One of the reasons Fiat left the US more than 25 years ago was that American car buyers had dramatically different expectations than European buyers. Fiats sold in the US were often labeled as unreliable and expensive. So, the 2012 Fiat 500 is destined for failure in the US, right? Not necessarily. Fiat has learned from its mistakes. For one thing, the 500 sold in the US is much different that the same car European buyers get. Americans will get a Fiat with a lot more sound deadening material inside, a little more power under the hood, a slightly softer ride, but with better body roll control, more comfortable seats, larger fuel tank, beefier heating and cooling system and better brakes. Also, the price is very competitive versus other spunky subcompacts like the Mini Cooper.
Fiat knows Americans typically see small cars as cheap, unrefined and even unsafe, so a ton of safety equipment is standard on the new 500. Traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes, a driver’s side knee airbag, side airbags, side curtain airbags for both front and rear passengers and a hill holder feature for cars with a manual transmission are all included in the base car.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are five more reasons to consider the 2012 Fiat 500.
1. Low Price: A base Fiat 500 starts at just under $16,000, but the car you get for that price is hardly a stripped down base model. The Fiat 500 is offered in three distinct trim levels; Pop, Sport and Lounge. Pop is the base model, although it’s reasonably priced and comes nicely equipped. Keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control and a tilt steering wheel are all included on the base Pop model. The Sport model has slightly stiffer suspension, 16-inch wheels, a roof spoiler, fog lights and sportier seats. The Sport model lands around $18,000. The Lounge model is more luxury oriented, featuring a glass roof, nicer cloth seats, exterior chrome trim, leather wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and a USB port. The Fiat 500 Lounge sticker price is about $20,000.
2. Nice Interior: The Fiat’s retro-inspired exterior design really stands out. Thankfully, Fiat brings the fun inside the car, too. The body-colored dash, chrome-ringed gauges and clear plastic-encased switches give the Fiat’s interior just as much attitude as the exterior. But, the beauty is more than just skin deep; the quality of the 500’s interior pieces is also a step above other cars in its price range.
3. Fun to Drive: The 2012 Fiat 500 is no powerhouse with its 1.4-liter gasoline engine that makes 101 horsepower. Still, there’s something undeniably spunky about the car. Press the “Sport” button and both the steering and throttle become more responsive. When equipped with the five-speed manual transmission, the 500 is just as much fun as a Mini Cooper but with a more forgiving ride. The 500 Sport is a little tighter and ups the fun factor a few clicks above the Pop and Lounge models.
4. Great Gas Mileage: Thanks to Fiat’s Multi Air technology, the 500 delivers near-hybrid fuel economy. Multiair is essentially variable intake valve timing, similar to that found on pricier BMWs, and it helps the 500’s four-cylinder engine work more efficiently. On the 500, opt for the five-speed manual transmission and fuel economy is impressive at 30 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway.
5. Cool Tech Features: Base 500s come with a six-speaker CD stereo and an auxiliary jack. However, Bluetooth is an option, as is a USB/iPod connection; both are included in the Convenience package and are standard on the pricier Lounge model. Audiophiles will want the Bose premium audio system. You still get six speakers but they’re better quality than the base system, and the Bose system adds a subwoofer. Sirius satellite radio is also an option.