2012 Fiat 500 Delivers Very Cool Italian Style and a Fun Ride

The 2012 Fiat 500 is a milestone car in many ways. It signals Fiat’s return to the U.S. market after a three decade hiatus, and it signals it in a big way – ironically, with a vehicle of small stature.
It’s been said that timing is everything, although one could argue the point with examples of products that seem well-timed but miss the mark. The Fiat 500 has clearly aimed true. Here is a car that’s right for the times, small but stylish in a decidedly European sort of way, bringing Italian charm to the streets of America amid a growing array of like-minded small cars from domestic and import automakers.
But this one…it draws attention without even trying. Drive it downtown and heads will likely turn. Park it and, maybe not all the time but often enough, people will stop by to ask about the car and chat you up. It all but shouts ‘ciao’ as it turns heads along its journeys.
The four-passenger Fiat 500 is available in two configurations – a coupe starting at $15,500 and a 500c cabriolet at $19,500. Both have their merits, but we’ll take the cabrio hands-down. It offers an absolutely delightful multi-position, power-retractable cloth top. At one position you have a nice sunroof-size slice of the sky, while another provides a full roof opening. Hit the switch for maximum lift-off and the soft top slides back to the trunk lid. Since our test was during summertime in California that top was never closed.
There’s no lack of personalizing available for the 500. Buyers can choose from 14 exterior colors and 12 interior material and color combinations. Three soft top colors are also available on the 500c. You want yours different? You’ve got it.
Besides the distinctive soft top, the 500c is differentiated from its hardtop sibling with a windshield design that’s slightly longer to enhance rear passenger visibility. The windshield elegantly conceals a reinforced upper crossmember required to make up for the loss of a solid top and ensure a rigid body structure. At the rear, an interior-mounted (and removable) wind deflector is strategically positioned to minimize wind buffeting with the topside opened up and the sky upon you.
A roof-mounted spoiler at the rear of the 500c aids aerodynamics and serves as the site for integrating the car’s center high-mounted stop lamp, enabling it to function with the top up or down. When access to the trunk is required with the top all the way back, a tap of the trunk release prompts the top to move upward out of the way and opens the trunk lid.
As an exercise in going retro, the Fiat 500 wins the prize. The iconic Fiat Cinquecento model that debuted more than a half-century ago is clearly emergent in the 500, especially so with the soft top opening all the way to the stops in this pint-size car. Yet, even as the 500 looks fondly back at the past it embraces the best of today’s technologies.
Proof of this is in the car’s 1.4-liter, 16-valve MultiAir engine, an all-new powerplant incorporating multiple fuel efficiency and emissions reduction technologies. MultiAir, the first fully variable valve actuation (FVVA) system on a production engine, uses four electronic solenoids that replace the conventional overhead cam with hydraulic actuation. The result is the ability to deliver immediate air-fuel adjustments throughout the engine cycle to optimize power and efficiency.
This engine provides 101 horsepower at a rather lofty 6,500 rpm with 98 lb-ft torque at 4,000 rpm. While it’s no muscle machine, the MultiAir engine does provide a fun driving experience plus best-in-class 30 city/38 highway mpg fuel economy in the Fiat 500 equipped with a five-speed manual. Fiat 500 coupes featuring the six-speed automatic with driver-selectable gear changes net 27 city/34 highway mpg. EPA rates the automatic 500c test car we drove at 27 city/32 mpg highway mpg.
Our thoughts? The Fiat 500 is small in stature but big in the fun-to-drive category. Its stylish design is evident by the attention it generates on the road. While we found that rear visibility is less than ideal with the top dropped in the cabrio, we can live with that as an acceptable tradeoff. The 500 coupe is an affordable vehicle for the masses and, if you’re like us, you may find the $4,000 step up to the cabrio could prove to be irresistible.
While it’s no muscle machine, the MultiAir engine does provide a fun driving experience plus best-in-class 30 city/38 highway mpg fuel economy in the Fiat 500 equipped with a five-speed manual.