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 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."
1 person out of 2 found this review helpful
By Cody on Saturday, October 11, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 43,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Love the look the size of it and love the stereo"
Cons: "The antenna will get water in it when i wash it"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I love this my 2013 fiat 500 pop. I could not have ask for a better car. The stereo is great and love the bass. I love the size. I do not like big cars and so I want to look for a fiat and it was the best thing that I very saw. The only car to replace a fiat is another fiat."
7 people out of 13 found this review helpful
By Qzie on Saturday, October 04, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 21,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Head turner, easy to park, fun, sporty, silly."
Cons: "Stiff rattly ride, interior plastic elements cheap"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"We've had a fun time--a perfect car for city driving. You can literally almost park it anyway, and since the Lounge model is an automatic, not a hassle for traffic jams. Seemingly sips gas, and with the top all the way down--have hauled amazingly large things--bikes, a club chair, a ladder. Not too comfortable for large people, especially in the back. Some of the interior plastic finishings have not held up, but all have been fixed under warranty. It's been a fun ride, but I don't think it will stand the test of long ownership. I'm ready for a new one!"
3 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By RichinPA on Tuesday, September 23, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 63,000overall rating 3 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great MPG (i got 43 mpg consistently on my commute"
Cons: "Design flaws galore!"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"I purchased my Fiat 500 Pop in August 2012 with 3,000 miles on it. Within 4 months and 4,000 miles, i need 2 new rear tires as it was out of alignment badly in the rear. I attempted to get it aligned, impossible as Fiat did not at the time make a shim kit for the rear. I have since gone through 3 additional sets of new tires on the rear, in only 63,000 miles. I also wore out the rear bearing on the left rear as it was pulling so badly. Fiat only remedy was to "rotate the tires regularly" I understand they have since designed a shim kit for the rear. Also, I attempted to get it inspected this fall, and discovered both CV joints are leaking and will not pass inspection. Also, Fiat has re-designed the CV joints, and to get new ones installed, I also have to replace knuckle and shafts surrounding them as the new joints are not compatible. $3,000 estimate to have them replaced and all the parts around them. Not a recall as it is not a safety feature. Also not covered under warranty. Should have waited to purchase a 2014 model till they had worked out all the kinks."
10 people out of 19 found this review helpful
By RAM on Thursday, September 18, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 13,500overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Stylish, economical"
Cons: "Driver comfort, blind spots"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I was intrigued the first time I saw the new FIAT design, so when I got tired of parking my Hummer, I downsized BIGtime to the 500c Sport with the 6-speed automatic transmission. It has been pretty much as expected. Good to great gas mileage - 30-38 mpg; kinda sluggish but fun to drive; a head turner! The ignition switch should have been on the dash and not on the column. If you're gonna put in a back seat, at least make it somewhat functional. For such a small car, there are bad blind spots on both sides. Overall it's a good car for a 2-seater. I have had no problems that needed more attention than recommended service. Just don't expect all of them to have the pzazz as Charlie Sheen's."
7 people out of 15 found this review helpful
By Ash on Tuesday, September 16, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 1,200overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Interior and exterior design, fast and fun, MPG,"
Cons: "Pot holes + Small Car = No good."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"My little fiat is just perfection. I've had it for about 3 months and have only put 1,300 miles on it. The car has enough power even when there are four adults inside. (Although, I'm not sure how the non-turbo fiat 500's handle with four adults inside.) I wouldn't recommend you buy this car as your first car. It is extremely fun to drive and people always give me compliments but, because it is small it might not be as reliable in the winter months as my primary vehicle. Since I have only owned this car for a few months, I haven't experienced winter with this car yet so I can't say for sure."
7 people out of 13 found this review helpful