Kimbette Fenol: The original FIAT 500 was in production from 1957 to 1975. It was smaller and was a rear-engine design. But like the new 500 and the 500C convertible, it was affordable, functional and fun to drive.
Nick Newell: The new 500's 1.4-liter engine gives a mere 101 horsepower, but the car is light, weighing just over 2,300 pounds. That's 200 pounds less than a Mini Cooper. A low curb weight and standard five-speed manual gearbox on the Pop and Sport models delivers quick and smooth acceleration while averaging a respectable 30 miles per gallon city, 38 highway.
Kimbette: And there's also a six-speed automatic transmission that drops the average mileage a bit down to 27 city, 34 highway. It's optional on the Pop and Sport models, while the top-of-the-line Lounge only comes with the automatic.
Nick: That's because the Lounge is designed primarily for comfort. Now the 500C comes with a nifty sliding canvas top, and it comes in either the Pop, like the model we have here, or the range-topping Lounge.
Kimbette: All FIAT 500s boast a long list of standard cabin features, including a tilt steering column, this neat speedometer and tachometer dial, the retro dash with a vehicle info center, and this unique body-color instrument panel.
Nick: And there are plenty of creature comforts like air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, an AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary audio input jack, and there's also Fiat's Blue&Me hands-free communication. There's even an optional Bose audio system.
Kimbette: But let's not forget that this still is a subcompact. The 500 might be too small for larger drivers. It is seven inches shorter than the two-door Mini and two inches narrower. But it is four inches taller. That provides ample headroom for the taller, albeit thinner, occupants.
Nick: Subcompact buyers wishing to compare the FIAT 500 with the Mini should note that the Mini, which costs about $5,000 more than the base 500, does give you more room and 20 additional horsepower. However, the FIAT 500 delivers better fuel economy, and its more compact dimensions means that it's easier to squeeze into those tight parking spaces.
Kimbette: This 500's electric rack-and-pinion steering is quite responsive, and its 90-inch wheelbase and sporty suspension make it corner really well.
Nick: Even with the short wheelbase, the ride quality is fairly smooth for a small car, although the Sport model can feel a little rough. And the FIAT is relatively safe with seven air bags, stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Kimbette: The four-wheel antilock disc brakes are solid, and for a subcompact, the interior noise levels are surprisingly low.
Nick: Now a car aimed at the youth market means that a personalized look is important. To meet that demand, FIAT offers five different wheel and tire packages. Plus there are numerous graphic and striping designs that can be dealer installed. Interiors come in black, red or ivory, and there are 14 different seat color and material combinations, along with 14 different exterior and interior paint colors.
Kimbette: With the base model starting at $15,500, and our 500C convertible at $21,700 with options, the 2012 FIAT 500 does a good job at combining traditional Italian styling with good old American value.