By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.2
Do you like sipping espressos at sidewalk cafés while chatting above the erratic screams of passing motor scooters? If you answered yes, oui or si, Fiat has a car for you and is bringing it to the States. The Italian automaker is returning to the U.S. after a 27-year absence – a move facilitated by its new relationship with Chrysler – this time as the small-car brand under the Chrysler umbrella. On one hand, it's easy to call the 2012 Fiat 500 an Italian Mini Cooper: They're both small cars with big personalities, they both have storied pasts dating back to the late 1950s and neither has been a true player in the U.S. market until their most recent incarnations. But take a quick spin in each, and a peek at their window stickers, and you'll see just how different they are.
Combining European style and heritage with a starting price of $16,000, the 2012 Fiat 500 bridges the gap between the sportier, pricier Mini Cooper and the more pedestrian Toyota Yaris. If you like the big personality of the Mini Cooper but would gladly sacrifice some performance for a more comfortable highway ride and a lower price, you'll find the Fiat 500 worth a look.
Available in coupe, cabriolet or high-performance Abarth form, the Fiat 500 is more affordable than a Mini Cooper and more gregarious than a Toyota Yaris. Simply put, the 2012 Fiat 500 offers a new mix of economy and style.
Driving Impressions Whereas the Mini Cooper is an undersized action hero - as in The Italian Job – the Fiat 500 is more likely to land a part in a festival-favorite romantic...comedy. The Fiat is definitely fun, just not in a sideways, airborne, car-chase kind of way. But never to be outdone by its closest rival, the Fiat 500 series offers a new performance-tuned, 160-horsepower Abarth edition, which plans to give the sporty Mini Cooper S a run for its money. A big part of the appeal is in how the coupe and cabriolet models combine the advantages of a tiny car with comfortable accommodations and a relatively smooth highway ride. The steering, brake and shift controls all have a quality feel, and the optional 6-speed automatic surprised us with its responsiveness. In fact, given the car's unhurried nature and the fact that its manual transmission offers one fewer gear and superior fuel economy, the automatic will be the preferred choice for many drivers. The 2012 Fiat 500 is tiny and quirky until you drive it. Then, it's tiny, quirky and respectable.
3-POSITION SOFT TOP
In a conventional convertible, succumbing to an overwhelming urge to drop the convertible top at highway speeds requires an undesirable trip onto the shoulder. Capable of operation at speeds of up to 60 mph, the 500c's power-retractable soft top welcomes sudden high-speed cravings for sun exposure with open arms.
Plug a USB memory stick into the Fiat 500's glovebox-mounted USB port and the car will upload onto it a variety of trip details including carbon dioxide emissions information. Plug the memory stick into your computer and you'll get personalized tips on how to improve your driving efficiency. In the long run it will prove more novel than useful to most drivers, but it's a cool idea nonetheless.
The 500 is roomier up front than you might expect, and just as tight in back as it looks. If you plan on transporting more than two adults on a regular basis, we'd point you toward one of the 500's 4-door competitors. The interior style lives up to the promise of the quirky but fashionable exterior, and we found the materials, build quality and seat comfort impressive for a car with a $16,000 starting price. As the athlete of the group, the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth offers a pair of aggressively bolstered front seats, exclusive red seam stitching and a thick-rimmed, flat-bottom steering wheel. The optional Bose audio system sounds just okay – better than the base system, presumably – and we couldn't navigate via artist or song title while using the USB interface, so we just skipped to the next song.Exterior
The 2012 Fiat 500 is a modern interpretation of the tiny, rear-engine original that first went on sale in Europe in 1957. While the new model is almost two feet longer than the original, it's still seven inches shorter than today's Mini Cooper. Additionally, the iconic sloping rear end is a big part of the 500's personality, but it doesn't do much for rear headroom. The 2012 Fiat 500 is available in four distinct trim levels – Pop, Sport, Lounge and Gucci, with the 500c convertible offering all but the sport trim. Each model grade is easily distinguishable by unique wheels and fascias, though the Abarth edition is likely to attract the most attention on account of its raucous exhaust note and optional high-contrast accents.
The 2012 Fiat 500 and 500c Pop include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 15-inch covered steel wheels, a 5-speed manual transmission, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker audio system with a USB port for portable music players. The range-topping Abarth variant includes a Bose premium audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels, Abarth-tuned suspension, and a leather-wrapped dashboard. Standard safety features include seven airbags, hill-start assist to help prevent vehicle rollback on steep inclines and seemingly all the other advancements we're seeing on new cars in this price range and beyond.
Whether you opt for a coupe or convertible, a fully loaded 2012 Fiat 500 Lounge includes a 6-speed automatic transmission, leather seats, heated front seats, power sunroof, rear parking sensors, dash-mounted TomTom portable navigation system, Bose audio system and auto climate control. The 2012 Fiat 500 Sport is differentiated by a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch wheels and a variety of aesthetic touches including red brake calipers and a subtle rear spoiler. The mighty Abarth offers larger 17-inch wheels, 2-tone leather-trimmed seats and your choice of either white or red body side stripes.
The front-wheel-drive 2012 Fiat 500 is motivated by a small but sophisticated 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that pumps out 101 horsepower, while the Abarth slaps a turbocharger onto the standard mill for an additional 59 horsepower. Fiat says regular unleaded is okay for the naturally aspirated version, but recommends 91-octane premium fuel. We like the automatic transmission and its extra gear, but it results in about a 10 percent reduction in fuel economy. Although the 500c cabriolet offers the 6-speed automatic gearbox as standard fare, Abarth models are limited to the 5-speed manual.
101 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
98 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 30/38 mpg (manual), 27/34 mpg (automatic), 27/32 mpg (cabriolet)
1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4
160 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
170 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 28/34 mpg
By John on Monday, July 28, 2014
I owned and sold this car
Reason: multiple cars
Pros: "Large interior, 40mpg, extreme fun to drive."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Purchased as an extra vehicle for running around instead of using my collectable vehicles. Turns out this car is a hoot to drive, comfortable, with tons of storage with the rear seats down, great on gas, and super reliable. I've had many many cars, this Fiat is one of the most fun to drive (5-speed stick). A great value for the money."
16 people out of 34 found this review helpful
By aztecan on Saturday, July 05, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 40overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "This is a great small car."
Cons: "Cup holders are difficult to reach when driving."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"The car is easy to park and good on gas. The turbo gives it the extra umph it needs to be a lot of fun on the road, and the ride is even comfortable on long trips. It is also easy to get in and out of, giving me the fun of a sports car without the discomfort."
12 people out of 21 found this review helpful
By DogMom on Thursday, June 26, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 40,000overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "easy to park"
Cons: "horrible in snow"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 3
"The Fiat is easy to park and is fun to drive around town. The downside is that on the highway the ride is rough and loud. It's also horrible in the snow. Definitely don't buy the Fiat if you expect to drive it in any snow."
16 people out of 27 found this review helpful
By fiatsmycar on Tuesday, May 27, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 6,500overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Cons: "they are a bit small"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I own a fiat 500c abarth although it's a little on the expansive side it is a very fun to drive vehicle and it makes you feel young again"
12 people out of 20 found this review helpful
By broncoyianni on Monday, May 19, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 2,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "all my friends have either ridden or driven my 500"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"bought my fiat sport, loving it so much, I bought the wife a fiat 500L hoping the fun in driving continued with it, my 500 sport has delivered great comfort and fuel economy, took a trip out of town to see how comfortable it was on a out of town trip, loved it, I give my Fiat 500 Sport 10's in all ratings!!!!"
6 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By SadFiatOwner on Tuesday, May 06, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 27,000overall rating 1 of 10rating details
Cons: "Clutch fails"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"When I bought this car I was really excited and raved about it to all my friends. I expected nothing but great things from this little car and really started saving a lot of money in Gasoline purchases. (Was getting 42+ MPG by driving reasonably and not being aggressive with it, it’s not a racer) 27,000 miles into it, the clutch failed (in rush hour traffic no less) and Fiat claims that it was just worn out. All calls for Customer Service ended in no help what-so-ever. Fiat is not ready to return to the American car market. Do not purchase this car."
17 people out of 28 found this review helpful