The 2012 FIAT 500 marks the return of the Italian automaker to the North American market. Fiat has been absent from U.S. shores for 27 years, but given that the European giant recently became the corporate parent of the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands it was only a matter of time before some of its home market vehicles skipped across the Atlantic to land in show rooms across the United States.
Fiat has a lot riding on the Fiat 500, a subcompact automobile that will go a long way towards shaping American attitudes towards the Italian car company. This means that the automaker will do whatever it takes to ensure the success of the affordable entry-level coupe.
Let’s take a look at 10 things you need to know about the 2012 Fiat 500.
01. The 2012 Fiat 500 is Tiny, But Practical
The 2012 Fiat 500 might be fall into the subcompact category, but it still manages to offer comfortable accommodations for two passengers up front and a reasonable amount of room in the rear seats for another two occupants. In fact, the first two positions provide substantial headroom given the size of the automobile, and even taller drivers will have no issues slipping behind the wheel of the diminutive automobile. Folding the rear seats forward opens up a total of 30 cubic feet of cargo space, making the Fiat 500 a viable choice for city dwellers that require the ability to occasionally haul an oversized load.
02. The 2012 Fiat 500 Offers Fiat MultiAir Technology
The 2012 Fiat 500 is a small car that comes with an equally small four-cylinder engine, but Fiat’s decision to install its MultiAir technology under the hood helps to keep the coupe’s performance lively. MultiAir uses a system of hydraulic controllers instead of a traditional overhead camshaft to control the engine’s intake valves, which essentially allows for infinitely variable valve timing.
Combined with the engine management software that comes with each edition of the Fiat 500, the MultiAir system is capable of squeezing 101 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque out of its 1.4-liters of displacement. This level of engine technology is rarely found in a subcompact automobile, particularly at the Fiat 500’s price point.
03. The 2012 Fiat 500 Offers Great Fuel Economy
The 2012 Fiat 500’s MultiAir engine doesn’t just offer impressive power – it also provides the small coupe with a very competitive fuel mileage rating. When equipped with its standard five-speed manual transmission, the Fiat 500 serves up fuel economy of 30-mpg in the city and 38-mpg on the highway, which puts it just behind the much smaller Smart fortwo and ahead of the MINI Cooper with respect to both measures. Even with fitted with its available six-speed automatic transmission, the Fiat 500 offers a fuel mileage rating of 27-mpg around town and 34-mpg during highway cruising.
04. The 2012 Fiat 500 Provides Sporty Handling
The 2012 Fiat 500 is certainly not designed to burn up quarter mile at the local drag strip, but its tight chassis and well-designed suspension system offer a number of other driving thrills that subcompact car buyers might not be expecting. The U.S.-bound 500 gains stiffer bushings and a larger front anti-roll bar. Twin-tube shocks and springs that have been specifically tuned for responsive handling are also on board.
Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes give the Fiat 500 a stopping power advantage, and the Fiat also comes with electronic stability control. Factor in the platform’s light weight – the Fiat 500 tips the scales at just 2,350 lbs – and it’s clear that this is one tiny coupe that welcomes the sight of an upcoming corner.
05. The 2012 Fiat 500 Comes In Three Trim Levels
The entry-level 2012 Fiat 500 is known as the Pop edition, and it comes with air conditioning, power windows and door locks and 15-inch steel wheels. The most comfort-oriented edition of the car is the Lounge trim, which provides a number of premium features including an upgraded Bose stereo system, leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a fixed glass sunroof panel and the ability to line-in a portable MP3 player.
The Fiat 500 is also available in Sport trim, which introduces a stiffer suspension system, more aggressive exterior trim and body panels, 16-inch alloy wheels and Bluetooth integration. Optional on the Fiat 500 are a TomTom removable navigation system, seat heaters and a power sunroof.
06. The 2012 Fiat 500 Competes Hard Against Other Subcompacts
Pricing for the 2012 Fiat 500 starts at just $15,500, which places it above stripped down economy models such as the Chevrolet Aveo (MSRP $11,965), the smart fortwo (MSRP $11,990) and the Honda Fit ($15,100). The Fiat 500, even in Lounge trim (MSRP $17,500) is also considerably less expensive than the MINI Cooper (MSRP $20,100). When taking into consideration some of the features that come standard with the Fiat – features that are usually optional on competing vehicles, and which jack up the price accordingly – it is easy to see the value proposition offered by the subcompact coupe.
07. The 2012 Fiat 500 Offers Premium Styling At a Low Price
New subcompact car buyers are all too used to being forced to compromise on style when looking for an affordable, economical automobile, but the 2012 Fiat 500 turns that particular conceit on its ear by offering what some consider to be “retro-inspired” exterior body work and an impressive level of interior detail.
The Fiat 500 updates the look of the classic 500 model by bringing it fully into the 21st century. The subcompact car is sleek, features attractive style lines and curves and comes with a choice of 14 colors, including four which have been included as a nod to the original Fiat 500 and which harkens back to the earlier days of the brand. Fiat also intends to roll out a custom graphics program – similar to Ford’s lineup-wide initiative – to help buyers add a more personal touch to their 500.
08. The 2012 Fiat 500 Falls between the MINI Cooper and Smart ForTwo in Size
The 2012 Fiat 500 is a very small vehicle, but photos don’t always tell the whole story. It can be difficult to gauge the dimension of an automobile without including a frame of reference, so here’s how the 500 stacks up against two very well known tiny cars: the coupe is seven inches shorter in length than the MINI Cooper, and it also offers a wheelbase that is six inches shorter. When compared against the Smart ForTwo, the Fiat 500’s wheelbase is 17 inches longer and overall, the Italian coupe “dwarfs” the ultra-tiny ForTwo with a total length that is almost three feet greater. Most importantly, the 500 provides a usable rear seat, which is a feature that the two-passenger Smart ForTwo can’t match.
09. The 2012 Fiat 500 Offers a Convertible Edition
The 2012 Fiat 500 can also be had in the 500c model, an open air version of the car that turns up the whimsy while maintaining the subcompact's European charm. Instead of a standard retractable top, the FIAT 500C comes with a sliding cloth panel - essentially an extended fabric sunroof - that allows for a driving experience liberated from the confines of the vehicle's interior. The doorframes and roof pillars remain in place regardless of whether the top is up or down.
The roof itself can be custom positioned, with its automatic slider able to stop at any point in the opening process to let in the desired amount of exterior air and sunshine. The Fiat 500c loses its rear wiper and a small amount of storage space, and the hatchback cargo area converts to a more traditional trunk-style arrangement.
10. The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth Adds Serious Performance
The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is the hot rod edition of the subcompact hatchback. The Fiat 500 Abarth packs serious upgrade in firepower under its hood in the form of a 1.4-liter turbocharged edition of the current vehicle's MultiAir four-cylinder motor. Horsepower numbers for the more muscular mill have yet to be officially released, but most estimates place engine output at a hefty 160 ponies along with 170 lb-ft of torque.
A five-speed manual is included as standard equipment with the car and a number of improvements can be found throughout the vehicle's running gear, including much stiffer front and rear springs and a lowered ride height that helps to improve handling. The Fiat 500 Abarth's brakes have been up-sized to provide more formidable stopping power and its steering gear quickened to improve control and precision at speed. The Abarth wears a more aggressive exterior aero treatment that sets it apart from standard editions of the Fiat 500, and the vehicle's interior has been given a raft of sport touches to match.