2012 Fiat 500 C. There was once a car so small it made the Mini seem like a Big. A car that if you saw one on the streets, you’d swear it was a child’s scale replica. That car was the Fiat 500, or Cinquecento en Italiano, and it left such an indelible impression during its 18-year lifespan that Fiat performed a Mini-like resurrection to it three years ago. Now, with Fiat purchasing Chrysler last year, the 500 has been chosen to be the pioneer model to reintroduce the Fiat brand to North America.
Like the Mini Cooper, the 2012 Fiat 500 promises lots of character and personalization in a price category not usually known for it. It’s also competitively equipped, but you could easily leave the dealership with a reasonably optioned 500 for nearly two grand less than the Mini’s base price. The 500 barely tops $23,000 when loaded to the gills. Of course, cars like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Mazda 2 offer more room for even less.
Body Style and Options Review
The 2012 Fiat 500 is a two-door subcompact hatchback available as a hardtop or 500C convertible. Both body styles are available in Pop and Lounge trim levels, while the hatchback adds a Sport midgrade trim.
Standard equipment on the 500 Pop includes 15-inch steel wheels and chrome-trimmed wheel covers, keyless entry, full power accessories, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-only steering wheel, a height adjustable driver seat, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Convenience package (standard on the 500C) adds a leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Fiat’s Blue&Me Bluetooth phone connectivity and an iPod/USB audio interface. The Bose Premium Audio package adds satellite radio along with an upgraded six-speaker system and subwoofer.
The Fiat 500 Sport gains 16-inch alloy wheels, firmer suspension tuning, retuned steering, slightly different styling, a roof spoiler, foglamps, sport seats, cloth/vinyl sport upholstery and the Pop’s two optional packages. Satellite radio is a separate option, however. The Safety & Convenience package (automatic transmission required) includes automatic climate control, a compact spare tire and heated front seats.
The 500 Lounge reverts to the Pop’s mechanical tuning and includes its optional packages as well. Also included are 15-inch alloy wheels, exterior chrome accents, foglamps, a fixed glass roof (hatchback only) and upgraded cloth upholstery. The Convenience Group adds rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and heated front seats. The Luxury package adds leather upholstery and upgraded trim. A sunroof and an integrated TomTom navigation system are optional on both the Sport and the Lounge. Dealer-installed accessories like interior ambient lighting and exterior graphics are also available.
The Fiat 500C is extremely warm and inviting. As you get closer, the presence of a convertible top serves to heighten your excitement. The model we tested came with very stylish 15 inch aluminum wheels and, combined with “rosso” red paint, they make the FIAT as flamboyant as a Ferrari. The thing we adore about the little FIAT is the fact that it stays true to its roots. Whereas small cars like the MINI have gotten larger, making it harder to see the lineage, the FIAT genealogy is as clear as day as the shape of the original 500 has made the jump to the 21st century. This exterior invites you to venture inside; like a cafe in the piazza, you know it will be a place of relaxation and revelry.
The interior is the crown jewel of the 500C, absolutely stunning. The model we tested was the top of the range the Lounge Luxury model and comes standard with Bluetooth Connectivity, as well as heated front seats. Our favorite piece of equipment, however, was the integrated tachometer/thermometer/speedometer and calender. We especially loved watching the revs match the speed. The Bose speaker sound system was also phenomenal.
This interior is one of the brightest and most joyful places to be on the planet. It gets even better… As soon as you retract that cloth top it becomes simply sensational. You never want to stop driving and it truly makes any journey a festival of merriment.
The 2012 Fiat 500 is powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 101 hp and 98 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Pop and the Sport. A six-speed automatic is standard on the Lounge and optional on the other trims. In performance testing, the Fiat 500 went from zero to 60 mph in 10.8 seconds with the manual transmission a good 2 seconds slower than a Mini, but closer to other underpowered subcompacts. The automatic is likely to be slower.
EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at an excellent 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined with the manual transmission. This drops to 27 mpg city/34 mpg highway with the automatic, which is still thrifty, but worse than almost every competitor.
This power train pushed the little FIAT to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds. This engine reminds us of a peppy little terrier and while it may not be a greyhound, it still loves to run and scamper about. The underpinnings of this little terrier consist of MacPherson struts as well a stabilizer bar in the front and in the rear lies a twist beam axle with coil springs. The suspension combined with a 63/37 front to rear weight distribution will ensure it will be lively in the corners. In addition to this, the Fiat has bequeathed the 500C with phenomenal brakes (10.1″ in the front, 9.4″ in the rear). These brakes will let you use the rambunctious little engine all the way to the apex . When you do hit the brakes, they respond so quickly it feels like braking by telepathy. The performance of this car is very enjoyable. The vigorous engine combined with the pleasurable handling make this a complete car.
The 2012 Fiat 500 comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, a driver knee airbag, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In brake testing, a 500 Sport came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 119 feet.