2012 Fiat 500 Long Term Road Test - Wrap-Up

2012 FIAT 500 Long Term Road Test

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Read the introduction of the 2012 Fiat 500 Sport to our long-term fleet.

What We Got
The 2012 Fiat 500 Sport was not only an all-new model last year, it was Fiat's first U.S. product since the mid-1980s. Thanks to its purchase of Chrysler, the Italian brand had an easy path into the American market and took advantage of it.

At the time of our purchase, Fiat offered limited options on the 500. Our car had a five-speed manual, which was the only transmission available at the time. Fiat dictated the specs of our engine as well. Every 500 had the same 1.4-liter four-cylinder. It was good for 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque.

We made some decisions ourselves. The Sport trim fit our tastes, including performance improvements to the suspension and steering, larger 16-inch wheels, a roof spoiler, foglamps and combination cloth-vinyl seating. We added just two options in an effort to keep the price reasonable. First was a sunroof for $850. Second was the Safety and Sound package for $350. The last decision was color. A red exterior with black and gray interior looked Italian to us, so we checked the appropriate boxes.

It cost us $19,200, but it put one of the most unique new cars for 2012 in our garage. Visual styling alone made an impact on how we perceived the 500, so the next 12 months and 20,000 miles were bound to leave lasting impressions.

Our Impressions

  • "We're not sure how we ended up on Mulholland Highway with the 2012 Fiat 500, but the little red hatchback is taking the abuse well. We chuck it into corner after corner, and it always takes a set (eventually) and then gathers itself up for the next challenge. As economy cars go, this Rosso Cinquecento is a gamer." -- Erin Riches

  • "The biggest surprise here is the 2012 Fiat 500. It is the only car here to have met or exceeded its EPA estimates on every leg of the test, beating cars that should theoretically have been more efficient." -- James Riswick

  • "Here's something I didn't expect from our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport: serious comfort over nine hours of driving. Nine hours.... If you'd told me before the trip that I'd last that long in the Fiat without getting all kinked up, uncomfortable and generally grumpy, I wouldn't have believed you." -- Erin Riches

  • "It's easy to be flip about the 500. But despite some of its baffling details, it's hard not to like it. It's eager. It buzzes and whines when you spur it, but it'll move for you. It'll dart into that gap between stopped traffic and the right-hand turn lane you want. The shift action is nice.... It's less suited for highway travel, though. Likes to wander at highway speeds and requires constant steering adjustment.... It is purpose-built for the city. The Fiat is great on the tight streets and parking around the office... an errand car." -- Dan Frio

  • "Some editors dislike our 2012 Fiat 500. I, on the other hand, really appreciate it for what it is: a great little city car. I always grab its key fob off the board willingly and with a smile on my face, looking forward to its easy shifting and its park-ability, especially when I have to get to an event in car-crowded Hollywood or Downtown. Plus, its cute look never fails to garner smiles from my fellow drivers. A feat in itself. Sure, it may not be the car for those who like canyon carving, but it's great for canyon cruising." -- Carroll Lachnit

  • "I've driven our Fiat 500 numerous times now.... I don't like it. I don't fit. It's as though the seat doesn't ratchet down far enough so I bonk my head on the roof near the door. I'm not that tall (6'1") either.... The dash crowds the ignition slot, so it's always a fight between hand, key and dash.... Succeed at starting it and you're rewarded with the shrillest, most piercing seatbelt alert in the history of personal transportation.... All this, and the actual driving experience is pretty ho-hum. Power is fine, really, especially once you really explore the throttle's reach. It's that the controls -- steering, clutch, shifter -- are all too light and artificial.... Fans of small, light cars deserve better than the Fiat 500." -- Jason Kavanagh

  • "My right knee is always, and I mean always, jammed up against the hard plastic bit that surrounds the shifter. Well, unless I have the cruise control on, but that's pretty rare what with L.A.'s ever-present traffic." -- Mike Monticello

  • "Don't buy the sunroof.... It's quite rare I find myself into a car's roof quite like this. Now, this is a result of two things. The first is the tall seating position, which creates more than enough legroom. The second is the 500's sunroof (optional on our Sport model), that robs a few valuable inches of headroom. I fit without any problem in 500s without a sunroof." -- James Riswick

  • "This 500 doesn't stop anywhere near as well as the car we had for our Full Test, due to the fact that the other car had the stickier Pirellis. There is lots of nosedive and a very light tail with significant lateral movements under full-ABS braking. Still has a firm pedal feel, though." -- Josh Jacquot

  • "A good day in the Fiat 500 involves picking up dry-cleaning and treating ourselves to organic berries." -- Erin Riches

  • "Ah, America. You have got to be big to win respect in this country. The Fiat 500 is not big, and there are not yet very many of them, so it gets dissed." -- Michael Jordan

  • "...And the used oil analysis results were as follows... Italian dressing 50%, Gelato 40%, Biscotti particles 5%, and Cream Zabaglione 5%." -- various blog commenters

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance: Routine service was a breeze with the 2012 Fiat 500. Fiat performs free scheduled maintenance for the first 3 years or 36,000 miles. The prescribed interval is 8,000 miles. But we learned that a severe service schedule every 4,000 miles is also covered. That makes up to nine visits in the first 36,000 miles, all on Fiat's dime. Dealer stops at 8,000 and 16,000 miles were enough to meet our oil freshness needs.

Service Campaigns: We encountered a handful of extracurricular service items during our test. Days after we purchased our Fiat, the driver seat adjustment lever broke off in our hands. It was a poor design. And its replacement was equally as incapable of adjusting the seat height to any noticeable degree.

A flat tire ruined two of our 365 days of Fiat. You see, our car did not have the optional spare. So the pothole that decimated our low-profile, 195/45R16 ContiProContact front tire left us stranded. The tow truck shuttled us safely to the local tire shop, but the rubber had to be ordered. Our 500 sat overnight waiting for the $163 replacement to arrive.

Additional issues arose during the year. These were generally minor as they pertained to our car, however. A brake system recall of 340 units did not include us. The rear hatch would not open on rare occasions. There was the creaking seat. The electronic throttle warning lit up a few times, mysteriously and without consequence. And we unexpectedly received a wrench in the mail to address a sunroof recall.

Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy: We were not surprised by EPA estimations for the Fiat. The 2,400-pound coupe should easily meet the 30 city/38 highway mpg, we figured. But we did not expect it would exceed them as it did. During our test the Fiat eclipsed 40 mpg multiple times. Its best single tank covered over 356 miles at a rate of more than 42 mpg. Our lifetime average of 31 mpg beat even EPA city calculations.

Resale and Depreciation: We purchased the 2012 Fiat 500 for its sticker price of $19,200. The 500's small size accounted for a lack of popularity in-house and subsequently low mileage accumulation. One year ago we set our sights on 20,000 miles. Yet at the time of sale the ticker read just 15,527.

Where it lacked in popularity, we hoped, the Fiat would make up in depreciation. Our hopes were unrealized. At the time of sale, Edmunds' TMV® Calculator valued the Fiat at 27 percent less than its original cost.

In general, this figure reflects an unimpressive degree of depreciation. But as compared to previous long-term compacts it is not outrageous. For reference, our similarly seasoned long-term 2011 Mazda 2, 2009 Honda Fit and 2009 Suzuki SX4 depreciated 22 percent, 23 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Summing Up

Pros: Fuel economy is outstanding and maintenance is free for 3 years or 36,000 miles. Fun and distinctive quirks set the Fiat 500 apart from the stale majority in this segment.

Cons: Its stylistic idiosyncrasies cut both ways. Design choices amplify ergonomic limitations inherent in compact coupes. Its sporting intentions are not realized.

Bottom Line: Far happier running errands around town than anything its Sport trim might suggest, the 2012 Fiat 500 is a purpose-built city car with style. And it's one of the few non-hybrid members of the 40-mpg club.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: None (over 12 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: $163.45 to replace one tire
Warranty Repairs: Replace driver seat lever
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1 to replace seat lever
Days Out of Service: 1 waiting for a tire
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: 1 flat tire with no spare
Best Fuel Economy: 42.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 25.3 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 31.4 mpg
True Market Value at service end: $15,262 (private-party sale)
What it Sold for: $14,000
Depreciation: $5,200 (or 27% of paid price)
Final Odometer Reading: 15,527 miles

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Past Long-Term Road Tests