Fiat is back in the U.S. for the first time in 27 years, and its diminutive 500 is turning heads. Its Italian flair helps it stand out against other European competitors like the Mini and Volkswagen Beetle. And its stability and power, coupled with decent fuel efficiency, make it a win for city drivers and people who don't mind small interiors.

But can its cute styling overcome Fiat's reputation for weak quality?

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A two-door compact convertible. Fiat launched the hard-top version of this car in March. It's an homage to the 1957 original Fiat 500 (Cinquecento in Europe), and an adaptation of the Cinquecento currently sold in Europe, giving it vintage Italian allure.

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Pop: $19,500, excluding $500 destination, (with manual transmission, power windows and heated mirrors, "Parksense" for rear-park assistance, chromed exhaust tip, 15-inch steel wheels with chrome accented wheel covers).

Lounge: $23,500, excluding $500 destination, with six-speed automatic transmission with driver-selectable gear changes--more chrome accents such as on the front-and rear-fascia accents and door handles, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, BOSE Energy Efficient Series audio system with six premium speakers and sub woofer.

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• 1.4-liter in-line four-cylinder, 16-valve engine with fuel-saving MultiAir technology

• 101 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 98 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm

• An upgraded five-speed manual transmission with new gear ratios and a self-adjusting hydraulic clutch

• A six-speed automatic transmission with driver selectable gear-changes in the Lounge model

• Sport mode in the five-speed Pop model that enables quicker gear shifts, a unique throttle map for improved engine responsiveness and a heavier steering-calibration for more feel on the road. In the Lounge model, Sport mode allows for quicker gear changes and for each gear to be held for longer periods near the redline.

• Fuel Economy: 30mpg city/38 highway

• Built in Toluca, Mexico

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Volkswagen Beetle and Mini Cooper among "premium small cars." One could also compare it against sub-compacts such as Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.

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This is a car you can absolutely fall for, and the slew of thumbs-up on the highway in recognition of this cutesy vehicle verifies that there is something lovable and aspirational about the 500. The customizable features on this car allow you to make it extremely personalized: fourteen body paint colors available in three finishes, with three cabrio-top colors and 12 color and material combinations inside. The leather seats make for comfortable front seat riding with a hint of luxury. The power-operated retractable top works well and fast in both directions. Though this car may be distinctly small, you feel that it has the stability of a much larger car; that's partly the result of the side pillars that keep the window frame intact as the top folds back like a fully open-air sun-roof. It's also not hard to feel like Marcello Mastroianni in this baby.

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When the top is all the way down, rear-vision is difficult. In spoiler mode, which is like opening the roof to make a large sunroof, the window under the roof-mounted spoiler allows for adequate visibility. But when the top is all the way down and bunched in the back, I ended up doing a lot of creative neck-craning and contortion to check my blind spot. Also, though there are 76.2 cubic feet in the vehicle, the back seat is not comfortable for any medium-height to tall adult. I could see the car working for a family with two Lilliputian children, but it would be a stretch to fit four adults in there comfortably. By that same token, my girlfriend and I found the Cinquecento the perfect weekend getaway car, as we tucked two small suitcases in the trunk and stowed some craft shopping in the back seat. Of course, we didn't head to Ikea or Home Depot for larger items, but there is certainly sufficient room.

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Whether driving along New York's Taconic Parkway or California's Pacific Coast Highway, you feel as if you're on the Grande Raccordo Anulare. It's a sweet summer mobile with some serious flare.

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