2012 Fiat 500
Base price: $15,500 – $22,000
As tested: $19,000/$20,150
MPG: 27 city/34 highway (automatic), 30 city/38 highway (manual)
- Classic Fiat 500 styling
- Fun and character at a reasonable price
- Fuel economy
- Could use more horsepower
By Michael Hagerty
Was I won over by the Fiat 500’s puppy-dog looks? No, it’s the puppy-dog attitude, the puppy-dog energy that turned me from skeptic to admirer. This is a car that’s eager to get out on the road with its best friend and chase rabbits (or Beetles).
I drove two versions of the Sport model (one level up from base), which comes with a sport suspension, making the pursuit of twisty roads all the more enjoyable. The difference between the two? One was a five-speed manual and the other was a six-speed automatic.
That made for a $1,000 difference in price (the automatic being the more expensive). Driving a stick has become a lost art in this country. Tragic, since you could save $1,000 right away, you’d get significantly better gas mileage (27 city becomes 30 mpg, 34 highway becomes 38 mpg), and you’d have more fun and more control with the manual.
Fiat put some serious design energy into the interior of the car as well. The materials, colors, shapes, and textures aren’t from the mainstream of contemporary cars. The seats alone (thick, upright, and supportive) are a revelation: What are chairs this good doing in a car that costs this little? Like other interior elements, they demonstrate that you’re driving something special.
Airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control, power windows and locks, cruise control, air conditioning, and a Bose Premium audio system with Bluetooth and USB are all standard. Drop an extra $200 for the Safety & Sound package, and you can get satellite radio as well. And again, shift it yourself, and the price stays a full grand below $20,000.
Yes, it’s small, but not Smart or Scion iQ small. There’s no intimidation factor in traffic (credit the upright driving position). And small can be beautiful. The gas tank is only 10.5 gallons. That’s 399 miles highway cruising range with the manual transmission. Even at $3.50 a gallon, refilling a bone-dry tank will only set you back $36.75.
My only gripe is with the horsepower. Not that it’s underpowered, I’d just like some more, please.
In the past 12 years, Volkswagen has given us the New Beetle and, to replace it, another model of Beetle. But Fiat may have actually come up with the modern-day interpretation of the ’60s Bug.