly drying up, that seems to be more the result of product flaws than an inherent market resistance to small cars.  The continuing success of the British-made Mini is certainly more compelling – at least for Fiat planners.

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Laura Soaves, who is overseeing the U.S. launch of the Fiat brand, projects that by 2014 small car sales in the U.S. will double, to nearly 1 million – a trend other experts echo.  Oh, and make that “re-launch” the Fiat brand, which poses a separate challenge.  The Italian maker abandoned the American market in haste, a quarter-century ago, driven out by quality problems that led to plunging sales.