Classic Reviews - 2012 Fiat 500

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  • The Fiat is small, a MG Midget is still smaller. - 10
  • Will a toddler in a car seat fit? - 11
  • And can an adult still sit in the passenger seat? - 12
  • The answer to both questions is yes! - 13
  • A note: the rear headrest has to come out to connect the LATCH. - 14
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by Brian Medford  More from Author

Tony Fixed It

For those people who are old enough remember, Fiat was the maker of quirky little convertible sports cars. But it was the little 500, the cinquecento that became a staple of city transportation around Europe. Fiat followed the already successful design of the VW Beetle to create a light, rear engine, air-cooled people mover for the masses. The 500 sold well and was produced in the same basic form for almost 20 years. In 2007 Fiat debuted the new Fiat 500 to the European crowd. It looked like Europe would once again get a cool new car that we Americans could never hope of driving. Until now...

And here it is on American soil, the 2012 Fiat 500. Now most car reviews you read are going to drone on and on about nit-picky things like dash materials and standard option lists. I'm not interested in that. If you are like me then you have an old car (or three). You like driving old cars and you understand that cars have quirks. You are probably very forgiving about little things when driving an old car. It doesn't matter if the headlight knob is ergonomically designed, what matters is if you ENJOY driving the car! And as an old car guy I have to admit, I like driving the Fiat 500.

This is a great little car. For under $16k you get a fun to drive car that brings a smile to your face. When I parked this car in my driveway half of the neighborhood was instantly drawn to my house to gawk. The awesome copper color probably helped with the "pop" visual appeal. Everyone loved it. The guys thought it was cool, the women thought it was cute, and the kids all wanted a turn sitting in it. Speaking of kids I took the opportunity to see if my family would fit in the 500. Our car seat took a little juggling to get in the rear seat but once it was strapped in my 2-year old son fit just fine. One note: I did have to remove the rear head rest in order to secure the LATCH strap correctly. My wife climbed in the passenger seat and fit with no problems while we took a spin around the block. I wouldn't call the 500 a family car, but being able to fit a car seat and an adult is a huge bonus in my book.

But how does it drive? Like an office chair strapped to a go-cart, that's how. You sit comfortably upright in the 500 and a bit higher than you expect. In traffic I noted that my head was only an inch or two lower than the guy beside me in a mid 90s Ford Explorer. Usually I hate sitting this upright but in the 500 I was oddly comfortable. Driving was a breeze. Changing gears only required a flip of the wrist and I never even lifted my elbow from the arm rest. In most new cars I drive I feel disconnected from the mechanics under me. Not so in this car. I never once felt like I was merely a vehicle operator instead of an involved driver. If you drive an old car then you know the normal symphony going on around you. You "tune in" to your car as you drive. You don't need a "check engine light" to know something isn't right. The 500 doesn't disconnect the driver from the driving experience.

I know most people want to know how fast it is. Well, we can address that right now. The little 83 c.i.d. 4-cylinder under the hood is rated at 101 horsepower and 98 lb.-ft. of torque. Not a lot but the curb weight is only 2,300 pounds so there is not much car to tote around. That being said it won't set the world on fire at the stop light drags. But drive this car around for a day and you won't care about brutal acceleration. That isn't what this car is about. This car wants to be driven and pushed. It wants you to test the limits around corners on your daily commute. Several times I found myself grinning while zipping around a corner (or a few well placed valet parking cones, sorry guys).

In the end this is a car with character and soul. It isn't like anything else really (not even a Mini). I wouldn't trade my '69 Delta 88 for it, but if I wanted something to buzz around town that makes me happy to drive, the Fiat 500 is at the top of my list.


Engine: 1.4L 16v MultiAir® Engine
AvailabilityStandard — Fiat 500 Pop, Sport and Lounge
Type and DescriptionInline four-cylinder, liquid-cooled
Displacement83.48 cu. in. (1368 cu. cm)
Bore x Stroke2.83 x 3.31 in. (72.0 x 84.0 mm)
Valve SystemBelt-driven, MultiAir®, SOHC,16 valves, hydraulic end-pivot roller rockers
Fuel InjectionSequential, multi-port, electronic, returnless
ConstructionCast iron block with aluminum-alloy heads and aluminum-alloy bedplate
Compression Ratio10.8:1
Power (SAE net)101 bhp (75 kW) @ 6,500 rpm (73.8 bhp/L)
Torque (SAE net)98 lb.-ft. (133 N•m) @ 4,000 rpm
Max. Engine Speed6,900 rpm (electronically limited)
Fuel Requirement87 octane (R+M)/2 acceptable
91 octane recommended
Oil Capacity4.0 qt. (3.8L) with dry filter
Coolant Capacity4.6 qt. (14.4L)
Emission ControlsDual three-way catalytic converters, heated oxygen sensors and internal engine features(a)
Max. Gross Trailer WeightNot rated for trailer tow
Estimated EPA Fuel Economy mpg (City/Hwy)30/38 (5-speed manual)
27/34 (6-speed automatic)
(a) Meets Federal Tier 2 Bin 5 emission requirements and ULEV II requirements in California, Massachusetts, New York, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.
AvailabilityStandard on 500 Lounge
Optional on 500 Pop and 500 Sport models
DescriptionAuto Stick driver-interactive manual control and electronically modulated torque converter clutch
Gear Ratios 
Final Drive Ratio4.103
Overall Top Gear6.01
AvailabilityStandard on 500 Pop and 500 Lounge
Description1st, 2nd gear: Double Cone 3rd, 4th, 5th, gear: Single Cone
Gear Ratios 
Final-drive Ratio3.733
Alternator105-amp — Standard all
Battery500 CCA, maintenance free
Wheelbase90.6 (2,300)
Track, Front55.4 (1,406.8)
Track, Rear55.0 (1,397.0)
Overall Length139.6 (3,546.7)
Overall Width64.1 (1,627.0)
Overall Height59.8 (1,519.6)
Ground Clearance4.1 (104.0)
Drag Coefficient (Cd)0.35
Curb Weight, lb. (kg)2,363 (1,074.0) — 5-MTX
2,434 (1,106.4) — 6-ATX
Weight Distribution, percent F/R64/36 — 5-MTX
66/34 — 6-ATX
Fuel Tank Capacity, gal. (L)10.5 (40)
(d) All dimensions measured at curb weight with standard tires.
Seating Capacity, F/R2/2
Front Seat 
Head room38.9 (989.1)
37.6 (956.3) with sunroof
Legroom40.7 (1,034.8)
Shoulder room49.4 (1,254.8)
Hip room47.9 (1,215.4)
Total seat travelDriver — 8.2 (210.0)
Passenger — 8.2 (210.0)
EPA front row interior volume, cu. ft. (cu. m)43.8 (1.239)
Rear Seat 
Head room35.6 (902.9)
Legroom31.7 (805.1)
Knee clearance3.8 (96.5)
Shoulder room46.4 (1,177.5)
Hip room1083.1 (42.6)
EPA second row interior volume, cu. ft. (cu. m)30.2 (0.854)
Total Interior Volume, cu. ft. (cu. m)85.1 (2.409)
EPA Luggage Compartment Volume, cu. ft. (cu. m)9.5 (0.269)
EPA Interior Volume Index, cu. ft. (cu. m)75.6 (2.140)
Trunk Liftover Height27.7 (703.6)
LayoutTransverse-mounted front engine, front-wheel drive
ConstructionUnitized steel body
FrontMacPherson suspension, coil spring with twin-tube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar — included with 500 Pop and 500 Lounge Sport-tuned shock absorbers and springs — included with 500 Sport
RearRear twist-beam axle with coil springs and twin-tube shock absorbers — included with 500 Pop and 500 Lounge Sport-tuned shock absorbers and springs — included with 500 Sport
TypePower rack and pinion with electric power steering (EPS) column
Overall Ratio16.3:1
Turning Diameter (curb-to-curb)30.6 ft. (9.32 m)
Steering Turns (lock-to-lock)3
AvailabilityStandard on 500 Pop and 500 Lounge
Size and type185/55R15 BSW all-season
Mfr. and modelContinental ContiProContact or Firestone Firehawk GTH or Pirelli Cinturato P7 A/S
Revs per mile (km)906 (563)
AvailabilityStandard on 500 Sport
Size and type195/45R16XL BSW all-season
Mfr. and modelPirelli Cinturato P7 A/S or Continental ContiProContact
Revs per mile (km)901 (560) or 911 (566)
AvailabilityStandard on 500 Pop
Type and materialSteel wheels with tech silver painted wheel covers
Size15 x 6.0
AvailabilityOptional on 500 Pop
Type and materialCast-aluminum, five oval spoke design, fully painted tech silver
Size15 x 6.0
AvailabilityStandard on 500 Lounge
Type and materialCast-aluminum, nine split-spoke design, fully painted tech silver
Size15 x 6.0
AvailabilityOptional on 500 Lounge
Type and materialCast-aluminum premium finish, radial design, fully painted premium silver
Size15 x 6.0
AvailabilityStandard on 500 Sport
Type and materialCast-aluminum, polished face with dark mineral gray painted pockets
Size16 x 6.5
Rotor size and type10.1 x 0.86 (257 x 22) vented
Caliper size and type2.12 (54) single-piston with aluminum housing
Swept area193 sq. in. (1,244 sq. cm)
Rotor size and type9.4 x 0.4 (240 x 11) solid
Caliper size and type1.33 (34) single-piston with aluminum housing
Swept area153 sq. in. (984 sq. cm)


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