Edmunds expert review
We'll have to wait and see about its reliability, but the 2012 Fiat 500 is yet another stylish subcompact that proves that small can be cool.
Sport and Abarth models' capable handling
Excellent fuel economy with manual transmission Vehicle overview
There was once a car so small it made the Mini seem like a Big. 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 was chosen to be the model that reintroduces the Fiat brand to North America.
While the original 500 was the size of a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, the 2012 Fiat 500 looks far more like a regular car -- albeit a tiny one. Compared to a 2012 Mini Cooper, it is 7 inches shorter in overall length and 2 inches narrower. However, it is also more than 4 inches taller, allowing for an elevated seating position that not only increases visibility but creates more interior legroom.
Should you want some sun, the 500C convertible (a.k.a. Cabrio) may be to your liking. It maintains the 500's side roof structure, but the center portion is replaced by a power-sliding cloth piece that stacks atop the flip-up trunk. Imagine a cross between a Porsche 911 Targa and an automatic pool cover. The upside is reduced wind and the ability to lower the roof at speeds up to 60 mph -- the downside is horrible rear visibility with the roof lowered.
At the start of this model year there was just one engine offered: a 1.4-liter 101-horsepower four-cylinder attached to either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. No, that doesn't sound like a lot of power (and it isn't), but at only 2,350 pounds, the Fiat weighs 218 pounds less than the 121-hp base Cooper, which manages to be reasonably sprightly. Those looking for more mechanical joy in their little Italian should consider the hot-rod 500 Abarth, which debuted later in the model year. Wielding a 160-hp turbocharged engine, a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes and sport seats, the 500 Abarth has the goods to give the Cooper S competition a good run.
Like the Mini Cooper, the 2012 Fiat 500 promises lots of character and personalization in a price category not usually known for those traits. It's also competitively equipped, with a base 500 listing for about four grand less than a base Mini Cooper hatchback, and more practical than choices like the 2012 Scion iQ and 2012 Smart Fortwo. While you might want to check out more traditional choices like the 2012 Ford Fiesta, 2012 Honda Fit, 2012 Hyundai Accent and 2012 Mazda 2 as they offer more room for similar money, the Fiat 500 is a solid pick for a (very) small car with lots of personality.
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