“Hey, all the cars in this town are scraped and dented!” my wife cheerily notes, not appreciating the profound anxiety attack I’m sliding into in slow motion. It’s not my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it, but the Fiat 500L I rented earlier this week is about to be squished like Harry Potter’s Knight Bus.

See, I had taken a tip from another non-resident of Sicily – one who’s been here before, though – regarding driving in Palermo, this impossibly beautiful island’s biggest city: “Don’t!”

But let’s back up and talk a bit about the 2015 Fiat 500L before it becomes a sideways Siciliana pizza. It’s very similar to the one you can buy in Canada, although interestingly is a diesel, something we don’t have yet. This 500L’s 1.3L Multijet 1.3 diesel engine, adapted from (albeit fairly far from) the Alfo Romeo 156 1.9 M-JET 16V, is the line’s smallest and rattles like a rotating bingo drum full of pebbles. But that little engine has start–stop technology, something that was new enough to be news just under two years ago when we reported about it during EcoRun. Now it’s ubiquitous – and so are tiny diesels throughout Europe because of the highly taxed price of fuel. According to autotraveler.ru, today the average diesel price in Italy is €1.52/L, which today is CAD $2.11. (So stop whining.) Why so many small diesels? Diesels go farther on a tank and small cars burn less because they weigh less.

Moreover, beyond the fuel prices, the narrowness of the roads here makes a larger vehicle even less attractive.

Not that the 500L is small. Last year when I reviewed it for this publication, I deemed it pandering to expansive North American tastes. So you can imagine my surprise when I continually saw scores of them throughout our stay here. And to be fair, while there was some lag when it was aggressively launched at lights the 500L’s grace and, now welcome, extra space proved more than adequate for our family vacation, zipping about the hills of Sicily.

Sicily? Okay, now let’s talk a bit about this lovely dream destination. Driving here, as intimated above, is only one of the experiences you won’t soon forget.

“Sicily is like Italy on steroids.”

I wish I’d made that quotation up but an expat Brit I met said it. And she was only paraphrasing the same observation first made over a century ago by an Italian philosopher whose name eludes me (but one of the gotcha-guys on Autos.ca’s forum will probably post it later): what is best and worst about the Italian way of life, the most endearing and most frustrating, are found here.

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