2012 Fiat 500: Gabriel and the Silver City Car [Review]


“Why on earth did my parents have to move here? There’s never enough goddam parking.” Gabriel muttered to himself coldly.

It was a wintery Sunday night in mid-January and Gabriel was heading to his parents’ place for dinner. His parents had just moved downtown not two weeks prior, having finally succumbed to the allure of the empty nest lifestyle and all that downtown Toronto had to offer. This, then, was to be Gabriel’s new “home”. Although the 25-year-old had never spent a night there in his life and probably never would, he knew that wherever his parents lived was his true home – everywhere else was just a lithe branch extending from the central tree trunk.

His parents’ new place was smack-dab in the middle of downtown TO and parking was nigh on impossible. Gabriel’s Law, however, ensures that anything that can go right will go right. So it just so happened that he was borrowing his roommate’s new Fiat 500 and that the little Italian runabout could fit in spaces normally reserved for strollers and tricycles; it’s smaller even than a snowflake. After a couple of fruitless loops around the block, a snug spot between a Dodge Journey and a Mitsubishi Lancer appeared right in front of his parents’ 20-storey tower as if by divine decree. Anything other than this back-up-sensor-equipped 500 would’ve kept driving in circles for another 30 minutes – even a Mini – but the Fiat just slid in like pesto linguini gliding into a contented mouth. Gabriel even pulled off the tight parallel park on his first try. Appropriately smug with his wheel-twirling achievement, Marco hopped out of the charming two-door, flicked the door shut behind him, locked the doors to the sound of the Fiat’s cheery horn, and buzzed up to #2000: the penthouse, and his new home.

Gabriel always looked forward to Sunday dinners because, now that he was more independent, his parents’ insights into the world, not to mention the largely unsolicited advice, seemed less like life lessons handed down from on high and more like wisdom from people who truly cared about him. It was also, without exception, the best meal that Gabriel ate all week. And the hottest meal too. At this particular dinner, not unusually, the topic of cars came up and Marco casually mentioned the Fiat he’d brought along. His parents were vaguely familiar with it, despite their near-obliviousness to cars, from their last few trips to Europe. Since the 2007 release of the Fiat 500 in Europe, a full 5 years ago now, the jet-setting family had traveled to the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Turkey; and Gabriel had been quick to point out the nuova cinquecento at every opportunity. The young man had always kept a keen interest in the car ever since its debut, loving its chic looks and compact footprint, and he readily shared this enthusiasm with anyone who would listen.

His parents were therefore well versed in Gabriel’s high expectations of the 500, but were surprised to hear that the car was actually meeting his lofty ideals after nearly 60 months of pent-up anticipation.

“It’s perfect for the downtown lifestyle. It’s cheap, fun, fuel efficient, it’s unflappable in the snow, and has absolutely no pretension about itself. I love it!” gushed Gabriel between bites of homemade bison stew, “You guys should each get one”, he joked, but only partially.

His parents currently drove German cars, so Gabriel knew that his pitch was a touch sell, but despite their professional designations and three decades of practice in their respective professions, Gabriel’s parents didn’t drive new X5s and MLs. His mother drove a Banana Yellow 1999 Audi A4, which she had now been driving for over a decade, and his father drove an Auto Union Silver 2004 VW Golf TDI, which he’d been driving for close to five years. Gabriel’s ‘rents were less interested in the latest pedestrian-detection warning systems and more interested in driving their cars into the ground. Still, Gabriel was so blindly enamoured by the Fiat that he persisted.

“It’s probably the best car I’ve ever driven”.

It was like someone had hit the pause button on dinner.

“Ever?” Gabriel’s mother asked incredulously. “Of all the cars you’ve ever driven??”

“Ok, it’s not perfect”, he admitted frankly, “the ergonomics are a bit goofy and its not the manliest thing on four wheels, but it does everything that you could ever want a city car to do! It has a sunroof to make the cabin feel airy, the slightly perched seats give great visibility and they’re even heated so winter is that much more bearable… I’ve even come to appreciate the 6-speed automatic for driving in rush hour. Combined with the optional Bose audio system, the daily grind is just… happier!”

Gabriel was even starting to surprise himself. His roommate had only been out of town for 5 days now, so he hadn’t driven more than a couple hundred miles in the Fiat, but the two of them had just gelled – like a hand in a soft Italian leather driving glove.

As dinner continued and the conversation drifted to world affairs, religion, traveling, and Gabriel’s employment, he kept thinking back to the Fiat parked on the street 20 stories below; and not just because he was worried about the meter running out. That little unpretentious gem captured every ounce of the spirit that his parents had imbued him with. He understood that you couldn’t have a big alpha male ego and feel comfortable in the 500, which is exactly what drew him even closer to it. It didn’t matter whether you had a were a Bay Street banker, a college student, a drug smuggler, a guy or a girl… Gabriel was starting to see that you could pull off a “cute” car like the Fiat 500 if you just had the confidence.

His parents were fond of their current cars, and Gabriel knew that they wouldn’t give them up until they had to, but Marco saw himself in the 500 more and more with every passing minute. There was a fundamental rightness to it that struck a reverberating chord with him. At $23,925, his roommate’s silver model was loaded like a hoarder’s apartment, but for not much more than $20k, Gabriel envisioned a car he could keep the car for a decade, just like his parents were wont to do.

Dessert, an apple pie from the farmer’s market, came and went, Gabriel hugged his parents, thanked them for another lovingly crafted meal, and took the elevator down to street level. He unlocked the car, happily hopped in, and glided into the snowy Sunday evening, content in the knowledge that a little slice of sunny Italy could fit so perfectly into the cold Arctic landscape he called home.