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Although it won't arrive in America until early next year, the U.S-spec version of the 2012 Fiat 500 is making its debut in Los Angeles. Fiat plans to launch the car in Sport, Pop and Lounge trims, with the eagerly-awaited Fiat 500C Cabrio to follow sometime in the spring and more potent Abarth-enhanced variations of the diminutive "Cinquecento" waiting in the wings.

>See more new cars unveiled at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

While calling it "an icon of efficient personal transportation," Doug Betts, Senior Vice President -- Quality, Chrysler Group LLC, noted that "we adapted the entire vehicle while retaining its Italian essence. As we enhanced it to match North American driving conditions and consumer expectations, we also made sure to preserve the world-class fit-and-finish standards achieved by Fiat's development team."

The Americanization process of the Fiat 500 began with a number of structural enhancements to ensure that it meets all Federal crash requirements along with a handful of minor cosmetic tweaks that help differentiate the individual models. This chic A-segment urborunner also received a comprehensive suspension revamp to keep it Euro nimble but provide a smoother, better controlled ride. All verisons also are fitted with stability/traction control and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes.

Inside, the 2012 Fiat 500's stylish but definitely subcompact cabin enjoys significant improvements to the acoustics as well as to the seat design, which can be had in any of 14 different color/trim combos of cloth and/or leather. Buyers can even choose a Black or Ivory colored center console garnish for additional personalization. Key standards include power windows/lock/mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system and seven airbags while a premium Bose mini system and a power sunroof are optional.

Functionally, the 2012 Fiat 500 is fitted with a single "concentric" instrument cluster that uniquely integrates its speedometer, tachometer and trip computer in a distinctive and colorful but user-friendly manner. The central LCD monitor can display pictograms from an available Tom-Tom portable vehicle navigation system that integrates with the optional Blue & Me Handsfree Communication technology (a SYNC-like system also developed in conjunction with Microsoft).

Although their trims and feature sets differ, all three 2012 Fiat 500 models will come with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 101 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque. It's fitted with the automaker's advanced MultiAir induction technology that reduces emissions while bumping fuel economy and power output by up to 10 percent compared to a conventional engine of the same size. A five-speed manual transmission with U.S-specific ratios will be the standard cog-changer, but a new six-speed autoshifter with Sport mode is available. So far, no EPA numbers on either combo.

Although pricing numbers on the 2012 Fiat 500 models do not include destination fees, the Pop will start at $15,500, the Sport at $17,500 and the Lounge at $19,500.


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