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 Ohio Girl on Monday, January 26, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 40,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Sporty drive, stylish, fuel saving, park anywhere"
Cons: "Harsh ride, not much back seat room."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"This car, a Prima Edizione (first run of the 500s) came from the first shipment of USA Fiats. We took possession May 2011. The car is attention-getting and stylish inside and out, although the plastic dash and door panel parts don't look high quality. The car has very convenient hands-free Bluetooth, Sirius XM capability, and a nice CD player and decent Bose sound. Upholstery and bucket seats are very comfortable. Once inside the car, it's plenty roomy in the front seats, but only expect to comfortably fit medium-sized children in the back seat. Driving with the 5 speed manual transmission is peppy and sporty, and it handles corners deftly. The ride with the short wheelbase and low profile tires can be jarring, and watch out for rough pavement, but I expected a bit of a harsh ride in a tiny car. I easily ran the car up to 95 MPH, but had to back off because I was heading into traffic, so I don't know how fast it will really go! After a few hundred miles on the odometer, I averaged 38 to 41 MPGs, and that has been a pleasure for such a crazy fun car to drive. We put the back seats down and cram box after box of groceries and cleaning products in the back. I can wrap a bale of straw in a tarp and it fits in there. We have enjoyed the fuel savings and I have enjoyed driving this spunky little mouse of a car, and I'd like to step up to an Abarth 500, because I really like the sport aspect of driving."
By Time on Sunday, January 18, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 4,800overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Rarely driven. In mint condition. Kept in garage. White with 19" white rims. Red strips.red rearview caps."
10 people out of 20 found this review helpful
By Cheryl on Monday, January 05, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 14,625overall rating 4 of 10rating details
Pros: "Cute, fun to drive, fantastic mileage"
Cons: "Breaks down a lot, not reliable,"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"Loved the car until I got stranded a few times because it would not start. Went to the Fiat Forum and it appears that that the starter issue is a common problem, along with the oil leaks, steering column clunking etc. Mind you, this car is a 2012 that I bought brand new and it only has 14K miles on it!The front left blinker light also just fell out! I will take it as long as the warranty is there and if it still has problems I am going to get rid of it. Cute and fun is not a very strong pro to unreliable and getting stranded."
22 people out of 30 found this review helpful
By gary on Saturday, December 06, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 8,600overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive!"
Cons: "It is small and not good for more than 2 people"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My choice of the Fiat was initially made because it was a small car that could be towed behind my RV. Since then, the car has completely won me over. I attended the Abarth experience at the Fontana Race Track, and since that day I no longer miss my Harley. This car has true racing capabilities, yet most of the time it can be driven in a sensible manner and achieves great mpg's. It is always a pleasure when I pull into a parking lot and easily find appropriate parking for the small car. The ride is rougher because of the race tuned suspension, and the exhaust noise is a bit much when I want to carry on a conversation. Nevertheless, I have begun to love the little car, and I find my Lexus just sits in the garage. I guess I never grew up; I love the sports car aspects of the Abarth!"
26 people out of 53 found this review helpful
By MjA on Friday, November 28, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 37,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Good MPG, Fun, Easy to do your own maintenance"
Cons: "Othe drivers don't like to be behind a Fiat"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"It has been almost 2 and half years since purchasing my 2012 Fiat 500 Pop. So far, the capabilities have been impressive and including the value for the money and how easy it is to find parking, due to its small stature. Unlike other small cars that I have driven that felt as if I was riding on top of a noisy beehive when cruising the highway, that is not the case for the Fiat, engine noise is minimal and so is road noise if the surface is smooth. The features of the Fiat are impressive. The last new car I purchased was my wife’s “luxury car” in 2005 without blue tooth, 3.5mm audio jack, tire pressure monitor, a USB port that can be used to charge a phone, manipulate your portable music player with steering wheel mounted controls or plug in a thumb drive to record and monitor the efficiency of your driving habits. That was all included in the base model, no extra options added, and speaking of value, the price I paid for the Fiat new is almost three thousand dollars more than what I have spent in the total repairs and maintenance of my wife’s “luxury automobile” since 2005. Economy is better than predicted by the EPA; my daily commute average has been 38.6 mpg (according to the Eco Dirve data I download on a regular basis by inserting a USB “Thumb-Drive” in to the USB Port in the dash, which can also be used to play music or charge a cell-phone). On a 175-mile road trip to visit family, the Fiat averaged 38.8 miles per gallon and despite the small 1.4-liter engine; I was able to make it up some steep mountains at highway speeds, requiring downshifting into fourth gear when the speed dropped below 70 mph (about 2,900 rpm). There are many things the car can do, get me around comfortably, (I'm 6’1”) when driving by myself, and if necessary I can carry a real person behind me at the expense of some comfort (only two, the Fiat is a four seater). The fun factor with the manual transmission makes this car a joy to drive, I don’t care to go fast in a straight line, but going around corners and down shifting into second gear pulling the car around the corners has been, to put it mildly, fun and assuring that this car is sure footed and nimble. After a couple of years of driving the base Fiat, I can only think of three things that I can say negatively about the car. First, do not plan to win any drag races with the Fiat, unless you are racing against a hybrid or another smaller and less capable car. Secondly, road noise is pervasive on rough roads. Finally, my last complaint are the other drivers who do not like to be passed by a Fiat (even when I’m doing the speed limit!) and will speed up to pass you. I say to them “don’t be crass, this little capable car can really go this fast.”"
22 people out of 29 found this review helpful
By leiden on Thursday, November 20, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Everything. This is a great car."
Cons: "None, really."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"It's zippy, it's reliable, and I can park ANYWHERE. The design is spectacular, everything is within reach and easily visible. Very fuel efficient, as well. I haven't had any issues with this car, despite others telling me it's a bad car or I shouldn't have bought it. I couldn't be happier. It's really fun to drive, easy to shift, and steering is a charm. It handles very well. There are only a couple things I would change, and those are very minor. i would have the windshield wipers be more of a variable speed, and I would add a mirror to the passenger visor. That's really it. It's tiny, so the noise is louder than other cars, but it's also lighter. So there is the tradeoff. If you like small cars and being able to park anywhere, definitely consider this Fiat."
14 people out of 28 found this review helpful