It is a small sample group, to be sure, but three of the four new Fiat owners The Observer spoke with happened to have owned a Mini previously, including Mr. Karie. “I can get more bang for my buck this way,” he said. There is roughly a $5,000 spread between the two. Beyond that, the 500 is smaller, albeit by five inches, and with a smidgen more head room but half an inch less leg room. There is better fuel economy. Most important, and almost unquantifiably, there is what the Italians call sprezzatura.
Even Fiat dealers have picked up some Mini converts. At the new Fiat studio at the corner of 11th and 51st—a block down from The Daily Show studios—George Gaeta has been closing deals since the dealership opened in April. “I used to work up the block,” he told The Observer Monday evening, referring to the BMW/Mini dealership at the corner of 56th Street, on the other end of Manhattan’s automotive row. He had just finished selling twin sisters from Michigan on the car. “It’s not that powerful, but it’s a lot of fun to drive, especially in the city,” said Lianne Rinaldi. “We remember it from going to Italy as kids,” added Carla Rinaldi.
As for concerns about “Fix It Again Tony,” the notorious reverse-acronym from Fiat’s first entry into the States, Carla noted, “That was before we were even born.” With the current offer to pay down parking to $99 a month, for some it is too good a deal to pass up. Caleb Denis, the dealership manager, said one man called the car free because he was paying $350 per month in car payments on top of $450 in parking. He drove home in a Fiat that day.