2012 FIAT 500 Long Term Road Test

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2012 Fiat 500: I'd Recommend It

February 27, 2012

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When people find out that I work at Edmunds they usually ask me for recommendations on cars. And I tailor my answer to what their stated needs are. But it seems that lately I've been recommending the 2012 Fiat 500...a lot.

Let me preface this by saying that I'll only recommend it to folks who aren't car guys for obvious reasons that we've already stated in previous Fiat 500 posts. But when one friend said he was thinking of trading in his manual transmission daily driver for an automatic because he hated dealing with the clutch in rush-hour traffic, I couldn't help but bring up the Fiat's light clutch. Another friend asked about cars with great fuel economy and I pointed out how our Fiat is usually in the top 4 of long-termers with the best average mpg. I don't remember the last time I've recommended one car more than others so often. But then again, I could just be partial to the Fiat's cute looks.

So yeah, if you're not a car guy and are just looking for a great city car with decent fuel economy and high smile-inducing factor then you can't go wrong with the Fiat 500. And nope, this post isn't sponsored.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 12,990 miles

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2012 Fiat 500: Road Trip Fuel Economy

February 16, 2012

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With rare exception, efficient driving is not my strong suit, but on my trip back from Vegas, I was determined to get a passing grade from Fiat's Eco:Drive app. And so I abandoned the cutthroat environment that is Interstate 15, and cut up U.S. 95, followed it to Nevada 374, which becomes Daylight Pass Road, which I then followed to the California 190, and then to Panamint Valley Road. It was neat. I'd never been to Death Valley. It was 37 and snowing as I entered the park, and 62 degrees at sea level. Next time, though, I'll go through Badwater instead of Trona.

This was over 400 miles of driving, and while I didn't have the time to go exactly the speed limit on all the little roads, I tried to stay within 5 mph of it and minimize heavy throttle inputs. However, it was tough to avoid the latter on the short but steep climb out of Death Valley... you go from sea level to nearly 5,000 feet in what I'd guess was less than 10 miles. The 1.4-liter engine got winded, struggling to hold 45 mph in 4th gear with the throttle pinned. (Initially, I didn't even realize I was at full throttle -- given the lack of speed -- until I noticed the pedal wouldn't "go" anymore. <pointless detail that shouldn't have been shared> I considered a downshift to 3rd, but with no one behind me, I just eased up a little and continued on. I let the engine struggle like that for, I don't know, 3-4 hours, er, wait, 3-4 minutes, and only then, did I take pity on it and downshift to 3rd.</pointless detail that shouldn't have been shared>)

So how'd I do?

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: I've Got My Work Cut Out for Me

February 14, 2012

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If you've read any of my previous road-trip blog entries (boring riveting as they are), you know that I'm always late getting out the door, so the outbound leg of the trip usually under-delivers on the mpg front. So it was with the 2012 Fiat 500. I left for Vegas late, and although I haven't fueled up yet since arriving here, one look at my Eco:Drive results (next page) tells you I probably didn't do that well. No matter, I plan to make up for it on the trip back, and my goal is a passing grade -- 60 or better.

A couple of you asked for a detailed report on the cabin noise situation at highway speeds. And at 65 mph and up, the primary noise source is wind noise off the mirrors (they're big, I guess because of the relatively big blind spot on the driver side), followed in order by engine noise and road noise -- and to my ears, those two sometimes swap places depending on what's going on. That is, on level terrain when you're not trying to pass, road noise is more prominent.

During sustained acceleration up the many steady grades on Interstate 15, you definitely hear the 1.4-liter engine working. It's not an unpleasant noise -- this is a respectably smooth, sweet-tempered engine, but it works hard to keep this car moving. A downshift to 4th was often necessary on these grades, but not as often as I would have thought: Fifth is geared tall enough to keep the engine from screaming (2,900 at 70 mph, and 3,400ish as I recall at 8x mph), but there's still room to accelerate just a bit in-gear.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Going on a Road Trip

February 08, 2012

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This Sunday I'll be going on a "business trip" to Vegas, where I'll be driving a couple cars we haven't tested before. I could have requested our Audi A8 or BMW X3 for my journey, but why go with a safe, boring choice? And so I'll be taking our long-term Fiat 500.

This car doesn't have the best highway ride -- it's not harsh per se, but it is bouncy over the expansion joints -- and the wind noise is pretty significant at 70 mph. So we'll see how long it takes for this stuff to annoy me, or maybe it never will. The seats in this car are pretty cushy for a microcompact and seem like they might be road-trip-worthy.

I'm also going to hook up the car's special USB stick so we can track mpg in Fiat's EcoDrive program. Carroll started us down that path back in December, but we haven't been very diligent about tracking our driving habits, and Fiat doesn't make that super straightforward, as you have to download an application to your computer and then set up your own login credentials -- seems like it would be easier if Fiat just let you log into a website with one account that's unique to the car. But whatever, I'll use the Vegas trip to log some data in EcoDrive and report back.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: I Was Doing It Wrong

December 27, 2011

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I've been struggling with the eco:Drive in the Fiat lately. When I insert the USB, I get an "update complete" message, and then the Blue&Me connectivity system tells me to remove the USB. I couldn't figure out how my driving data was being preserved if the stick wasn't in place.

It wasn't being collected, of course. Once I'd RTF eco:Drive instructions, I discovered I'd been incorrectly using the USB. I got it right the first time, but not thereafter, apparently. Here are the steps I should have followed, and will follow from now on.

1) Plug the eco:Drive-ready USB stick into the USB port.

2) Turn on the ignition without switching on the engine. (This is where I screwed up. I had the engine switched on.) eco:Drive will automatically install. Once finished, the "update complete"message will appear in the car's display.

3) Remove the USB stick from the USB port. (The system will tell you to do this. Emphatically. If you don't, the display basically freezes and you can't access the audio system until you shut off the car and remove the USB.)

4) Switch on the engine. After a few seconds, the message "ECODRIVE ON" will appear in the display. eco:Drive is ready to go. Plug the USB stick back into your car to start collecting data.

So simple if you just do what you're supposed to do. Duh.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,921 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: More on Living in ecoVille

December 05, 2011

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On Friday, I reported on the results of Fiat's eco:Drive analysis after five days of driving. I doubted one stat it yielded: eco:Drive said I was averaging 36.7 miles per gallon. It seemed high, given that our monthly average for the car is more like 31 mpg.

After I filled up this morning, I did the long division for this trip/tank: 36.1 mpg. So eco:Drive was in the ballpark. These are nearly all highway miles, by the way. I think that's what pulled the number up.

I also spent some time this weekend trying to match my gear shifts to those that Fiat recommends for optimal fuel economy. Unfortunately, they make the car feel impossibly poky and weak. At the risk of banishment from ecoVille, I'm going to take the reminder Post-it off the dash and drive the way I feel it.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,273 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Checking Out the eco:Drive

December 02, 2011

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I've spent the last five days driving around with the eco:Drive program, which is monitoring my driving habits with an eye towards fuel efficiency. To answer the question Mike posed when he introduced this device, I think the information it's reporting is more cool than gimmicky.

To recap a bit: The eco:Drive program records data from the car for each trip, including the behavior of the engine and the gearbox. It wants a five-day baseline for starters. When you remove the data-loaded USB stick and download it onto a computer outfitted with the eco:Drive app, the information from the car goes to Fiat servers. They process it and make it all cool and Italian, like a cross between "La Dolce Vita" and a Paolo Conte record. Sorry. No. I made that last part up.

Actually, Fiat does some analysis and fairly quickly, "the eco:Index calculated is then displayed on your computer screen," Fiat says. The company takes pains to explain that your data "is not tagged with your details in any way. We do not know who the data belongs to, and are unable to pass it on to any third parties. In short, your data is entirely secure."

Good. I'd hate the EPA to learn the following: With a score of 48, I'm a sub-par eco-conscious driver. If this was straight-up academic grading, I think I'd have earned an F.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Thanks for the Bragging Rights

November 26, 2011

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The Fiat has been a nice companion so far this holiday weekend. I give it thanks for its cargo space, which was just big enough for a 20-pound turkey in its box, a jumbo eight-pack of paper towels and a bag of groceries. It supped a mere 8 gallons of gas today, and stayed under $32. Its brilliant color contrasts nicely with the russet shades of leaves as they turn. (Yes, out-of-staters, leaves turn color in California.)

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Introduction to eco:Drive

November 17, 2011

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As the proud owners of a 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, we received this personalized mailer last week. See the front page? That isn't a keychain, it's a USB drive. Fiat calls this eco:Drive.

Basically, plug this USB into a port in the glovebox and it records your driving habits. Then plug it into your computer and it interacts with an eco:Drive app from the Fiat website. We're expecting charts, graphs and the sort. We can't tell yet if this is cool, or gimmicky. We'll check it out and report back.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager

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2012 Fiat 500: Sitting Pretty at the Pump

July 18, 2011

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Some drivers enjoy the game of getting great fuel economy. It becomes this wonderful challenge, a delicate dance with the throttle to achieve the most frugal result.

Sometimes I make this kind of effort, but to be perfectly honest, most of the time, my driving style is the exact opposite of fuel-efficient. The shocker is that despite my less-than-patient way with the gas pedal, I managed to beat EPA estimates in the little Fiat this weekend.

I racked up 83 miles, with 40 of those spent on the highway and the rest in city travel. My combined average fuel economy in the 500 was a pretty impressive 35.2 miles per gallon (and that figure represents my own calculations, not the rosy estimate offered by the car's fuel economy gauge). The Fiat's EPA rating for combined city/highway driving is 33 mpg.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 5,792 miles

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2012 Fiat 500: Thoughts on Fuel Economy

June 15, 2011

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No surprise here, our Fiat 500 is one of the most fuel efficient cars in our fleet right now. As of last month's fuel update, it was fourth on the list behind the Jetta TDI, Fusion Hybrid and Mazda 2. But I was curious to see how it would fare with me since my driving style with economy cars is typically pretty conservative. The car is already slow, so why bother trying to go fast?

I filled up three times in the last week and a half. The results were 31.9 mpg, 36.5 mpg and a best-so-far 39 mpg. The first tank was a mix of drivers, so fill-ups two and three are more representative. The 36.5 mpg figure came from both city and highway driving, while the 39 mpg was nearly all highway. For the highway drive, my speed was typically about 75 mph, with the air-conditioning on. For reference, official EPA estimates are 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined.

So, yeah, you can get high fuel economy from the 500 if you want to. But I've had a lot of people ask me about fuel economy when they see the 500. There seems to be an assumption that because it's so small, you get really good fuel economy. But the thing is, you don't really gain all that much from the 500's smaller size. I could have been driving a Mini Cooper or Ford Fiesta (or our Mazda 2) and still likely gotten very similar numbers assuming the same driving style. All have 32 mpg combined EPA ratings.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2012 FIAT 500 in VA is:

$134 per month*
* Explanation
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