First of all, the mounting bracket is solid, using a powered bayonet to secure itself to the dashboard. It is easy to remove the TomTom unit or take out the whole bracket. Second, TomTom is a tried and true navigation-system maker, offering excellent maps and route guidance, including features such as integrated traffic.
But what really makes this TomTom unit worth the price is its integration with the car's electronics. It includes custom software to work with the car's phone and MP3 player integration. The TomTom unit shows not only phone information, but also an interface for a connected music library. Without the TomTom, the car's music player interface is terrible.
To get the system working, I had to pair both the TomTom and my iPhone with the car via Bluetooth. I also plugged my phone into the car's USB port for music playback. Fiat has not implemented Bluetooth streaming.
On the TomTom's screen, I could then go into the phone interface and choose contacts from my phone book. In the media interface, I could browse lists of artists and albums, selecting which music I wanted to hear. It is a level of integration I had not seen before.
By contrast, using the car's voice command I was able to say the name of a contact and have it place the call using my paired phone. That system worked well.
However, voice command would not let me request playback of music by artist or album name. That was a surprise, as Fiat's Blue&Me system is based on the same Microsoft technology behind. Fiat has not put as much development into the system as Ford.
To select music from a connected MP3 device without the TomTom, I had to activate voice command and say "media player," then say "advanced USB options." Those commands opened up a music library list in the instrument cluster display, which I could scroll through and select using steering-wheel controls.
Instead of making drivers go through multiple voice commands to get to this music library interface, Fiat should make one of the buttons on the steering wheel open it up.
Rounding out the somewhat limited cabin tech in the Abarth is the standard Bose seven-speaker audio system. The music reproduction from this system is very clean and balanced. It maintains good quality at higher volumes, but lacks really punchy bass.
The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth comes with excellent performance tuning, making it a very fun car to drive fast. However, it is not overpowered, so does not require a racetrack training course to keep it on the road. Fiat did an excellent job of tuning the electric power steering for responsive turn-in. The suspension strikes a nice balance between holding the car flat and everyday comfort.
As in the standard Fiat 500, the cabin tech features come off as mixed. The TomTom navigation option improves the interface for phones and MP3 players immensely, and is well-integrated with the car, making it well worth the price. Fiat has not demonstrated any sort of app integration strategy as yet, though app integration is starting to catch on with other makers.
|Model||2012 Fiat 500|
|Power train||Turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, 5-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||28 mpg city/34 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||24.7 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional TomTom navigation|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, with contact list integration|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 7-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$26,900|