Even for the best of us, going from a $166,000 Mercedes to an $18,000 Fiat is a bit of a mental adjustment. The first day you make a swap like this, it’s tough to make the transition and keep an open mind. I have actually looked forward to the Fiat 500 because I have had many questions on it, and there seems to be a lot of curiosity about it.
My test car is the 2012 Fiat 500 Sport hatchback. It is Copper in color with black interior. Please allow me to get this out of the way, and I won’t reference it again; this car is REALLY ugly. It is not like “puppy cute” either, you know-it’s so ugly it’s cute, it’s not like that. It’s just plain ugly. With that said, knowing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you can make up your own mind on its appearance.
Timing wise, Fiat hits America at just the right time, when gas prices are up, and Japanese imports short in supply. If you look at the success of the Mini, and more recently the Nissan Juke, small and cute seems to be in vogue. Retro-style cars have done well in America and this is definitely a throwback to the original Fiat, but with a flair of interior touches from the Mini Cooper.
This Fiat has the 1.4-liter inline 4-banger with an easily shiftable 5-speed manual transmission. This car does not have a sunroof, and has a LOT of headroom for a small car. Someone 6’2 could sit upright in this car and be comfortable. A heavy person could have issues, this car seems really narrow. Don’t try to put adults in the back seat unless you have a can opener. The car does have a surprising amount of room in the trunk, and with the rear seats folded down, there is a lot of room.
This car is rated at 101-horses total, the least amount of horsepower I recall in a while. Acceleration is sluggish, which you would expect, but the car gets to cruising speed pretty quickly with short, deliberate, gear usage. I can tell you I would not consider this car with an automatic transmission. Although I have not driven one with automatic, I can imagine that it would be TOUGH merging into metro traffic. Passing a car or accelerating to a higher speed will require downshifting every time, so bear that in mind. You will do a lot of shifting, but the clutch is super easy and very soft.
The handling is not great, but for the price and horsepower, I am OK with that. I did not have high expectations that this was going to feel like anything more than a 2400-pound subcompact. I was pleasantly surprised by the quietness and lack of wind noise with the car, it is really nice from that standpoint, and you can tell Fiat put a great deal of insulation in the car.
This car comes nicely equipped with a wide array of safety features like front air bags, side air bags, side curtain airbags, and a driver knee airbag. You get power windows and power door locks, keyless entry, tilt wheel, cruise control, tire pressure monitoring, AM FM CD, premium audio, and Bluetooth for your phone.
The Sport package gets you 16″ wheels, rear spoiler, fog lamps, red brake calipers, and Halogen headlights.
I did not get to run comprehensive fuel economy tests on the Fiat 500, I just didn’t have it long enough before the deadline for the newsletter, but quick calculations show it is doing just about what it is supposed to.
Long-term durability and reliability is in question because of Fiat’s history, and I think that is warranted and I will be watching it closely as time goes on. I will not try to discourage anyone from buying this car, but it will not be on top of my recommend list either, at least not for now.
Bottom line for me, for the same money, I can get a Ford Fiesta or Chevy Cruze, both of which have better fuel economy and frankly, aren’t ugly. For now, I think either of those, and many of the imports, are better choices.
What I liked most: The quietness and the interior design.
What I would change if I could: Give me 49 more horses!
MSRP as tested: $18,000.
Fuel Economy: 30 city/38 highway.
Fiat 500 in a few words: Not a bad car actually, Ray Charles would have loved the looks.