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Roadshow Video Reviews
2012 Fiat 500CFiat's back, and betting the 500 makes you forget why it left.
-Fiat left the US market in the early 80's with its tail between its legs, and reputation for building stylish little cars that were built like crap. Now they're back trying to change exactly half of that reputation with this guy, the 2012 Fiat 500. Let's take it for a run, check the legacy and check the deck. Now this Fiat 500 known as the Nuova 500 has a lot riding on it, nothing less than Fiat's return to the US. But it's not technically a new car. It was reintroduced back in 2007 to huge acclaim overseas. Like the new Mini and the new Beetle, it capitalized on a classic car that had good bones and like those cars, it's much bigger than the original. So the first thing Fiat is not resetting on the 500 is the iconic look. You may not know the original 500 but bajillions of people did. It was made from 55 to 75 and sold hand over fist. This car looks remarkably like it even more so than the new Mini looks like the old Mini. You'll notice it's got an undeniable cuteness though, lots of rounded edges and a petite little non-threatening face. Clearly this car speaks to a stylish urban hip kind of a crowd. Now, where does it fit in size? It looks smaller than it is. It's several feet longer than a Smart Fortwo, 6 inches shorter than a Mini Cooper as well as being a little bit narrower than a Mini and slightly taller. The key thing on our car is that it's a 500c. That means it's a cabriolet. You might call it a convertible but that's only part of the picture. Look how the top works. It's gutter to gutter cloth, reinforced and nicely insulated with several stop points. One is a giant sunroof position like this. Hit the button again and now you push it all the way back into a true cab. A cabriolet is a convertible that folds its top down kind of untidily on the rear deck. It's a classic European thing and that's what this does. Another great trick, notice how the high mounted center stop light is in position whether the top is up or down but it's the same light. That's kind of a clever trick. And below that you do have a trunk at all times. Since this doesn't fold into the trunk, it never takes up any room. Now inside a 500 you've got lots of cute and lots of circles. Circles are their theme, not quite as whimsical and kooky as a Mini, thank God. But you've got a lot of circular themes here to give the car a friendly nature. Here's one of those retro touches, this painted metalized surface that used to be a metal dashboard in an old 500. Interesting gauge in the middle here. Notice you've got concentric rings for the speedo and the TAC and then in the middle, of course, a round info gauge. Head unit, there's only one. This is it. You can not get a built in nav screen head unit on this car. Instead they offer you an optional clip-on tom-tom that mounts in a special factory bracket up here but there's no integrated head unit that has a screen. This basic readout takes you to your immediate choices that are straightforward - AM, FM, no HD radio, single slot CD right here and then in the dash, we have an Aux and a USB right there. The audio option we do have is Bose Audio and you can see we've got evidence of that down here. This is a ported subwoofer underneath the passenger seat. Now for a car that has fairly Spartan tech options. Interestingly you can get a Wi-Fi hotspot in this guy. It's an a la carte option. I believe it's dealer installed. It's from Autonet Mobile, a Bay Area company that makes in-car routers that go 3G to Wi-Fi. It's 500 bucks. Now the last interesting part of technology in this car is Blue and Me. It's kind of a detuned version of Ford Sync, voice command for the communications and the audio and a few other features. Here's the button for voice on the wheel. Help. -The available commands are Message Reader, Eco Drive, Settings, Media Player, or Exit. -So not a whole lot in there. Obviously no navigation commands. And the last interesting tech option in this guy is the installation of GPS Vehicle Location Tracking for 450 bucks. Kind of a, you know, a poor man's LoJack or something. Now, under the hood, well, the [unk] of this car is a 1.4 liter side saddle inline 4 that drags it around by the front wheels. Small displacement of course, 1.4 is pretty tiny for this market so are the output numbers - 101 horse, 98 foot pounds of torque, 0-60 about 9-1/2 seconds, MPG is 3038 with the manual. If you get the automatic, you shave about 3 MPG off each number. And the key to making all those numbers work with that little engine is the weight of this car. It's not even 2400 pounds with a full tank of gas and a labradoodle in the backseat. Okay, on the road is where this car is gonna be all new to most people. It's a platform you've never driven in the United States and the bottom line is it's fun. The suspension is a little springy, there's a little bit of body lean that you might be used to in every car. Most cars try to be really firm and planted. The power on the engine is only really available from 3 grand and up. This thing has no low end grunt. So you might dump the clutch a couple times when you're first driving it. Speaking of that clutch, it's very light, a little bit of rubberyness in first and second. The left side of the transmission, you get used to it pretty quickly but it's not one of those super crisp gearboxes. But again, the mission of the car is not performance. Wind noise is not bad with this top back and I had folks in the backseat and they say it wasn't a buffet fest. That's a pretty good trick. Now that said, overall this car feels very timid on power as I mentioned. That's gonna turn some people off who are used to driving below 3000 RPM and they might come away from a test drive thinking it's gutless. Europeans tend to row their motors better. We don't. It's kind of built for the European driving style. The ride quality is very good, nicely compliant. But as I mentioned, you've got some body roll in there. It's a little wallowy especially for a little car. In all, this car comes off very refined. It goes head to head with like a Ford Fiesta which is pretty much top of the pack in terms of refinement in that class, which this one plays in. But I think Fiat's ace in the hole is this, the outside of the car says that European joie de vivre. And then the inside of the car and the driving deliver on that. That's a nice consistent experience. Okay, let's price this 500c, C for cabriolet. Including that, it's 19500 plus delivery, 20000 even for the ragtop. Not bad. Now on top of that couple a la carte options, you can get that tom-tom clip-on nav rig for 400 bucks. Just use your phone. You can also get the in-car wireless router for 500. See the last remark? The lounge packages adds a lot of nice of these, the Bose Audio, Sirius, automatic temperature control, the alloy wheels, but it also rolls in the automatic transmission. That's gonna turn me off especially with its MPG reduction. I'd stay with this 5-speed and an a la carte or aftermarket all the rest. In general, this car should make this car pretty darn proud.