It's friendly and pert, with suavely executed details. And even if the Fiat 500 can't quite displace Hello Kitty as the most awww!-inducing cult object on the planet, it still comes whole continents closer than the yucky Toyota Yaris and Honda's MPV-like Fit.
The new 500 has the burden of legend to live up to--even if like us, you can't quite see the styling genius in the original. The reborn car's a fine example of industrial design, with the extra padding of the generations built into the thick lower third of its body. The best points of the design are the forward cant of the rear glass, the charming button-like headlamps, the mustache bar that spans the nose, and the hockey-stick surfacing that starts just behind the tiny front wheels, and peters out ahead of the rear tires. The hatch release spells out "500," another smart detail that's a subliminal home run during test drives, we bet.
The 500's dash may vaguely remind you of the one found in the MINI Cooper, what with all the circles strewn about. Fiat has much better ideas running around in the heads of its designers and ergonimicists. The chaotic controls of the MINI can't hold a match to the simple concentric gauges of the 500. The 500's layers of color and detail draw your hand to touch them and your eyes to linger on them. The MINI Cooper renders its interior as a sturdy homage to the past; the 500's dash pokes fun at its own heritage, with a playfulness that turns faintly sexy if you opt for the lipstick-red trim--or veers into Hollywood Regency style if you opt for a nearly all-white cabin.With Fiat's "extreme customization" plan, an enormous range of colors and trim can be splashed on the 500's Mona Lisa-sized canvas. The usual primary car colors are on the list, but the 500 looks pretty fetching in a copper-toned hue, in a creamy grey-white shade of mocha, even in flat grey that recalls the first Audi TT and its Deco boldness.