In 2011, Fiat returned to North America after a 28-year hiatus, but as the old saying goes "the more things change the more they stay the same," as is the case here. Known as the "Cinquecento" in the rest of the world, the tiny 2012 Fiat 500 spearheads Fiat's return to North America after the Italian company acquired the Chrysler Group. As gas prices continue to be unstable, the 500 could be the next big (or small) thing as the manual transmission model hovers just under 40 mpg on the highway.
For now the only engine offered is a compact 1.4-liter engine that produces 101 horsepower and is mated to a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. While it doesn't sounds like much, the 2012 Fiat 500 weighs 218 pounds less than its archrival the Mini Cooper, but also churns out 20 fewer horsepower. While the 500 shows an enormous amount of promise the unknown reliability could scare perspective buyers away. The 500 isn't the most spacious car on the market, but it does have unique looks to turn heads.
New for 2012 Fiat 500 is an optional retractable soft top. While not a true convertible, the soft top model gives the feeling of open-air motoring, but with the benefit of a fully-sealed top when not in use, along with a stiffer overall body structure for a more comfortable ride.
Bodystyles: Hatchback, convertible
Engine: 1.4-liter inline-4
Transmissions: five-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Models: Pop, Sport, Lounge
With the 2012 Fiat 500 hatchback, Fiat returns to North America for the first time since 1984.
The 2012 Fiat 500 has similar exterior styling cues that made it a common vehicle on the road in Europe after World War II. The signature "whiskers and logo" face is carried over into 2012 along with the oval headlights. The roof retains the original's sloped line, and can be seen more from the side than head-on or behind. The Sport model rides along on 16-inch alloy wheels and receives firmer suspension, and a spoiler. The Lounge receives 15-inch alloy wheels, chrome accents, and a fixed glass roof.
From the moment you step into the 2012 Fiat 500 it's obvious the Mini was in Fiat's cross-hairs during production. While not as many customizable features are available on the 500 in comparison to its British rival the 500 can still hold its own. The control layout is more straightforward than the Cooper. The the available "Blue & Me" voice-activated iPod controls are feeble, but there is an auxiliary plug-in. There are more hard surfaces in the 500 than in other cars its size, but space is pretty good. Next to the Smart Fortwo, the 500 is the smallest car available in the U.S. but surprisingly has enough legroom to satisfy most taller drivers.
Performance & Handling
The latest Fiat 500 gets its motivation from a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that is responsible for 101 horsepower. While that may not sound like much the 500 only weighs 2363 pounds, so not much is needed to power it. A five-speed manual transmission comes standard on the Pop and Sport models; the six-speed automatic is optional on those models and standard on the Lounge. The manual gearbox offers great fuel economy for a compact car but the automatic transmission's fuel economy is much worse than other competitor.
Standard safety features on the 2012 Fiat 500 include anti-lock brakes, front and rear airbags, braking assist, and child seat anchors. Other safety features include stability and traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution, and a head restraint whiplash protection system.
EPA Fuel Economy
Manual- 30 mpg city / 38 mpg highway
Automatic- 27 mpg city / 34 mpg highway
- Fuel economy with the manual transmission
- Italian styling
- Low starting price
You Won't Like
- Cramped headroom with sunroof
- Poor fuel economy with automatic transmission
- Minimal cargo room
A heavyweight in the compact car class
If You Like This Vehicle
- Smart Fortwo
- Scion iQ
- MINI Cooper