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Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Fiat 500 debuts in production trim for U.S. market

Fiat's engineer's have tweaked a few bits beneath the sheet metal to make the ultra-compact 500 more U.S. market-friendly.

After months of tweaking, the Fiat 500 is finally ready for the U.S. market.
After months of tweaking, the Fiat 500 is finally ready for the U.S. market. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

It's been a while coming, but it's finally here. At the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, the Chrysler Group debuted the first fruits of its union with the Fiat Group in the form of the production-spec, U.S. market Fiat 500.

Expectedly, the 500 looks and probably behaves similarly to the European market model. It features the same compact packaging and cute sporty looks. However, Fiat's engineers have tweaked a few bits beneath the sheet metal to make the ultracompact more U.S. market-friendly.

Under the hood is Fiat's award-winning 1.4-liter MultiAir engine, which uses a sophisticated form of variable valve timing to put out 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. So, while you won't be towing any trailers with such low power levels, we are still talking about a power-to-weight ratio similar to that of the Mazda2--which we all loved to drive. The 500 will be available with a five-speed manual transmission, with gear ratios modified for the U.S. market, or a six-speed automatic gearbox. The 500 also gets a larger 10.5-gallon fuel tank to help it cope with the longer average trips made by American buyers and an uprated climate control system to better deal with the broader range of temperatures on our continent.

Additionally, the 500's suspension tuning and geometry and stability control system have been revised for the U.S. market--presumably to compensate for heavier drivers. The coupe also gets revised seats and a new center console. It remains to be seen if or how these changes affect the 500's sporty handling.

What also remains to be seen is how the changes to the weight of the vehicle will affect the 500's fuel economy rating. EPA estimates are still pending, but the general consensus places the 500 easily in striking distance of a 40 mpg rating.

In the cabin, the 500 carries its Microsoft-developed Blue & Me voice activation command for hands-free calling, as well as its available TomTom navigation system. The latter manifests itself as a 4.3-inch portable navigation device that docks at the top of the dashboard. North American 500s get new steering-wheel-mounted controls.

When the 2012 Fiat 500 hits the North American market in January 2011, it will be available in three trim levels. The basic 500 Pop carries an MSRP of $15,500, the more luxe $500 Lounge adds a bit more chrome trim and standard features for $19,500, and the 500 Sport slots between them with the largest available wheels (16-inch) and a sport-tuned suspension for $17,500.