How long has it been since Italy has sold a car in the U.S.A. which was affordable to the masses? Answer: a very long time. With the merger of Fiat and Chrysler, Fiat now has a new distribution channel and a team that has launched their return. The first offering is the 2012 Fiat 500, a small four-passenger spirited bite-size of a car that is so fun to drive.
This little car is about the size of a Mini, minus about six-inches. I lost count on the number of people who commented on how cute the car was. When the first lady started her sentence with “oh how cute…” I thought she was talking about me until I realized the 500 out staged my new shirt! This time around, Fiat opted for rounded features and a retro interior to create its splash into this pint-size car market. I think I personally increased traffic to chiropractors with the constant wrenching of necks checking out this foreign micro-car whizzing by!
The 2012 Fiat 500 is available in three trims (Pop, Sport, and Lounge), with two body styles (hatchback and convertible). The convertible version or as Fiat calls it “Cabrio,” consists of a contemporary solution to the famous canvas roof of the original Cinquecento. The 500c features a premium dual layer multi-position power retractable cloth top that runs on rails between the edges of the roof. When you press the power button once it opens to a sunroof for the front occupants; press it again and it expands to include the rear passengers. One more click and it folds back to offer a full open-air view.
The base model is the Pop Hatchback starting at $15,500, which includes air conditioning, power windows and door locks, fabric seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio, power heated mirrors, cruise control, 15-inch steel wheels and a five-speed manual transmission. An optional 6-speed automatic transmission is available for a $1,000. The Pop convertible jumps to $19,500.
The Sport trim ($17,500) adds a load of sporty features including firmer springs, rocker panel cladding, slightly flared fenders, tighter steering, 16-inch aluminum wheels, roof spoiler and more. Inside the Fiat 500 Sport the interior carries a Gray/Black color scheme, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, six-speaker subwoofer, Bose sound system and hands-free Bluetooth ™ technology.
The Lounge hatchback version at $19,500 is the upscale version of the 500 which comes standard with the 6-speed automatic transmission with manual mode, a fixed glass roof, Sirius satellite radio, premium fabric seats, 15-inch aluminum wheels, and a lot of chrome trim. The Lounge Cabrio version starts at $23,500.
For a small car I never felt shoe-horned or cramped. The cabin had a very open feel and the front legroom was fine. Jumping in and out of the back seat to buckle my 3-year old son into his car seat wasn’t an issue; even though I did have to reposition the driver seat each time.
The Fiat 500 proves that inexpensive cars aren’t required to have economical looking interiors. The touch points, (steering wheel, seats, buttons, and gear shift), were soft and pleasing on contact. Some of the non-touch points (areas that you don’t frequently feel-like the dash), looked good but felt of the quality you would expect from a car priced in this range. The trunk, although small, is adequate for a few bags of groceries or packages. If the Cabrio top is in the full down position which hangs over the trunk top, any attempts to open the trunk, will result in the top automatically adjusting the canvas top upward, creating the clearance needed to open the trunk.
At 140-inches long, the Fiat 500 is more than one and one half feet shorter than the Ford Fiesta, and 11-inches shorter than the Toyota Yaris. With comparisons like these, math is more fun and stylish with the 500. All three trim levels have different driving characteristics. The Sport has a firm ride and quicker steering. The Pop with its standard manual transmission delivers a softer ride but is still fun. The Lounge also has a softer ride compared with the Sport and is easier to steer.
All three models are equipped with the same 1.4-liter engine that produces 101 horsepower and 98 foot-pounds of torque. Fiat’s famed MultiAir system is complex and helps increase fuel mileage (30 city / 38 Highway) but does require premium fuel. Being that the car is so light the 101 horses really keep the 500 running!
Room for improvement:
- When the Cabrio top is in its full down position it blocks your view and makes it pretty difficult to see behind you
- Unique styling
- Italian sport performance
The Fiat 500 might be small, but it still includes seven air bags, electronic stability control, reactive head restraints, ABS brakes and has earned a 5-star safety rating.
In Summary: Fiat is re-entering the U.S.market with one of the first 2012 models. The Fiat 500’s fresh new styling should help it do well in the new mini-compact car category against the likes of the Mini Cooper, and Smart Car. Fiat has come a long way since its previous offerings from years ago. This is a great car at a great price. If you’re looking for small, check out the big reasons to own a 2012 Fiat 500.
2012 Fiat 500c Pop Cabrio
Base price: $19,500 as driven: $21,750 (including destination)
Engine: 1.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 101 @ 6500
Torque: 98 foot pounds @ 4000
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drive: Front Wheel-Drive
Turning circle: 30.5 feet
Cargo space: 5.4 cubic feet
Curb weight: 2,363 pounds
Fuel capacity: 10.5 gallons
EPA mileage: City 30 / Highway 38
Wheel Base: 90.6 inches
Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper
Also consider: Mini Cooper, Smart for two