2012 Fiat 500

August 25, 2011

The Scoop

With fuel prices being so high over the last several years, one would assume that small, fuel-sipping subcompact cars would be all the rage as we try to eke out every last penny from our hard earned dollar. Not the case, in fact the opposite has taken place. Big trucks, SUV's and crossovers have ruled the day, even compact car sales like the Civic, Corolla and Mazda3 have started to slip. But there is a new sniff of life in the subcompact segment, not due to fuel prices but great new products that have caught the imagination of drivers. It started last fall with the arrival of the new Ford Fiesta and will continues to gain attention thanks to new entries like the Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, Mazda2, Chevy Sonic and most notably this Fiat 500. Each of these cars have a combination of practicality and flair but true to the Fiat's Italian roots, the 500 has flair to spare!


The Skin

The origins of the Fiat 500 date back to 1957 when Fiat introduced and inexpensive and practical car for the masses; similar to VW's beginnings with the Beetle. The 500 was reintroduced in 2007 as a modern take on the original. It won the European car of the year and the hearts of many across that continent. This 2012 model allows Fiat to bring this cute car to our shores and update it for the European market. Much larger than the original 500 but Fiat has made a very concerted effort to keep the proportions of the car as close to the original as possible. The bumpers and headlights have been modified from the European version to meet our crash standards and there are a few other teaks, but on the whole we get to enjoy the same Italian design. Sold as Pop ($15,995), Sport ($18,500) and Lounge ($19,500) and now as a convertible model. All but the base model come with alloy wheels ranging in sizes from 15-16 inches. 


The Cockpit

As stylish as the outside is, the inside is the star of the show. In a class that is usually filled with basic transportation, the Fiat stands alone as a rolling thumb-of-the-nose to boring and basic. Across the centre of the dash is a high-gloss panel that always matches the outside colour. After that, each owner can choose from eleven different colour choices to make each car unique. The lounge model featured here with an optional sunroof makes the tall cabin feel even bigger. On size, the 500 has a larger back seat and cargo area than the Mini. The drivers seat sits very high off the floor so tall drivers might touch the roof but many women will be attracted to the great outward visibility. A few knocks--instead of rotary knobs to turn up the radio and heat, Fiat has unfortunately gone with push button adjustments. This seams like a small thing but it takes away from the experience and I would bet it will be changed some time in the future. 


The Ride

Equipped with a 1.4L 4-cylinder with 101hp the 500 is not the most powerful in this class but the drive, even with the automatic, is surprisingly energetic. Not sold with an automatic in Europe, Fiat decided it was essential for North America and sourced it from the same company that supplies Mini. It does a great job getting the most out of the small engine and the driver can shift it manually. In addition, there is a sport button on all models that changes the throttle response along with tighter steering making the 500 fun to drive. The 5-speed manual is even more engaging. Having driven the Sport and Lounge model I can recommend that any prospective 500 buyer try them both, as the Sport suspension is a bit choppy, which is enhanced by the short wheelbase. The regular suspension is engaging and sporty enough for most drivers.


Zack's verdict

Fiat has done a good job of North Americanizing the 500 for our tastes. The seats are larger to accommodate our bigger backsides. Cup holders have been added to accommodate the sugary drinks, which make our backsides bigger and small things like a drivers arm rest and lockable glove box round out the updates. It has been 27 years since Fiat sold cars here in Canada and with Fiat having controlling interest in Chrysler, this partnership will be around for many years. The 500 is just at the beginning of its North American journey as the convertibles are just arriving and high performance ''Abarth'' model is due to arrive soon. Since the introduction in January this little car is selling very well, about 500 a month. The subcompact market is starting to have some life, thanks in part to a little car from Italy.


The Good, The Bad

Good: 

All models come with 7 airbags, traction control, power windows/doors and tilt steering.

Bad: 

The radio and heat controls look good but are not practical.


The Lowdown

Power: 1.4L 4-cylinder with 101hp

Fill-up: 7.4L/5.7L/100km (city/highway) 

Backup: 3-year/60,000km 

Sticker price: $$15,995-$19,500


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