By Jason Allan
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
The 2012 Fiat 500 lineup starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $16,000 and will climb past $27,000 for a fully loaded Abarth. The 2012 Mini Cooper has a starting sticker price of just over $20,000 and can top $35,000 – further demonstrating the differences between the two. The 2012 Ford Fiesta Hatchback ranges from about $15,000 to $21,000. We expect the 2012 Fiat 500 to be a hot commodity for the foreseeable future and for Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price to reflect real-world transaction prices close to MSRP. Five-year projected residual values for the 500 fall considerably short of the Mini, but remain slightly higher than Ford's Fiesta.
By Bingo (ND) on Sunday, November 24, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 12,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "FUN car! epa says 30/38 i get 37/41 aftr 10k miles"
Cons: "Very lite, freeeky on ice."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"This is the funnist car ive had. Very forgiveing.Ive had Cam/TA's, Mustangs,ect..Pony cars- rear wheel dive an 2 much pwr. This car is well balenced skided on whet asphalt, sandy concrete, dry concrete, an good warm asphalt scarry stuf. Ponys lift in front an over steer or under steer (TA-heavey v8). This car well matched with pwr netrul slide, perfect steering,clutching,braking, user frendly.This car will not roll on turns leans yes but with out lift or yawl no weird pitching, its predictable!!!! No camaro can say that.,PS the pop is mushie,Abarth 2 firm 4 street,sport juuuust right!!"
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By Judge (CT) on Sunday, November 24, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 7,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great price/fun to drive"
Cons: "Needs Italian horn. Loud one."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"People love it. They point etc. kids love it. Biggest deficiency is the turning radius. Wide wheel required compromise here. Otherwise is it a blast."
By MrLuispr (International) on Tuesday, November 19, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 19,000overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Pros: "Gas milage"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"It's been a year and 19k miles on my little italian designed Fiat 500 sport. No mayor issues other than the tires, mine came with the Pirelli P7 16" and they are very bad! After only that milage the tires are so bad I can't bear to drive it over 65 mph. Replacing them will cost me over $700. Other issue it's the value, the car has devalued over 50% in only a year. I'm looking forward to exchanging it pretty soon before I keep loosing value. Gas mileage is a plus with 36 mpg mostly highway."
6 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By MrBob13 (TN) on Friday, October 04, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 300overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "FAST AND FURIOUS"
Cons: "THE COPS WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"HAD A FIAT 500 SPORT (2012) FOR A YEAR. REGRETTED NOT BUYING THE ABARTH IN THE BEGINNING. SO JUST TRADED FOR THE ABARTH. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN THE ENGINES AND PERFORMANCE. THA ABARTH IS A ROCKET SHIP! THE TRANSMISSION AND OVER ALL QUALITY OF THE INTERIOR HAS A HIGHER-END FEEL. THE FIAT 500 POP, EASY, SPORT AND LOUNGE ARE GREAT CARS, TOO. BUT IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A FAST LITTLE CAR, THERE'S NO BETTER IN THIS COST RANGE. THE 500 IS A FUN RELIABLE CAR. THE FIAT 500L WILL BE MY NEXT PURCHASE."
6 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By tom (IL) on Wednesday, September 25, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "great performance,great mpg,reliable,functional,"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I have my Fiat 500 Sport since 2012 and did 20000 miles on it already! Car is great in the city, but this summer I drove my car from Chicago to Calgary, Japer National Park to Vancouver!!! There was me and my cousin our luggage for 3 weeks and camping equipment(tent, sleeping bags, mattress). It is amazing how the car perform in the mountains being loaded. I was averaging 39.5mpg!!!I like smile of Canadians when they saw license plate from Illinois and the size of the car. Truth is small from the outside, but big on the inside!!!Despite the distance (7000miles) it was very comfortable!"
2 people out of 3 found this review helpful
By aloha dad (HI) on Friday, September 20, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 29,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "fun, European style, great city car"
Cons: "tight backseat"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"As a second car for commuting and running errands, the Fiat 500 is great. Most fun with the manual transmission. Ride is a bit harsh, but that comes with the short wheelbase. Interior is upscale for the price range. For anyone with a sense of style, this beats the generic Japanese/Korean econoboxes. Being the first run of this model from the factory in Mexico, there were some assembly defects, but they were corrected by the dealer under warranty."
4 people out of 4 found this review helpful