First Drive: 2012 Fiat 500

Italian style
For now, the 500's principal appeal is not so much as a gas miser or as a tear-around funster, but as a design object. The exterior styling is just right and will be augmented by an unusually large selection of colors, fourteen in all, as well as various graphics packages. The interior is far more highly styled than one usually sees in this category, with a big swath of body-color trim on the dash; large, upholstered door armrests; off-white switches; and a detailed steering wheel, yet it's far more logically arranged than the style-over-substance instrument panel of the Mini Cooper. There are also fourteen available interior colors, rather than the typical choice of tan or gray. Fiat says there are more than 500,000 possible ways to spec out a 500.

Small car, big ambition
Fiat hopes to sell 50,000 cars in North America this year between the hardtop and the Cabrio that goes on sale this spring. For its part, Mini, a much more established brand, sold only 45,000 cars annually in the United States in 2009 and 2010, so even with the addition of the 500 Abarth next year and an electric 500 in late 2012, Fiat's goals are very ambitious. Whatever the volume, we're glad to see the 500 in America. With sales of the smallest cars in a long-term uptrend, we need more variety in the small-car arena and, in particular, more models that don't feel like lesser versions of larger cars. That's certainly the case here.

2012 Fiat 500 Base price: $15,500 (plus destination)
Powertrain: 16-valve DOHC I-4
Displacement: 1.4 liters
Power: 101 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 98 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel
EPA Fuel Economy: 30/38 mpg (manual); 27/34 mpg (automatic)

Suspension, front: Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Beam axle, coil springs
Wheels: 15 x 6.0 in, 16 x 6.5 in (Sport)
Tire size: 185/55R15, 195/45R16XL (Sport)

Wheelbase: 90.6 in
L x W x H: 139.6 x 64.1 x 59.8 in
Curb weight: 2350-2430 lb
Fuel capacity: 10.5 gallons
Cargo capacity: 9.5 cu ft

3 of 3
Let's see........Nissan Cube:118hp/27+31mpg/$14,310Ford Fiesta:120hp/28+37mpg/$13,320Toyota Yaris:106hp/29=36/$12,955Honda Fit:117hp/27+33mpg/$15,100Chevrolet Cruz: 138hp/28+36mpg/$16,995Gee, Fiat/Chrysler, I think you need to look at your pricing, if you think you are going to sell 50,000 500s this year, especially how Fiat slunk out of the U.S. market after such poor quality vehicles were being shipped here. Is this how you are going to pay back your loan from the American taxpayer? (Not to mention the US dollars being spent in Mexico to build them).And..........Automobile are you kissing up to Fiat for those advertising dollars with no criticism of high price/low power/small size? Why do you think I did not renew my print edition?
Edward A. Sanchez
I'll wait until the Abarth comes out. :-)
The Honda Fit and Fiesta may be a B segment car. The standard Mini is not. It is significantly smaller,has tiny rear seat room(less then the Fiat 500's according some Euro publications)and has less cargo space then the 500.The Fiat is taller allowing it to have the rear seat positioned to allow more rear leg room. The Fiat is lighter allowing the 1.4 engine based 500 to accelerate on par with a base Mini. It may not quite handle as well but I'm betting it is close. A car comparison road test is certainly due here.

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