ROME - The traffic in the Eternal City is indeed as fierce as you’ve heard, but the cars whizzing about are Lilliputian versions of America’s huge gas guzzlers. Can you imagine what it’s like to almost be run down by a Smart car, as I was?

People park every which way along incredibly ancient and narrow streets, so again the very popular Smart and its many Euro equivalents come in handy — you can park them vertically, instead of horizontally.

My plan in Rome is to borrow a Fiat 500 from the company, because it’s a model quite likely to end up as a Mini competitor in the U.S. If the alliance with Chrysler goes ahead as planned, it will take a minimum of 22 months before this delightfully retro little car makes its debut here. It’s very eco, too, with 50 mpg (the same as the new Prius) offered in the 1.2-liter version. A diesel 500 may never see the light in the U.S., but it achieves an amazing 75 mpg.

Stay tuned for my test drive in the cute-as-a-button Fiat 500.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.