My whole family has a soft-spot for the original Fiat 500, as my Mom used to have a bright red one many years ago. Sadly it was written-off after someone drove into the side of it at an intersection, but with the launch of the new 500 I have a feeling she might be hankering for this modern-day blast from the past. It's no slouch in tech terms, though; while the original made do with a buzzy sub-600cc engine mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox, the new car has a choice of 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 litre engines and up to 100bhp. But the eagle-eyed among you might notice something out of place; there's a Microsoft logo in the cabin.
It turns out that Fiat, Microsoft and a components company, Magneti Marelli, jointly developed a Windows Mobile-based media and navigation system for the 500 (and other models in Fiat's range). Called 'Blue & Me', it features voice activation, a dashboard screen and steering-wheel buttons, and Bluetooth to connect to a cellphone. Music can be played from anything hooked up via Bluetooth, SMS messages are read out and it functions as a hands-free kit for calls; there's also a USB socket for you to plug in a flash memory stick with music stored on it.
Upgrades include sat-nav and enhanced communication tools, while interactive navigation services, address look-up, weather and traffic reports and even satellite theft tracking are planned for future developments. For anyone looking to make a jaded "you don't want a BSOD when you're doing 70mph!" joke, rest assured that Microsoft's involvement doesn't go as far as the engine.
I love the look of the new 500, and I'm really looking forward to test-driving one. Personally I find the BMW Mini to be a little soulless and arrogant, whereas the Fiat is more cheeky. Rumour has it that it'll make it to the US in 2010.