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 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."
By gosslu on Monday, November 03, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 8,700overall rating 1 of 10rating details
Cons: "Horrible quality that ruins the fun"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"Here's my story: I just graduated from college and got a nice job, and I wanted a nice car to reward myself after 4 long and hard years in college. I thought a Fiat 500 Abarth was perfect - I don't need a ton of space, I wanted a car that was fuel efficient and fun. So I bought a 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - fully loaded - in June 2014. And it is fuel efficient and fun. By the end of July I noticed the side skirts were coming unglued and there was a funky noise in the door when I was driving, and when I shut the door with the window partially open. I took to the dealership - fixed! Not quite, the door still made noise when I was driving, the window started ticking, the dealership still had to order and install the side skirts, also new noises developed in the rear of the car, the sunroof, and the dash. I took a few weeks after that first repair - when the side skirts were ready to be installed - and mentioned the new noises along with the stuff that needed to be fixed a second time. They said it was fixed, and it was for about 10 miles - then all the problems reappeared. The new side skirts were coming un-glued, the noises in the door and window were back, noises in the rear of the car, noises in the sunroof, and now water in the taillights - yay! Took it back to the dealership, they found that the rear seat frame was crooked (takes care of the noise coming from the rear), the taillights were replaced, they used foam tape to fix the noise in the dash, the screws that held the window were loose, the glass was replaced a second time, the side skirts were re-glued, the sunroof was re-aligned, and they found that the water shield inside the door was missing! They took 16 days to fix (got to drive a nice rental that smelled like a garbage truck), and I picked it up last week. Now the taillights still have moisture in them, there is a new noise coming from the a-pillar (yay!), and the original noise from when I shut the door is back. Please, please, please go buy yourself a Toyota or something else with quality. You may be bored, but you won't have $30,000 of regret in your garage."
5 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By Davecm203 on Sunday, November 02, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 27,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, good gas mileage, personality, style"
Cons: "Could be better MPG's highway, needs 6th gear."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I was tired of the expense of sports cars and wanted something with personality if I was going to get an economy car. My wife hated the Abarth and I hated the seats in it. The naturally asperated models had too little horsepower. The 500T was brand new and they just got their first two on the lot. The only option I don't have on it is a sunroof. I love the car! I get between 28 and 30 mpg in the city and in the low 30's on the highway (although the mid 30's can be achieved if you don't mind staying around 65). The car is surprisingly comfortable, the Beats audio sounds good, and it is a blast to drive. You can buy other cars cheaper, but none have the personality of the FIAT. Also, you will get lots of questions about it and lots of lookers. Especially with me being 6'2", 230 lbs. The Abarth is known for it's exhaust, but the Turbo has a great sounding exhaust also. It is aggressive without being as loud as the Abarth. The only complaints I have are that I wish it had a limited slip differential because it is easy to make the traction control flash when given gas while cornering somewhat aggressively (inside wheel wants to spin), that it could stream music via Bluetooth (fixed for 2015), and I wish it had a telescoping steering wheel, and the factory navigation is such an after thought (and not worth the extra cost). Otherwise I love it and it is one of my most favorite cars I've owned. And that is coming from a string of cars that cost twice as much. Oh, the 5 speed is fine for around town, but seems a bit low for highway. And I still look for 6th occasionally after 27,000 miles. Oh, and we had heavy snow (for NC) and the car went everywhere I wanted it to without any problems. Even around stuck cars."
2 people out of 3 found this review helpful
By Fazer on Saturday, October 25, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 29,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: ". Sounds great. Gas miileage. Fun ."
Cons: "no local dealer. handles quirky at times."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"The Fiat gets a lot of attention wherever you go. It is fun to drive although it can feel a little unsettled when first entering a curve aggressively, but it holds well once planted. It sounds great and makes you feel like you are going faster than you are. I can get 43 MPG on highway if i keep it at 60 MPH or I can get 25 MPG when driven hard in Sport Turbo mode around town.. I average 30 MPG and normally get 38 MPG on highway trips. The white wheels are impossible to keep clean. I sometimes wash them everyday."
8 people out of 20 found this review helpful
By Jennifer on Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 42,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "fun to drive, cute and great gas mileage!"
Cons: "Not good for road trips, had problem with USB port"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I love my little car. People always want to ask questions about it and I can't stop saying great things. It's zippy and get good gas mileage. When I test drove it, I was surprised that it felt so solid for being such a little car! Didn't feel like a tin can at all. The car seems to have so much more space inside than you would think, although I don't recommend someone sitting in the backseat for long periods. This car is exactly what I was looking for...a small reliable ride that didn't make me feel like I was in a tin can, or had to give up some nice creature comforts just because I was getting a smaller car. It's perfect for me!!"
1 person out of 2 found this review helpful
By Ian on Thursday, October 16, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 13,200overall rating 6 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, great buying price, comfortable"
Cons: "expensive to maintain, to cute, cop magnet"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 4
"This is a gorgeous, fun, and exciting car. one problem, when thing do go bad, they are so expensive. 250$ for a door mirror... really? This car also depreciates so bad. 15k in 5 years.... I loved it at first, but in the long run, itll bleed you dry."
11 people out of 15 found this review helpful