A stylish little gas guzzler

Drivers shouldn't expect huge fuel savings from the Fiat 500

The tiny, stylish Fiat 500 is tasked with filling a gaping hole in Chrysler’s lineup when it comes to small fuel-efficient vehicles. (Known for its big, throaty cars and trucks, the troubled American automaker was forced into a merger with the Italian Fiat as a condition of its taxpayer bailout.) But if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ratings are any indication, North Americans shouldn’t be expecting huge fuel savings over the competition when the 500 arrives in dealerships this year.

The EPA gave the automatic transmission version of the 500 a 27/34 mpg rating, referring to city and highway mileage (a manual transmission version does better at 30/38 mpg). That’s not bad, but writers on Auto­blog were quick to point out that larger compact cars like Ford’s Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze are both capable of attaining 40 mpg, depending on transmissions and option packages.

Of course, a quick glimpse of Fiat’s Canadian website, with its thumping music and glitzy flash video, suggests Chrysler intends to sell this small car based on attributes other than just its performance at the pump—a pitch Chrysler should have down to a science, given its muscle-car history.

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