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Fiat 500 (Carlos Osorio/Carlos Osorio/AP)
Fiat 500 (Carlos Osorio/Carlos Osorio/AP)

What Car?

Is the Fiat 500 worth the wait? Add to ...

Hello Michael and Jeremy:

I read you guys because you're funny - not because I like the boring cars you talk about. But finally one has come along that is SO cute and I'm SO excited.

I just read that the Fiat 500 is coming to Canada soon, although I'm not sure exactly when. I saw this car when I was in Florence on a school trip and it is SO cute. I just wanted to check with you guys that the car's a good one and OK for me to buy. I'm SO excited.

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Renata

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Vaughan: Renata, I was SO excited when I first saw the Fiat 500, too.

Cato: That's because it was at the Paris Auto Show and you were in the City of Lights where you spent so much of your misspent youth. By the way, the car was draped with gorgeous models, not that we noticed.

Vaughan: You noticed, Cato. You noticed those girls were SO tall they'd make that traitorous Chris Bosh look vertically challenged.

Cato: Now I have to say I am surprised you noticed the girls - you, peeking up from under your hat. It's only because you are vertically challenged and spent the whole show staring up at the models … but I digress.

Renata, let's get back to you. Fiat has been on a roll with the mini-car segment in Europe ever since the Cinquecento was introduced in 2007 - the Italian name for the Fiat 500.

Vaughan: Cato, your Italian accent is appalling.

Cato: At least I try. But my turn on Italian is not nearly as important as Sergio Marchionne's, Fiat's CEO, who speaks perfect Italian. He's an ex-Toronto guy who runs Fiat and saved it from bankruptcy before gaining control of what's left of Chrysler. Late this year or early next, the 500 will go on sale in Canada. A hot Abarth version is coming later next year.

Now the Cinquecento is one of his cars and he'll see that it's priced right and tailored for Canadians and Americans. The European version is a sexy car, sleek and slender much like the models who highlight cars at European shows - and Chrysler's stands here at auto shows in North America. I am a fan of putting sex appeal back into the car biz.

Vaughan: Ahhh - you're going to stay focused on the models now. Let's get back to Fiat.

They're going to build the North American ones in Mexico and that should be an advantage because Chrysler must price the 500 well below that other cute car - the German-engineered and English-built Mini.

Besides, these iconic retro-cars sometimes start off gangbusters but rapidly fizzle out. Hello, Chrysler PT Cruiser. Hello, Ford Thunderbird.

Cato: The Mini is exactly the market segment that Fiat-Chrysler is going after. The Mini has been a runaway success for BMW, though things have slowed lately. If the Cinquecento is a hit in North America it would mean that re-launching the Fiat brand would be off to a good start.

They're following the VW Beetle success story. The re-launch of the "'punch buggy"' went a long way to bringing VW back into the game after some very dead years.

Vaughan: Renata, my advice would be to test both the Mini and New Beetle before deciding. And the Beetle I'm talking about isn't the hardtop - it's the convertible or Cabrio, as VW calls it.

The Cabrio is definitely more expensive but it is beautifully executed and turns the Bug into a real boulevard cruiser. And it comes with a flower vase on the dashboard - a cute touch the Renatas of the world would appreciate.

Cato: Not only that, the flower is free - you'd appreciate that, the man who loves everything in life that is free.

When thinking of the Fiat, let's remember that the Cinquecento was designed and built for the skinny little alleyways of Europe and not the 401. Depending on how they equip the North American version you'll probably get a 100-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. That will push this tiny car along quickly enough.

But you'll find it's not planted to the road as well as the Mini or even the Beetle. It is, however, more comfortable to ride in than the Mini and about even with the Beetle.

Vaughan: Fiat bailed out of North America about a quarter-century ago. Maybe it was laughed out after producing a string of unreliable, rust-before-your-eyes dogs like the Fiat 126 and Strada.

In one of the great acronyms, FIAT stood for Fix It Again Tony. Its quality reputation in Europe today isn't bad, however, but not in the top rank. But for the glamour quotient that Renata seems to be seeking, this little 500 is definitely top rank - especially for the price, which is bound to start around $20,000 - give or take. People will turn their heads when Renata shows up in this.

Cato: She would pay more for the Mini or Beetle Cabrio but they both have a long track record of quality and dependability over here. As far as safety goes - which should always be a big concern in such a small car - the Cinquecento has seven airbags on board and standard antilock brakes and stability control - in Europe. In European NCAP crash testing, it received a maximum five-star rating.

Renata wonders when she can go to see one in a dealership - I'm sure the dealerships are wondering the same thing. Chrysler Canada has been vague about this, saying maybe next February. Sorry, that's the only info we have and that's no way to build excitement or to keep hand raisers like Renata hanging on.

Vaughan: So what's the advice, Cato? Should she wait or go Mini or Beetle instead - right now? I think she's going to wait no matter what we say and I know you have a weakness for Italian style.

Cato: Of course, she should wait. She's infatuated - or to be more precise " SO excited." We'll see if the flame goes out during a long, cold Canadian winter.

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 2 p.m. on CTV.

HOW THEY COMPARE



2010 Fiat 500

2010 Mini Cooper Classic

2010 New Beetle Comfortline

Wheelbase (mm)

2,301

2,467

2,509

Length (mm)

3,551

3,699

4,091

Width (mm)

1,626

1,683

1,724

Height (mm)

1,491

1,407

1,502

Engine

1.4-litre, four cylinder

1.6-litre, four cylinder

2.5-litre, inline five cylinder

Output (hp)

(torque)

100 hp

97 lb-ft

118 hp

114 lb-ft

150 hp

170 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel

Front-wheel

Front-wheel

Transmission

Six-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Five-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

975

1,165

1,468

Fuel economy

(litres/100 km)

7.24 combined

7.1 city

5.3 highway

10.4 city

7.1 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$19,500 (estimated)

$22,800

$24,175

Source: car manufacturers

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