After a 37-year absence, the 2012 Fiat 500, the Italian subcompact, marks its return to North America with its new business relationship with Chrysler.
First offered in Italy in 1957, the 2012 Fiat 500 (Cinquecento in Italian) is reminiscent of its deceased sibling and is currently available as a 2-door hatchback or 2-door convertible and with a high-performance Abarth model awaiting for 2012.
Like its predecessor, the Fiat features a small engine (1.4-liter, 4-cylinder and 101-horsepower) with a short-shifting, five-speed manual transmission. What the Fiat lacks in speed, the manufacturer has more the compensated for with a host of standard features and personality.
The trim levels have the unique names of Pop, Lounge and Sport. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Pop and Sport, with a six-speed automatic optional on those models and standard on the Lounge.
Safety features include ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain-side airbags, front-side airbags, and a driver-knee airbag. Air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, and cruise control are standard. Sport versions have a sport suspension, specific exhaust tuning, and unique interior and exterior trim. Lounge hatchbacks have a fixed glass roof. A sunroof is also optional.
The Weekly Driver Test Drive
Two years ago at the Tour de France I first noticed the new Fiat 500 in the driveway of a country inn. Then I noticed Fiat 500s parked perpendicularly in big city parking lots and zipping along through traffic. What was not to like?
With a huge supply unwavering cuteness, the new 500 hopes to rekindle all the good, clean fun driving traits of Fiat of yesteryear. But it also seeks to have as little to do as possible with arguably the best definition among manufacturers with less-than-sterling reputations. Of course, we mean "Fix It Again, Tony," the infamous, harsh definition of FIAT.
The FIAT acronym actually stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, with FIAT as the largest automobile manufacturer in Italy and ninth largest globally. Throughout its tenure, Fiat owners have loved to complain about their vehicles but often bought more than one.
Like several other manufactures in recent years that have debuted odd-looking models as attention grabbers (Nissan's Cube and Kia's Soul are examples), the new Fiat attracts a lot of attention But the Fiat's return is based on a vehicle with more than a 100-year history — not as a novelty.
Regardless, wherever I drove the Fiat, it garnered plenty of looks and comments. The unique exterior color added to the attention. The Mocha Latte tone is unlike any other car color on the road. It looked drab at first, but I quickly began to appreciate the color as did nearly everyone who commented.
Lastly, just how small is the new Fiat? While parked next to a Toyota Corolla, a friend along for the ride commented, "It makes the Corolla look like a luxury touring sedan."
Smooth, tight shifting.
Unexpected leg and headroom.
Exterior color . . . Mocha Latte.
Leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Design and color-coordination of dashboard.
Acceleration not as brisk as expected.
Blindspot between driver's side front and rear windows.
Facts & Figures: 2012 Fiat 500
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 9.3 seconds.
Airbags (7): Front and rear head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags.
First aid kit: Not available.
Fuel economy: 30 mpg (city), 38 mpg (highway)
Government Safety Ratings: Not tested.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $17,500
Manufacturer's Web site: www.fiatusa.com.
Price As tested: $18,350.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 4 years/50,000 miles; Powertrain, 4 years/50,000 miles; Corrosion, 12 years/50,000; Roadside Assistance, 4 years/unlimited miles; Free Maintenance, 3 years/36,000 miles.
What Others Say:
"Fiat has built a legitimate Mini alternative for thousands less, and shoppers willing to trade absolute utility for creative styling and driving fun should give the car a try. For a brand looking to get back into a market it left 27 years ago, that could signal as good a start as any." —- Cars.com.
"The car perfectly able, cleverly designed with fun touches, like the round headrests, and enjoyable to drive. It neither wowed me nor left me flat." —- Popular Mechanics.
"It's a stylish car that won't grow tiresome once the novelty has worn off. At least that's how it feels so far." — Edmunds
What The Wife Says:
"It has a surprisingly spacious interior and very comfortable seats."
The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:
"Isn't it good to have options? Buy a MINI or a Fiat 500 and have fun. Forget about the always-so-important comparison shopping stuff. Both vehicles have plenty to offer. Pick one, go with it and don't look back, except when you're driving."