The Fiat 500 gets my vote for the car you’d most like to hug, a car that threatens to unload 17 tumbling clowns when it pulls into the middle of the Big Top. Just looking at one makes you want to buy a ticket to Italy—or at least a DVD of Gidget Goes To Rome. The 500 is so small and inexpensive it seems to shout, “I’m a death-defying cheapskate and I don’t care who knows it.” In other words, a perfect car to be introduced into the United States in these trying times.

Chrysler, which recently signed an alliance with Fiat, is eager to get the Cinquecentos (as they’re known in Italy) onto the sales lots of their U.S. dealerships, ideally in the next 18 months. But first the 500s need to be retooled to meet stringent U.S. crash standards.

Check out the video (above) to get an idea of what the new cars will look like. Yeah, they’re sleek enough to go head-to-head with BMW’s Mini and Daimler’s Smart, but for my money they don’t have the retro charm of the original. The new 500 calls for Tod driving shoes; the old 500 cries out for oversized, unlaced sneakers. The new 500 is elegant and comfortable; the old 500 lets you feel every uncoiled spring in the worn-out seat. But better the new Fiat 500 than the big trucks and SUV’s of years past. And besides, even a new Cinquecento can still hold 17 clowns.

Mark Orwoll is Travel + Leisure's senior consulting editor.