2012 Fiat 500 — Small package, big fun

By Bruce Caldwell
The highly anticipated 2012 Fiat 500 was worth the wait, especially if you like your fun in a very compact package. Like the much pricier Mini Cooper, the Fiat 500 evokes styling cues of its progenitors (’50s/’60s Fiat 500/600 series) and wraps them around a thoroughly modern technology package. Quality and substance are a million miles away from the flimsy Fiats of old.
Walkaround: Fiat designers nailed the mix of old and new styling elements. Our Sport model had just enough performance cues to offset the high cuteness factor. The new Abarth model should enhance both image and actual performance.
Interior: The handsome interior is very contemporary, with excellent use of colors and textures. Front legroom is as outstanding as the rear legroom is not. Front headroom is great. Our Fiat 500 had the power retractable cloth sunroof — a high quality unit that can be opened and closed while driving. Wind noise and buffeting are minimal. Split rear seats fold, but not very flat. Cargo space is limited.
Under The Hood: It’s a small car with an engine to match. A 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder produces a modest 101 horsepower at a buzzy 6500-rpm. Torque is 98 lb-ft at 4000-rpm, but the smooth 5-speed manual transmission (and excellent clutch) make the most of available power. Actual performance surpasses what the numbers suggest. EPA rates the Fiat 500 at 30/38 mpg; our results were at the low end of the estimates.
Behind The Wheel: Fun driving is a key Fiat 500 feature. The nimbleness of our Sport model encouraged a spritely driving style. U-turns and parking were a snap.
Whines: A sixth gear would be nice for highway cruising. Rear seating is extremely tight for full size adults.
Bottom Line: The 2012 Fiat 500 Sport was a blast to drive in crowded urban settings and even more enjoyable on twisting back roads when the sun was out and we could open the roof. The 2012 Fiat 500 is an excellent value with an abundance of fun.