Readers eagerly await the often-hilarious skewerings delivered by Pulitzer Prize-winning auto journalist Dan Neil. Carmakers dread them.
Last week, Neil, who works for The Wall Street Journal, turned his gaze on the Fiat 500 and found it alternately puzzling, winning and frustrating.
"This car has a metrosexual agenda," wrote Neil. "So let's address the elephant in the room. This car is massively, comprehensively, ne-plus-ultra-with-a-sparkly phone...cute."
In other words, Neil thinks the Cinquecento might be a chick car:
"Having driven past a junior high school and being carjacked by cheerleaders, this car will slay them in the young-female demographic."
Then he moves from looks to performance. "So what's the car like to drive? Um, could we go back to how cute it is?"
Scooting around town, he says, it feels "pretty frisky -- that is, until you look out the window and see yourself being passed by UPS trucks."
He calls the steering "wildly artificial, with a strangely pointless heaviness and the road sensing feedback of a phantom limb."
But Neil turns thumbs up for the interior, with its "cheery and sophisticated console."
Fuel economy (30 mpg in the city, 38 on the highway, with the manual transmission) is "good, but nowhere near class-leading."
The conclusion: "Less an automobile than a lifestyle appliance, the Fiat 500 will find an audience in the U.S., I'm sure."