Sunday, September 30, 2012

Batting 1000. (Me, not the FIAT).

It wasn't by choice this time, since it was the only economy offering Enterprise had for me. But after my last encounter with the 500 just a week or so ago, a high school friend told me how much she loved hers. So I didn't mind giving the piccolo FIAT another try.

This time, my friends in green and black pulled out a lower-level model than the one I rented previously. This meant my short-term relationship would be devoid of heated leather seats, a moonroof, Bluetooth, a USB port, and a handful of other features. The USB was immediately missed—since my iPhone was nearly dead after a miserable day of travel, and I needed to navigate to my hotel. But it was a far more low-tech feature lacking on this 500 that I missed the most: No little convex portion of the driver sideview mirror. The 500 has an enormous blind spot over the driver's left shoulder. It's criminal that this cheap little mirror isn't standard equipment on all trim levels.

Coincidentally, this silver 500 had the same mileage on it as the first one: 26,000. And sadly, the rental experience became a game of "What's Broken on This One?". Just like the first one, driver arm rest? Morto. Separation of badge lamination on the hatch (see photo)? Male. And keyfob functionality? Mezzo mezzo (the trunk release worked half the time). I discovered new territory of brokenness in the passenger seat release, which is in a convenient location at the top outboard corner of the seatback. When this release is broken, however, the funky ergonomics mean that you have to lean into the car and move the seat via TWO inboard controls (both forward/backward and recline levers face the console side of the seat). My developers rolled with the punches but egress was a royal pain in the culo. The rear headrests were frozen in position, as well, which meant the rear passenger had to sit with his head pitched downward on every ride.

To expand on my previous ergonomic/conventions rant, there are three prominently positioned controls on a body-colored expanse between the radio and climate controls: sport shift mode, hazard lights, and rear defrost. While all are illuminated when the headlights are on, NONE illuminate when engaged. Instead, tiny icons for each light up 18 inches away on the way-too-busy gauge cluster. Che cazzo! What jolly red plastic hazard button DOESN'T flash when engaged?

On a provision run to Target, we found that the back seats don't really fold down. They merely tip forward at about a 70-degree angle, providing no meaningful additional cargo capacity. Perhaps if the front passengers weren't tall, this wouldn't be the case. Then again you don't buy the 500 for its payload volume.

The ride was the same. The small footprint and short wheelbase give the 500 a bouncy buggy feel. The engine is noisy, compared to the competition, but it has enough pep to get out of its own way. And it's comical to see how much parking space you DON'T use in the 500. One of my developers commented that it leaves plenty of room for tailgating. This would be true if you didn't need another car in which to bring the grill, cooler, chairs, and foam "We're #1" fingers.

People do beat on rentals. But having experienced the same failures on two successive FIATs, I have real durability concerns with this brand. It's adorable. It zips you around town in an entertaining if not completely comfortable way. But long term? I'm not so sure.

If I'm faced with the same choices next time, Enterprise will have to cough up an upgrade. There will be no chance for strike three.

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