Forget the ear-splitting roar of the 479-cc engine from 1957 or the requisite pressure on the accelerator to shift gears — the redesigned Fiat 500 is as cool as it is technologically advanced.
The new car was unveiled in Fiat's home city of Turin, Italy, on July 4, exactly 50 years after the legendary auto created ripples in the car market with its rotund shape and proletarian price of 465,000 lire (an average monthly salary at the time was about 60,000 lire). Fiat made it less costly for Italians to trade in their Vespas for shelter and warmth in winter months.
"I'm convinced that when revisiting a retro style like the 500, we should not bypass the original concept," said Luca De Meo, chief executive officer of Fiat Auto. "When it was launched, the 500 was the car of the people, the first car for many families and women. It was popular and accessible."
Aggressive and sporty, the 500 has kept its iconic curves and accessibility (average price is 10,000 euros, or $14,000 at current exchange), but replaced its erstwhile bare-bones dashboard to accommodate a navigation system plus Bluetooth and iPod plugs.
"The world has changed and we adapted the 500 to satisfy people's technological needs," said the 39-year-old De Meo.
About four years ago, all the company's staple styles — the Panda, the Grande Punto, the Croma and the Bravo — underwent significant makeovers.
De Meo said Fiat expects to sell 2.2 million cars in 2007, proving it is on the upswing after a period punctuated by the death of its charismatic leader, Gianni Agnelli, in January 2003.
Sales projections for the 500, which will be produced in Tychy, Poland, are of 120,000 units the first year. Between 1957 and 1975, 3.8 million 500 cars sold all over Italy and it was a favorite of the likes of Federico Fellini and Alberto Sordi.
The new 500 is 7 centimeters longer than its predecessor, and the engine has been moved under the hood (it was in the back); options include a turbo diesel 1,300-cc multijet and two fuel versions.
"Fiat has had its ups and downs, but now we are doing better. We also want to be accepted as a cool brand and we strongly believe that the 500 will transform us into that," said De Meo.
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