With the introduction of the Nuova Fiat 500 to North America three European nations have reincarnated their iconic cars for a new era. Naturally, this means France must do something to refresh the look and feel and architecture of the Citroen 2CV. The 2011 Fiat 500 is a little too cheap to be a direct competitor for the Mini Cooper and far too cool to be a direct competitor for the Volkswagen New Beetle.
Tiny, but not too small, the Fiat 500 – or Cinquecento Nuova in Italian – will be a highly efficient and fun-to-drive remake of the original 1950s Cinquecento, the car which put Italy on wheels by moving the game on from the handsome Fiat 500 Topolino. Of course, like the Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle, the old 500 was rear-engined. Both the new 500 and the New Beetle are front-engined, front-wheel drive hatchbacks, leaving the rear-engined market to the smart fortwo and Porsche 911. As for the fascimile quotient, the new Fiat 500 really is a spectacular-looking machine. Not as delicate as the original, the latest 500 does modernize in all the right places while maintaining the alluring shape.
BMW has been able to keep demand alive for the modern Mini Cooper by continually adding new models and attempting to make sure potential owners realize their car need not look like any other new Mini on the road. The second-generation new Mini gained girth in all the wrong places. Thus, there is no doubt that 50 years from now the first-gen replacement for the Issigonis-designed Mini will be more collectable. But even though Mini’s facsimile quotient is tremendously high, the new Mini has always been able to do what the Volkswagen New Beetle couldn’t: remain cool.
Although it may not seem like it now, the Volkswagen New Beetle was a hot ticket when it first arrived in North America back in the late 90s. If we’re to be honest, we’ll all admit the popularity of the 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle stemmed mainly from the obsession many had with the original Type 1 Beetle of decades past. The New Beetle wasn’t – and isn’t – as practical as the Mk4 Volkswagen Golf on which it’s based; nor was it a sportier or faster or cheaper alternative. No, the Volkswagen New Beetle was and is a fashion purchase. Volkswagen sold 55,842 New Beetles in America in 1998. Far less successful now, the New Beetle still manages to put up decent numbers: 730 in the U.S. in October; 15,477 in 2010 through Hallowe’en. Comparing the style of the New Beetle with the original isn’t a flattering experience for the newer car. Overly bulbous, the New Beetle’s design works too hard to be cheerful. The original Type 1 Beetle just was a happy-go-lucky car, no effort required. That said, the facsimile quotient is very high.