2012 Fiat 500 Review

2012 Fiat 500 - The Fiat 500C Cabrio Soft Top provides a good amount of open-air driving fun


Price: $19,500

I drove the Fiat 500 hatchback when it debuted and was generally impressed. The hot rod Abarth version arrived later and was even more fun. But I didn't get a 500C "Pop" Cabrio model with its quasi-convertible sliding power soft top until late summer.

While small, the front-drive, two-door 500 is practical enough, although the rear seat area is hard to reach despite long doors. Moreover, the backseat is only suitable for children, pets or cargo that doesn't fit in the trunk. Rear seatbacks can be flipped forward to increase cargo space, although they don't sit perfectly flat when folded.

The 500 is fun to drive, and the 500C Cabrio model with its long sliding soft top should make it more so-although it would have been uncomfortable during the torrid 2012 Chicago summer with the top folded all the way back and the sun blazing.

The Fiat 500 "Pop" hatchback is the entry level 500, but is fairly well-equipped with comfort and convenience items and has plenty of safety features. It's the plainest looking 500, but turns heads because Italians have a way with auto styling.

There are plenty of options, and the 500C Cabrio soft top has only minor changes for 2013.

Although the 500's cabin is narrow, I felt as if I was driving a larger car because of such things as long front travel for the comfortable front seats and a large windshield.

The "Pop" 2012 hatchback lists at $15,500, followed by the "Sport," "Lounge" and "Abarth" models, which have more equipment. The price jumps to $19,500 for the 500C Pop Cabrio with its quasi-convertible power cloth top. The Lounge model with the sliding cloth top stickers at $22,500.

Convertibles always are costlier, and consider that just a sunroof on the 500 Pop and Lounge hardtops costs $950.

The 500C Pop Cabrio 's cloth top folds back quickly like a good power sunroof-all the way to the trunk. The drawback is that the fully retracted top obscures nearly all rear visibility.

Fortunately, an intermediate top setting makes the opening resemble a sunroof and allows full vision through the rear window. A two-thirds setting seems ideal.

Trunk space is decent for a small car, no matter what position the top is in.

The 500 is offered with a 6-speed automatic transmission, but this car is sporty enough to call for the standard 5-speed manual gearbox, which shifts swiftly and works with a light clutch. One drawback is that the clutch fully engages only near the top of its travel, which can make continual use of it annoying in congested traffic.

The standard 500 has a small-but-gutsy 1.4-liter 101-horsepower sophisticated engine that delivers lively performance. Note that the collectible 1949-52 Ford's V-8 only generated 100 horsepower. And the Ford weighed approximately 3,000 pounds, while the 500 only weighs about 2,400 pounds.

A downshift from fifth gear to third gear with my test 500C Pop Cabrio allowed brisk 65-75 passing times on highways. Even fourth gear allows acceptable passing above 65 mph if there's no urgency scooting past another vehicle.

Fifth is an overdrive open-road cruising gear that contributes to the 101-horsepower 500's estimated fuel economy rating of 38 miles per gallon on highways. The city figure with the manual is 30 miles per gallon. Figures with the automatic are 27 city and 34 highway.

The 500 has good steering and agile handling. But it also has noticeable body sway when streaking around curves because of its height and relatively narrow track. A long wheelbase for the 500 helps provide a nice ride on smooth roads, although the ride becomes choppy on rough roads.

Despite the road surface, my test 500C Pop Cabrio soft top felt solid and had no squeaks or rattles.

The combination speedometer and tachometer seems gimmicky, and there are many tiny radio buttons. However, most controls are large and easy to use. Not so the cupholders, which are at floor level, front and rear.

An offbeat feature is a small hood prop that fits in a hole in one of the hood hinges.

The 500 is still a relative newcomer to America. But, with the addition of new models, more dealers and better promotion, sales of 500 models in late 2012 have more than doubled, compared to the same previous-year figure.

No matter if it's a Ferrari or Fiat, there's something alluring about an Italian car.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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