Fiat 500 an Italian flawed beauty
"The 2012 Fiat 500 is undeniably cute. You can even order a turbocharged version that is undeniably quick."
The 2012 Fiat 500 is one of those seductive cars that, once it gets into your head, you just can’t shake it loose.
I have a neighbour who, seeing me driving this one, is obsessed with the car. He’s even gone so far as to find out there’s now a Fiat dealer within 60 km of our country homes; until recently, the closest was more than 100 km away.
He keeps asking me what I think of the car, but I know he’s not really listening. I fully expect to see one parked in his driveway any day now.
Not that he’d be the first to fall for the 500’s charms. On a recent trip to Hollywood, I saw lots of them in the town that prizes style over substance.
The 2012 Fiat 500 is undeniably cute. You can even order a turbocharged version that is undeniably quick.
And with the contrasting colour of its red soft top our white test car is cuter than most. But it’s not all that fast. Equipped with the naturally aspirated 1.4-litre inline-four that makes 101 hp, it takes 12.3 seconds to go from 0-100 km/h and 9.7 seconds to accelerate from 80-120. This engine is coupled to a five-speed stick that feels solid and precise in your right hand.
Our test car is a cabrio - a type of almost-convertible once popular in Europe that never really caught on in North America.
Rather than lowering completely, the cabrio’s cloth top rolls back electrically, opening the interior of the car to the elements but keeping the side rails and window frames.
Sounds reasonable enough on a pleasant day but at just 60-70 km/h it flaps and drums so badly when rolled back that it seems ready to fly off. And I don’t dare take it through a high-pressure car wash.
Even when closed, the noise level through the canvas top is much greater than through the steel roof of the 500 Coupe. Forget about listening to the audio system when you’re surrounded by 18-wheelers on the highway.
In its favour, this 500 looks and feels solid - not at all flimsy like the Fiats of old.
Our test car is in upscale Lounge trim which adds leather seating and air conditioning to the 500’s already substantial list of standard features that includes seven air bags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic stability control, power doors/windows/mirrors and keyless ignition.
The white exterior paint of our test car is repeated on the instrument panel and is complemented by red and charcoal leather seats and trim. It’s one of the nicest small car interiors around. Unfortunately, the round instrument panel, that is so legible in daytime, is awash in red light at night and becomes almost impossible to read.
The manually operated front buckets are fine, but only the driver gets a fold-down centre arrest. As for the rear seats, it would be cruel and unusual punishment to make an adult ride back there for very long.
With its short wheelbase (2,301 mm), the 500 is nimble in city traffic and can more than keep up at superhighway speeds. The 2012 500 is a retromobile and even does a dance that dates back to the time the original 500 was new in 1957.
With its short wheelbase, on rough city streets it does a passable imitation of the bunny hop. In this car, those alleged traffic-calming speed bumps do anything but calm your spine.
The base 500 in Pop trim is a good buy at $13,495, but our test car, a 500 Cabrio in Lounge trim, seems a little over the top at $24,390. If you really must have one of these, spend the extra money on the new turbocharged coupe. Don’t just settle for style, go for substance.
2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio
Trim level: Lounge
As tested before taxes: $24,390
Options on test car: TomTom navigation with Blue & Me hands-free communication ($495); Pearl White exterior paint ($300); 15-inch aluminum wheels ($250); compact spare ($200); windscreen ($150).
Configuration: Front engine/ front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 1.4L 4-cyl./ 5-spd manual
Power/torque: 101 hp/98 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (40L)
Fuel economy ratings: 6.7 L/100km city; 5.1 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 6.1 L/100km over 643 km
Warranties: 3 years/ 60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 100,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Chevrolet Spark; Smart Fortwo
Strengths: handling; fuel economy; styling
Weaknesses: bouncy ride; soft top integrity; cramped rear seat