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2012 Fiat 500C (photos)

Absent since 1984, Fiat reenters the U.S. market with style, the 2012 500C showing an eye-catching retro design.

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Wayne Cunningham
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The Fiat Cinquecento was a tiny car produced in Italy for almost 20 years, from the 1950s to the 1970s. Because it was extremely popular for Fiat, the company brought the nameplate back for a larger model that evokes the style of the original.

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The new Fiat 500C has roved the roads of Europe for the past few years, and is now heralding the return of Fiat to the U.S. Although using the same sort of retro styling as the Mini Cooper, it's much cheaper, albeit with less performance.

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The little curved front shows very little air intake capability, which is fine for the 875cc two-cylinder engine in European models, but might stifle the 1.4-liter four-cylinder of U.S. models, especially in hot climates.

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The little 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine uses variable valve timing to help it pump out its 101 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque.

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The 500C is very short, making it fit well in urban environments. The rear seat is roomy enough for passengers.

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An economy car suspension leads to an occasionally rough ride.

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The trunk is, as expected, on the small side. Don't expect to get a weekend's worth of luggage in here.

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The cloth top on the 500C rolls back in three positions. It can uncover the front seats, or the entire cabin, or roll back entirely to really open up the interior.

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When all the way back, the top obscures rear visibility.

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The interior of the 500C is filled with hard plastics, which are only somewhat offset by nice seat materials and some metal parts.

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An electric power-steering unit reduces strain on the engine, and is well-tuned for driving feel.

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The Blue&Me system has a voice command element for Bluetooth phone and MP3 player integration, but in our testing it did not work as well as Ford Sync, with which it shares core technology.

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The instrument cluster stacks the speedometer and tachometer, and includes a monochrome display in the middle.

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The base transmission is a five-speed manual, with a six-speed automatic available optionally. The manual transmission gets about 5 mpg better than the automatic.

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Along with satellite radio, a USB port in the glovebox supplies iPod and USB drive connectivity.

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The optional seven-speaker Bose audio system sounds surprisingly good.

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