2012 Fiat 500 Review

2012 Fiat 500 - Diminutive 500 small on the outside but packs plenty of flavor.


2012 Fiat 500

Finally, a car that makes absolute perfect sense in an urban environment.

And the 2012 Fiat 500 is cute to boot.

Fiat is an old new entry in the US. It left back in the '80s because it just wasn't relevant (or well made). But this new 500 is making a big splash on the scene with kitschy color combos, attractive interiors and fuel economy that makes $4/gallon gas prices bearable.

Several of my twitter buddies asked me how it compared to the Mini Cooper, and I have to say ... I like the 500 better. Sure, the Mini has 20 more horsepower than the 500, and sure the Mini gets better city/highway fuel economy with the automatic transmission (29/37 vs 27/34), but there's just something about the 500 that reels me in.

I'm thinking it has something to do with the $15,500 base price. The 500 comes in 3 trim levels, the Pop, the Sport ($17,500) and the Lounge ($19,500). The test car was a Lounge model that was tricked out with the luxury interior package, TomTom navigation and sunroof for an as-tested price of about $23K. That's still not bad for a well-stocked city car.

If I had my choice, though, I'd probably opt for the sport model with a manual transmission (which by the way gets 30/38 mpg) and the safety and convenience package (which brings me heated front seats -- though not leather seating surfaces). The MSRP would ring in at $18,150.

I should point out, this exactly fulfills my stipulations for a car I would buy while living in Chicago: Under $20K, manual transmission, heated front seats. I don't ask for much, but you'd be surprised how few cars this turns up.

Other city selling points include the compact size, tight turning radius and peppy acceleration.

Now, that's not to say the 500 doesn't have a couple of downsides. First, I wasn't a fan of the automatic transmission. It was a little too herky-jerky for my taste. The manual transmission, however, is awesome. The shifts are smooth, the clutch is easy to manage, and the car fairly glides in second gear during slow Chicago highway traffic. So, if you can drive a manual, I think that's the better option for this car.

The other downside: This isn't a good 4-passenger car. You could probably fit 4 people in there who are my size (aka 5-foot-tall), but when you start talking about average-sized adults, you'll be lucky if you can get 3. Plus, keeping with the compact size, you have compact storage. The trunk will be fine for groceries, but if you have your heart set on a trip to Ikea, well, think rental.

But I should point out that I did a healthy bout of shopping in the 500 which included a new duvet cover and sheets, a king-sized duvet, 2 new pillows and new towels. Most of it fit in the trunk, though there was some spillover into the backseat.

Overall, I thought this car was a blast to drive. It was easy to maneuver and park, it had all the right acceleration at all the right points, and for my more aggressive maneuvers while driving the automatic, I shifted into manual mode. I also liked the flashy exterior color options and graphic customizations that were available.

The compact size, peppy acceleration and easy maneuverability make this a clear winner in the urban category. But the slick interior, flashy exterior colors and fresh new design set the 500 apart from it's other ho-hum compact competitors.

No, it's not as luxurious or customizable as a Mini, but it costs $5K less, too. So, if you're looking for a unique compact car that won't break the bank, Fiat 500 is a must test.

Jill Ciminillo

Jill has been writing about cars for more than 15 years, representing the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers and the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. Jill recently served as the first female president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and currently sits on its Board of Directors as President Emeritus. Jill is a syndicated automotive writer and acts as the managing editor for the Pickup Truck + SUV Talk website.