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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2012 Fiat 500 Review


2012 Fiat 500 Review
Americans bring muscle, the Germans engineering might, and the Asian brands, reliability. Italian automakers may never have been known for world-class quality, or for brilliant marketing, but the eye for a finely turned turn signal, or a pure side-glass silhouette? Va bene? Va bene.

The 2012 Fiat 500 is out in the wild now, streaming out of more than a hundred new Fiat showrooms across the country, as Chrysler and Fiat firm up their alliance and find new, inventive ways to get high-gas-mileage cars to America quickly. The "Fiat 500" is almost a two-seater, by American standards, and a small one at that. It's engaging to drive, if you're used to the subcompact drudgery of the Yaris or the Fit or the Aveo. No one can predict if this truly is the tide-turning moment for small cars in the States.

There was once a car so small it made the Mini seem like a Big. A car so cute the animators of the movie Cars did little to transform one into the adorable "Luigi." Compared to a Mini Cooper, it's 6 inches shorter in overall length and 2 inches narrower. An Italian car built by Chrysler in the same Mexico plant that built the K-Car, the Neon and the PT Cruiser?
The 2012 Fiat 500 is a two-door subcompact hatchback available in Pop, Sport and Lounge trim levels. Standard equipment on the Fiat 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 adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Fiat's Blue&Me Bluetooth phone connectivity and an iPod/USB audio interface.

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. The Safety & Convenience package (automatic transmission required) includes automatic climate control, a compact spare tire and heated front seats.

The 2012 Fiat 500 is powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 101 hp and 98 pound-feet of torque. 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.

While the Fiat 500's retro styling screams "Mini fighter," its interior raises the decibels even further. If there is one clear demerit for the Fiat it is interior quality that isn't quite up to the Mini's level, but certainly strong for other cars in its modest price range.

Other than the Smart Fortwo, the "Fiat 500" is the smallest car sold in the United States. Backseat legroom is understandably modest compared to other small cars, but it is more generous than what the Mini Cooper offers.

The car, however, is Italian. A Fiat no less. A sign of the changing times, the Fiat 500, or the more fun to say ‘cinquecento’, might be evidence of America’s changing perceptions of small cars.
Upgrading to a Sport model ($17,500) will get you stiffer springs and shocks, 16-inch aluminum wheels, a more audible exhaust note and special bodywork, plus sportier seats with upgraded material, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, handsfree voice controls and an incredibly high-quality 6-speaker Bose audio system.

The Fiat is undoubtedly a European-style city car, designed to give excellent mobility in urban areas with a solid view of your surroundings. The shifter does feel more like an economy car than a premium small car, and doesn’t line up with the likes of the MINI or the Honda Fit.

Pushing it firms-up throttle response and tightens the steering on manual models, delivering a significantly more engaging driving experience. A solid amount of fun in base trim, the Sport model’s stiffer suspension and 16-inch wheels with wider and lower profile 195/45 series tires deliver plenty of grip, allowing you to sail around corners.

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