Sometimes, I get a hankering for something European. It usually happens after a particularly fine meal, or a night at the opera – or both. So after an evening with Puccini, I was craving Italian. Naturally, I called up FIAT Canada and requested a FIAT 500 Abarth. They didn’t have one on their fleet, but promised me something that wouldn’t disappoint. And right they were! The minute I laid eyes on the FIAT 500 Espresso version, complete with Cabrio roof, I trilled “bella!” Sparkling espresso brown on the outside, cream coloured cabrio roof, with more cream accents inside, chrome touches, and cinnamon leather seats. A car that doubles as a fashion accessory! Sometimes, the universe knows exactly what you need.
Sliding back the cabrio roof to welcome the sporadic August sunshine, I explored the dash. To the right of the driver, there was a curious slot right in the dashboard. I remembered FIAT was equipping some models with an espresso machine. How handy that would be, a ready supply of caffeinated bliss as I’m driving. I poked around the little car but found no java maker. But I did find a Tom-Tom GPS, that, wonder of wonders, slid effortlessly into the little slot. How ingenious!
Commandeering the Cinquecento was a delight. While the car itself was tiny, the cream leather wrapped steering wheel was huge, and the chrome shifter knob was the size of a Haifa orange. It was retro to a fault, with softly rounded edges on the cream coloured instrument panel and vents, that could have been lifted from 1965. And inside, there was plenty of room to stretch my legs – for heaven’s sake, there were even armrests! Some might decry the lack of a screen, but not me. Poking around the Xirius satellite radio was easy enough, and I rarely ventured far from my r’n’b favourites. This was a feast for the eyes, and the spirit of Cinquecento echoed throughout in stylistic flourishes like the large, circular analogue speedo tucked inside a larger, circular analogue tach. This was not a car for geeky technophiles, it was made for the style conscious – some of whom, truth be told, can be a little geeky in their own right. (I believe those are called hipsters.)
There were errands a-plenty to run in the little FIAT, so the 15-inch wheels and 105 hp. got quite a workout, but luckily, there was no need for major baggage. The FIAT’s trunk is the size of a cat sneeze, unless you fold down the rear seats. Backing up can be tricky if the cabrio roof is fully down, as it obscures the rear view. Those pleats look adorable from the outside, but can be somewhat hazardous from the inside. And so the roof only went back partially, which was more than enough, really. And with the tight turning radius, there was no need to be trapped by the many construction crews ripping up downtown – more then one quick and easy u-turn liberated me from traffic hell that is prospering on Toronto roads this summer. In fact, one could say that navigating Toronto streets is a truer test for a car than tearing around some back-country racetrack. Here’s where a car needs to show its mettle, how quickly it can stop, accelerate, power quickly into a gap in the traffic, and provide comfort to the driver, who is enduring endless stresses and frustrations.
Toronto’s waterfront has been hit particularly hard by the demolition derbies posing as road renovators, and it was tough slogging as I drove along Lakeshore to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), where I was helping out at the annual cat show. The Cinquecento was as sure-footed as a cat, edging into a spot here, nipping around a plodding sedan there, bursting forward on green lights. My friends had brought their most bewitching Burmese kittens, and I couldn’t stop thinking how perfect a sable Burmese cutie would look in the FIAT. In fact, the FIAT itself was like a Burmese. A big cat trapped in a small cat’s body. Deceivingly diminutive and powerful in its own right, and friendly, with smooth, rounded lines. And those alert spherical headlights were so like a Burm’s wide golden eyes. A small, friendly concoction capable of great love and performance.
And like a Burmese, the Fiat has an established heritage, so even though the current iteration has been updated to make it suitable for our modern-day world, it stays true to its Cinquecento roots.
All I can say is, ti amo, bella.