2012 Fiat 500

Entering (or re-entering) a new market is never easy, but Fiat wants to make it as painless as possible for the customer, so the Italian brand announced today that the 2012 Fiat 500 will start at just $15,500.

"It's not how big your car is, it's how big your life is," or so goes the motto at Fiat's design studio. Keeping that in mind, Fiat has equipped the U.S.-spec 500 with a 101-horsepower, 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine that makes 98 pound-feet of torque. Thanks to the MultiAir system, Fiat says the engine makes 10 percent more power than a regular gasoline engine while emitting 10 percent fewer emissions. Official EPA fuel economy estimates, unfortunately, are still unavailable.

When the 500 goes on sale in January 2011 as a 2012 model, it will be available in three trims -- Pop, Sport, and Lounge. The entry-level Pop will feature 15-inch wheels, cruise control, air-conditioning, and stability control, along with power door locks, windows, and mirrors standard. Sport models will get special front and rear fascias and a sport-tuned suspension unique to the U.S. market. Lounge models feature a new six-speed automatic with sport mode, Italian leather in the interior, a glass roof, special wheels, and more chrome bits. All 500s will be available in fourteen exterior colors, two interior schemes, and, Fiat says, up to 500,000 possible combinations of all its personalization options.

All U.S.-spec models are updated with a larger 10.5-gallon fuel tank, a more-powerful heating and air-conditioning system, a new rear axle, and U.S.-specific suspension tuning. U.S. cars also receive a revised interior with more cupholders for your Big Gulps, as well as seven air bags. A four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with roadside assistance is standard along with a three-year/36,000-mile complimentary maintenance program.

No, you won't be able to bring a 2012 Fiat 500 home for Christmas, but Valentine's Day is still open. Until the January on-sale date, you can play with the new configurator on Fiat's website, which just went live today.

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