The first time I stepped on the gas pedal, I giggled. Not because the 2012 FIAT 500 Cabrio was powerful, but because I was driving an adorable sea-foam green jelly bean on wheels.
I wasn’t as giddy on the highway. The large, fast-moving vehicles made me nervous. If you own a FIAT or plan to buy one, you’ll probably spend most of your time driving around town, but your FIAT will have to go on the interstate eventually. Here are a few tips for taking the FIAT out of its element:
You are smaller than you feel: From its comfortable driver’s seat, the FIAT 500 provides a nice scope of the road, which makes you feel like you’re driving a car that’s larger than it really is. Remind yourself that to other drivers, the 500 is short and stubby, and you can easily get in their blind spots.
Avoid driving at night: I drove from Arlington, Va. to Norfolk, Va. from about 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., and driving a very small car in the dark with Mack trucks, Ford F-150s and Toyota Sequoias made me feel very vulnerable. I also couldn’t see. Visibility from the rear window and driver’s-side is already poor, but at night, you can’t use your sideview mirrors because they line up with headlights on larger cars, and the reflecting lights blind you.
Keep a long following distance: The FIAT 500 is slow to stop, so give ample space between you and the car in front of you, especially in stop-and-go traffic when the driver behind you tries to push you down the road.
Stay in the right lane: The FIAT handles 60 mph well (as long as the roads are smooth) but it can go 65 or 70 mph if you need it to. No matter how fast or slow you go, stay to the right. That’s where drivers who go at or below the speed limit hang out, and that’s where the FIAT belongs.
Don’t let drivers bully you: A BMW X5 M may cut you off and an Audi A4 may weave circles around you, but stand your ground. When other drivers bullied me, I kept my speed constant, and let them go around me.
Watch out for potholes: Standard with 15-inch wheels, the 500 is easily knocked around by potholes, especially at high speeds. But because the FIAT is so small, it’s easy to bypass some of these holes without drifting into another lane.
You can drive the FIAT 500 on the highway, but I only recommend doing it on occasion, in the daytime and for no more than a few hours because the 500 is easily overwhelmed on the interstate. The FIAT 500 is a good city car, and that’s where it performs the best.