We're in the Fiat booth at the 2011 New York International Auto Show and, despite having seen Fiat booths at a few other domestic shows, it's still slightly surreal. We're surrounded by at least 10 examples of the all-new 2012 Fiat 500 — the only Fiat on sale in the U.S. at the moment — when a local TV news reporter comes over and things get even stranger.
"I need to do a feature on the new Fiat," she says to the booth guy. "Excellent. The 2012 Fiat 500 is right over here."
"No. The new one. It's got an exciting, exotic name...." she counters. "Ah, yes, of course, the 2012 Fiat Cinquecento! Right this way..."
The Fiat 500 or the Fiat Cinquecento, however you pronounce it: Fiat's back in America and we just bought one for a Long-Term Road Test.
What We Bought
Two of the main concessions made by Fiat on the U.S. version of the 500 were a driver's armrest and an automatic transmission. We'll happily take the armrest, but no way were we getting an automatic transmission with a car — and engine — this small. Fiat, however, had us covered; it wasn't even offering automatics on the first round of shipments. This made our transmission decision much easier. Five-speed manual it is.
The first real step was to decide which model we wanted: Pop ($16,000), Sport ($18,000) or Lounge ($20,000). Lounge was out right away. This is Inside Line, not Inside Chaise; we're not buying anything with Lounge in the name for the fleet. So it was Pop or Sport. Sport comes with a firmer suspension, 16-inch wheels wrapped in 195/45R16 rubber, retuned steering, a roof spoiler, foglamps, cloth/vinyl sport seats and slightly different styling. They had us at "retuned steering." Done. Sport.
Next up was options. We got the sunroof ($850) and the Safety and Sound package ($350). The latter includes Sirius Satellite Radio and an alarm. Other options included heated seats and a dash-mounted nav system, but we decided to pass to keep the price reasonable.
Next was color: Magrath voted for Verde Oliva (green olive), claiming we didn't have any brand-new green cars. Takahashi wanted Blanco to match the rest of our fleet and Riswick wanted Mocha Latte, or he wanted a mocha latte, we're still not sure. The boss, however, wanted red — it's sporty, Italian and goes with the brakes. So we got red with a black-over-gray interior.
There are no options for the engine. Want a 2012 Fiat 500? You get a 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder that churns out 101 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 98 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. A hundred-and-one hp doesn't sound like a lot, and in a 2,400-pound car, it, well, isn't.
There was no negotiating to be done. We paid sticker and left the dealership $19,200 ($21,451 with TTL) lighter in exchange for our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport.
Why We Bought It
Inside Line makes it a point to buy (or get from the manufacturer) new, significant models for our long-term fleet whenever they come around. If there's a new 3 Series, consider it on the list. New Toyota Camry? You know we're there. New Honda Odyssey? We're on it. So when there's a new brand in the USA we want to be first in line.
Unfortunately, at least 500 dedicated Fiat fans beat us to the punch. When we went to place our order for the Fiat 500, we found out that we weren't even close to getting a Prima Edizione, the special edition allocated to die-hard Fiat fans. Fair enough: we don't need a special badge. Right now, the "Fiat" badge is special enough.
In our Full Test of the 500 we said, "...we can tell you that the Fiat 500 has flavor, inside and out, more than just about anything else in the small-car class."
So it's got flavor and it's priced right. But so did the Smart Fortwo, and we all remember how that went. Will the Fiat end up in the same boat, or does this little car have what it takes to bring Fiat back to the U.S. in style?
Current Odometer: 2010
Best Fuel Economy: 33.7
Worst Fuel Economy: 25.4
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 28.7
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.