2012 FIAT 500 Review
2012 FIAT 500 Review
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Edmunds' Expert Review
by the Edmunds Experts
- Adorable styling
- Sport and Abarth models' capable handling
- excellent fuel economy with manual transmission
- surprisingly spacious for two people.
- Cramped front headroom with sunroof
- lackluster acceleration
- disappointing fuel economy with automatic
- convertible's poor top-down visibility
- wait-and-see reliability.
The all-new 2012 Fiat 500 ushers in the return of the Fiat brand to North America.
We'll have to wait and see about its reliability, but the 2012 Fiat 500 is yet another stylish subcompact that proves that small can be cool.
Calculate my fuel costs
Cost to DriveCost to drive estimates for the 2012 FIAT 500 Pop 2dr Hatchback (1.4L 4cyl 5M) and comparison vehicles are based on 15,000 miles per year (with a mix of 55% city and 45% highway driving) and energy estimates of $3.93 per gallon for premium unleaded in Virginia.
Monthly estimates based on costs in Virginia
$146/mo for 500 Pop
Avg. Compact Car
There was once a car so small it made the Mini seem like a Big. That car was the Fiat 500, or Cinquecento en Italiano, and it left such an indelible impression during its 18-year lifespan that Fiat performed a Mini-like resurrection to it three years ago. Now, with Fiat purchasing Chrysler last year, the 500 was chosen to be the model that reintroduces the Fiat brand to North America.
While the original 500 was the size of a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, the 2012 Fiat 500 looks far more like a regular car -- albeit a tiny one. Compared to a 2012 Mini Cooper, it is 7 inches shorter in overall length and 2 inches narrower. However, it is also more than 4 inches taller, allowing for an elevated seating position that not only increases visibility but creates more interior legroom.
Should you want some sun, the 500C convertible (a.k.a. Cabrio) may be to your liking. It maintains the 500's side roof structure, but the center portion is replaced by a power-sliding cloth piece that stacks atop the flip-up trunk. Imagine a cross between a Porsche 911 Targa and an automatic pool cover. The upside is reduced wind and the ability to lower the roof at speeds up to 60 mph -- the downside is horrible rear visibility with the roof lowered.
At the start of this model year there was just one engine offered: a 1.4-liter 101-horsepower four-cylinder attached to either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. No, that doesn't sound like a lot of power (and it isn't), but at only 2,350 pounds, the Fiat weighs 218 pounds less than the 121-hp base Cooper, which manages to be reasonably sprightly. Those looking for more mechanical joy in their little Italian should consider the hot-rod 500 Abarth, which debuted later in the model year. Wielding a 160-hp turbocharged engine, a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes and sport seats, the 500 Abarth has the goods to give the Cooper S competition a good run.
Like the Mini Cooper, the 2012 Fiat 500 promises lots of character and personalization in a price category not usually known for those traits. It's also competitively equipped, with a base 500 listing for about four grand less than a base Mini Cooper hatchback, and more practical than choices like the 2012 Scion iQ and 2012 Smart Fortwo. While you might want to check out more traditional choices like the 2012 Ford Fiesta, 2012 Honda Fit, 2012 Hyundai Accent and 2012 Mazda 2 as they offer more room for similar money, the Fiat 500 is a solid pick for a (very) small car with lots of personality.
Performance & mpg
Apart from the Abarth, all Fiat 500s are powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 101 hp and 98 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Pop and the Sport. A six-speed automatic is standard on the Lounge and optional on the other trims.
In Edmunds performance testing, a manual-equipped Fiat 500 Sport went from zero to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds with the manual transmission -- about 1.5 seconds slower than a base Mini. An automatic-equipped 500C hit 60 mph in a rather slow 12.4 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at an excellent 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined with the manual transmission. This drops to 27 mpg city/34 mpg highway with the automatic, which is still thrifty, but worse than almost every competitor.
The 500 Abarth is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four that makes 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is the sole transmission offered. In Edmunds testing, the Abarth sprinted to 60 mph in a quick 7.1 seconds.
The 2012 Fiat 500 comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, a driver knee airbag, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, a 500 Sport came to a stop from 60 mph in an impressively short 115 feet. Oddly enough, the 500 Abarth took longer at 123 feet (though in fairness that was on a slightly damp test day) while a 500C Lounge stopped in a still solid 124 feet.
In government crash tests, the 500 received three (out of five) stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for overall frontal protection and a disappointing two stars for overall side protection. However, it should be noted that side protection for the driver was five stars -- it was the rear side rating of two stars that dragged down the overall score.
It may be one of the slowest cars on sale, but the non-Abarth Fiat 500 is willing and eager to pull its weight (especially with the easy-to-drive manual transmission), and exhibits more pleasing noises than other underpowered subcompacts. The steering is rather devoid of feel and numb on center, but press the Sport button on the dash and the 500's steering firms up pleasingly. This is especially true for the 500 Sport, which we think is the model to get given its more responsive handling and ride quality that still betters a Mini Cooper's.
A burbling, snarling exhaust note and a slick gearbox add to the fun of blasting around in the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth. Its turbocharged engine's robust power band translates into plenty of usable oomph in the real world. Although a 6th gear would be nice, powering past freeway dawdlers is a breeze -- step into it and the Abarth scoots past. Driven briskly on a winding road, the Abarth takes the corners eagerly, aided by its quick steering and sticky tires. But when pushed harder, it's not as buttoned-down and composed as a Cooper, as it tends to bob around a bit during quick transitions over undulating pavement. As with the other 500 models, however, it also provides a more compliant ride than its archrival.
While the Fiat 500's retro styling screams "Mini fighter," its interior raises the decibels even further. It doesn't possess as many customization options and accessories as its British archrival, but the 500 does offer snazzy two-tone color schemes and plenty of neat little design cues. It also has a more straightforward control layout than the form-over-function Mini. However, the available "Blue & Me" voice-activated iPod control is practically unusable, leaving you to use the standard auxiliary jack.
As for interior quality, the Fiat is not quite up to the Mini's level. There are more hard surfaces, but compared to other cars in its modest price range, they are pleasingly textured and generally higher in quality.
Other than the Smart Fortwo, the Fiat 500 is the smallest car sold in the United States. Nonetheless, the high-mounted front seats allow for an impressive amount of legroom even for tall drivers. Sadly, however, those same tall drivers will find their heads grazing the headliner should they get a car with the available sunroof. Headroom is always tight in the backseat, as is legroom. Unlike most other convertibles, the 500C does not suffer diminished interior space. Rearward visibility with the top fully retracted is poor, however.
Behind the hatchback's backseat you'll find 9.5 cubic feet of luggage space, considerably more than what's offered by the Mini. Lower the backseat in the hatchback and although the load floor isn't completely flat, you'll have 30.2 cubic feet of space available, or about 25 percent more than you'll get in a Cooper hatchback.
2012 FIAT 500 models
The 2012 Fiat 500 is a two-door subcompact hatchback available as a hardtop or 500C convertible. Both body styles are available in Pop and Lounge trim levels, while the hatchback adds a Sport midgrade trim.
Standard equipment on the 500 Pop includes 15-inch steel wheels and chrome-trimmed wheel covers, keyless entry, full power accessories, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-only steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Convenience package (standard on the 500C) adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Fiat's Blue&Me Bluetooth phone connectivity and an iPod/USB audio interface. The Bose Premium Audio package adds satellite radio along with an upgraded six-speaker system and subwoofer.
The Fiat 500 Sport gains 16-inch alloy wheels, firmer suspension tuning, retuned steering, slightly different styling, a roof spoiler, foglamps, sport seats, cloth/vinyl sport upholstery and the Pop's two optional packages. Satellite radio is a separate option, however. The Safety & Convenience package (automatic transmission required) includes automatic climate control, a compact spare tire and heated front seats.
The 500 Lounge reverts to the Pop's mechanical tuning and includes its optional packages as well. Also included are 15-inch alloy wheels, exterior chrome accents, foglamps, a fixed glass roof (hatchback only) and upgraded cloth upholstery. The Convenience Group adds rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and heated front seats. The Luxury package adds leather upholstery and upgraded trim. A sunroof and an integrated TomTom navigation system are optional on both the Sport and the Lounge. Dealer-installed accessories like interior ambient lighting and exterior graphics are also available.
The 500 Abarth is for the most part equipped similarly to the Sport but ups performance with a turbocharged engine, an electronic limited-slip differential, adjustable stability control, firmer suspension calibration, quicker steering and a tuned exhaust. The Abarth also has the expected exterior and interior tweaks, including unique front and rear fascias, Abarth graphics/emblems, aggressively bolstered sport seats, a sport steering wheel and red accent stitching throughout the cockpit. Options essentially mirror those of the Sport, as leather seating and a navigation system are among the Abarth's available features.
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful consumer reviews
3 out of 5 stars
Turn the ignition, nothing happens!
Sherry Pierce, 11/25/2015
2012 FIAT 500 Abarth 2dr Hatchback (1.4L 4cyl Turbo 5M)
My 2012 Fiat L was purchased new from dealer in late 2012. Very glad it came with a 50,000 4 yr warranty as it spends a lot of time at the dealer getting "fixed." After 3 attempts to correct issue with tire pressure light staying on, gave up on it and just disregard the light. My car shut off while I was on the highway doing 55 so I felt blessed to have been able to get it to the … shoulder. I was an hour from home in Feb on a freezing day with an infant in the car, but when I my husband arrived the car started and he drove it home like nothing had happened. Sixteen months later, the car died dead again while driving near the beach, this time I had AAA and had it towed to the dealer. Gone nearly 2 weeks and they just replaced the alternator & battery. After that the car would no longer start on first turn of ignition but roared to life on second try... but six weeks later would not start at all. Almost 2 weeks at dealer as they replaced the starter. Two months later, it still won't start on first turn of ignition and it has randomly refused to start at all 3 times in the past month. If I move the shift, open/close door, step on brake and go thru antics it starts, usually after I have called AAA to come get me and have to call them back to cancel the tow. I have had it. Hope to have enough equity to trade by this coming Fall as the negatives are outdoing the positives at this point. I do love the look, the size and the gas mileage but once my warranty is over, this is NOT a car I want to keep due to scary maintenance costs.
3.13 out of 5 stars
Open Body Seams During Manufacture
2012 FIAT 500 Pop 2dr Hatchback (1.4L 4cyl 5M)
I bought my new, 2012 Fiat 500 Pop on 12/22/2011. Three days after purchase, I noticed an interior water leak and returned the car to the dealer. The dealer found that the cause of the leaks were, "body seams that were left open, unwelded and unpainted during manufacture." Got the car back after 23 days in the shop. That day, I noticed electrical problems and that the leak wasn't … repaired. Returned it to the shop More open body seams were found around the windshield. I requested a replacement. Fiat agreed. The dealership acquired my replacement on 02/10/2012, but has yet to get it to me (03/01). My Fiat Case Manager is Kathy Nelson, but I have no way to contact her. I regret my purchase.
2 out of 5 stars
Can't Wait To Get Rid Of It!
2012 FIAT 500 Pop 2dr Hatchback (1.4L 4cyl 5M)
I've had this car for three years and have put 20,000 miles on it. Bought it because it was adorable, inexpensive, and great for my city-street/low-speed commute (which is now a freeway commute). Here is my take on the car: The GOOD: Cute as heck. Verde Chiaro color still turns heads. Good little car for putting around town (grocery-getter) on city streets. Brakes are responsive. … Storage space in the car is about what you expect - not a lot of room but with a little bit of tetris skills you can fit a lot. Decent gas mileage (I expected better for a car so small). The BAD: I fear for my life on the freeway - no joke - and I am a very good driver who has never had an accident. Blind spots galore! Acceleration is extremely unreliable - sometimes you give it gas and it reluctantly goes slowly, other times the engine revs but it sits there... So if you need to make an evasive maneuver that requires accelerating, hit the gas and hope for the best. Engine noise gives me a headache. Interior shows scratches easily. My tire pressure monitor sensor stopped working at 15k (I haven't the time during the week to have it taken care of since the dealer won't do anything other than oil changes on Saturdays). My boyfriend said it's like a beer can on wheels and worries about my safety every day. Must use 91 octane or better gas for best performance. Doesn't always start on the first turn (Fiat said this is normal for this engine - ???). I foolishly accepted a lease term longer than I wanted and am almost done but am seriously considering eating the penalties for turning it in early. Especially since it looks like it is prone to having more mechanical issues that I would be responsible for.
3.25 out of 5 stars
Too many repairs - clutch failure not warrantied
2012 FIAT 500 Sport 2dr Hatchback (1.4L 4cyl 5M)
I want to love this car, but one of the main reasons I bought it was for its affordability and I haven't even had it 2 years and I'm already paying 10% of the original cost in repairs! I bought it one year used with 11,000 miles on it. It's now 28,000 at miles and it's had problems with everything from cosmetic issues like peeling paint, to an air bag sensor failure, to a very serious … no-warning clutch failure (which was not covered under warranty after 15,000 miles). The clutch replacement at a FIAT dealer has taken 10 days so far and is costing a small fortune. It's a fun car but just not holding up! I always drove a Subaru or Toyota before and I think it may be time to go back.
2012 500 Highlights
|Combined MPG||33 MPG|
|Cost to Drive||$146/month|
|Cargo Capacity |
All Seats In Place
|Drivetrain||front wheel drive|
|Warranty||4 years / 50,000 miles|
NHTSA Overall Rating3 out of 5 stars
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
- Frontal Barrier Crash RatingOverall4 / 5Driver4 / 5Passenger3 / 5
- Side Crash RatingOverall3 / 5
- Side Barrier RatingOverall3 / 5Driver5 / 5Passenger2 / 5
- Combined Side Barrier & Pole RatingsFront Seat5 / 5Back Seat2 / 5
- RolloverRollover4 / 5Dynamic Test ResultNo TipRisk Of Rollover14.7%
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
- Small Overlap Front Driver-Side TestNot Tested
- Small Overlap Front Passenger-Side TestNot Tested
- Moderate Overlap Front Test – OriginalGood
- Moderate Overlap Front Test – UpdatedNot Tested
- Side Impact Test – OriginalGood
- Side Impact Test – UpdatedNot Tested
- Roof Strength TestGood
- Rear Crash Protection / Head RestraintNot Tested