2012 Fiat 500

SAN DIEGO — Italian design, be it chairs or toasters or cars is fraught with color and style. As a society they have an eye for cool, contemporary and chic. Even Fiat’s 500 extols the virtue of its artful masses not only as a mass market car but as a statement of simple artistry.

After more than a 27-year absence from the American marketplace, Fiat through the graces of its relationship/ownership with Chrysler has found a way back to our shores. And while the 500 is small its reappearance is no small thing.

The 500 is a simple design, its purpose clear, efficient and smart. Take two in the front comfortably plus two in the back, not so much, from point A to point B with enough style to bring smiles from those in the car and those who see it pass by.

This 101-horsepower car with its 1.4-liter MultiAir engine technology is minimal by any standard, but somehow it works well enough to perform the task at hand, even going uphill. Matched to a six-speed automatic (sport mode recommended) or a five-speed manual there is equally enough gearing to haul around a hefty load on mountain roads or onto high speed highways. Just when you think it can’t do it, it does. But be forewarned, stepping on the gas won’t necessarily get you out of trouble.

The 500’s three trim lines also carry the cachet of cool: Pop, Sport and Lounge. There is plethora of popular techno features available on all three trims, and a wonderful premium Bose sound system — an option on Pop, but standard on Sport and Lounge.

A unique idea, Sport and Lounge offer a TomTom plug-in navigation system that works with its Bluetooth “Blue&Me” hands free communication system.

Availability will be sparse initially — about 30 Fiat locations will open sometime in March with another 100 coming during the remainder of the year. First up is the Chrysler Group/Fiat company owned flagship store in downtown Los Angeles. The 500 will be built in Mexico.

— Ted Biederman