On driving a tiny car (Fiat cinquecento)

So I go to Lincoln, Nebraska for a literary conference this past weekend, and since I flew into Omaha, I needed a car. This trip was made on a pretty tight budget, so I ordered a sub-compact from the car rental agency. Since you never know what the rental agency is going to give you, I never worry about getting a tiny, tiny car, but this time was a little different. I got the tiny car, a Fiat 500, the cinquecento. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Italian pasta, wine, and cars, and this little car did not change my mind. The Fiat 500 has a long and glorious tradition that dates back to the ’50’s (to 1957 to be exact), and the current model is a renaissance, so to speak, a remodeling and a re-issuing of a classic tiny car that put the Italian nation on the road. Besides myself, I had two passengers, three roller-board carry-ons, two backpacks, and a partridge in a pear tree. Needless to say, the car was full, very full. I was a little leery of driving a car that measured just under ten feet long, but the 1.4 liter fuel injected motor was strong and the automatic transmission (yeah, right, what a waste, but remember this is a rental and not meant to be fun), though clunky and inefficient as are all automatics, was passably acceptable in various traffic situations, including the freeway between Omaha and Lincoln where I reached speeds up to 75 mph, all legal by the way. Though the cabin was small, it wasn’t vertically “cramped” and although I’m not quite six feet tall, there was still ample headroom. Elbow room was another matter–there was none. Shifting into gear, putting on the seat-belt was a very cramped affair, although the designers did a good job at keeping the controls and dials in convenient and visible places. The suspension was tight, and the car felt stable, especially in turns and at higher speeds, but stay away from potholes because a good bounce will jar the teeth and loosen the kidneys. Of course, the car was very easy to park, and in an urban environment, the car was practical and easy to drive just as long as you don’t have many people or much cargo to carry around. Surprisingly, there were blind spots, but the designers had compensated by installing large mirrors on both sides of the car, which really helped–remember, turning around to look back is easy if you have the space, but horizontal space was not to be found, especially with passengers. I suppose you could get about three bags of groceries in the trunk area and maybe another four or five in the back seat. I wouldn’t want to make a 500 mile trip in this car, but it does have some practical applications as a second car in the city for going to work or shopping. I had to do some night driving, and the headlights were good. I did not drive in any bad weather, either rain or snow, but I get the feeling that this little baby would slide really well in snow or on ice, and bottom clearance is very low. The AC worked well. The exterior trim was good, but the color, a light coffee color, was weird. If you are looking for a small car and you live in a benign environment like Texas or California, this might be the car for you. Buffalo, New York? Forget it.