The new 2012 Fiat 500 features a 1.4L four-cylinder engine, FWD and averages between about 38-40 MPG. The tiny four-banger offers surprisingly responsive performance.

The new 2012 Fiat 500 features a 1.4L four-cylinder engine, FWD and averages between about 38-40 MPG. The tiny four-banger offers surprisingly responsive performance.

As you know, the purpose of our new-vehicle reviews is to provide you with a heads-up preview regarding equipment and service access. However, this was a fun little ride, so I’ll share my thoughts. The first thing you notice (aside from the minuscule size), is the quick response of the steering. A quick-ratio rack coupled with 195/45R16 Pirelli tires make this a street-legal go-kart. The steering is very immediate, so anyone who is unskilled (the majority of drivers) will find themselves darting within their lane with every twitch of their hands.

Once you become accustomed to the steering, you begin to appreciate just how nimble this thing is. Along with the fairly quick revving 1.4L four-banger engine and the very positive five-speed gearbox, the new Fiat 500 is a hoot to drive, especially on twisty roads. The overall driving experience somewhat reminds me of the original British Mini Cooper. Yes, it’s small, but light on its feet and agile.

The interior is, as you might expect, on the tight side, especially for large adults. However, without a front passenger, the driver has ample room in terms of comfort and steering/braking/shifting operation. It’s actually quite comfy until you start adding passengers.

The interior is, as you might expect, on the tight side, especially for large adults. However, without a front passenger, the driver has ample room in terms of comfort and steering/braking/shifting operation. It’s actually quite comfy until you start adding passengers.

ANY PROBLEMS?

It was probably an aberration on our sample vehicle (luck of the draw), but the only glitch I experienced (on two separate occasions) was a “limp” mode operation, where the engine would refuse to rev, all information center warning lights illuminated, and the speedometer went dead (tach continued to work). After shutting down the ignition and restarting twice, all systems went back to normal operation, and with no constant check-engine light.

At the same time, a message was presented on the info center that said “engine heater recommended.” After plugging in a scan tool, the only DTC present was U0121 (lost communication with ABS). At the time of the two limp-mode incidents, ambient temperature was about 36 degrees Fahrenheit. It was interesting to note, if ABS communication was lost, that this would cause the engine to go into a fail-safe mode.

Wheel hubs feature four-bolt design. Wheels are secured with bolts (hub bolt holes are tapped).

Wheel hubs feature four-bolt design. Wheels are secured with bolts (hub bolt holes are tapped).

The 16-inch wheels and hubs feature a four-bolt pattern. Wheel bolts (not nuts and studs) secure the wheels. The wheel bolts feature a conical (tapered) seat and require the use of a 17mm wrench. Wheel bolt thread diameter is 12mm x 1.25. Bolt thread length is 20mm. Bolt length from the top of the conical seat to the tip of the threaded shank is 35mm. In years past, when dealing with a wheel-bolt mounting system, it was common source of frustration during wheel installation, since you’d need to hold the wheel flat against the hub while rotating the wheel to gain bolt hole alignment.

Wheel bolts are 12mm x 1.25, with a conical (tapered) seat style.

Wheel bolts are 12mm x 1.25, with a conical (tapered) seat style.

Fiat thoughtfully provides two tapered locating pins on the hub. Simply position the wheel onto the hub while engaging the locating pins into the dowel holes in the wheel. Once these pins have been engaged, the wheel bolt holes align with the hub’s threaded holes. No more fishing around. This was definitely a good idea.

ENGINE

Our test vehicle was equipped with the 1.4L twin-cam 16-valve MultiAir engine. Cylinder bore diameter is 72mm, and stroke is 84mm (1368cc displacement). Compression ratio is 10.8:1. Fuel injection is via MPI electronic phased sequential injection system.

Engine response is reasonably quick, with no troublesome lag-time. Performance is surprisingly good, despite the relatively small displacement (again, the small size/weight of the car contributes to this). Coupled with a five-speed manual transmission (on our test car), the Fiat 500’s fun-factor should be enough to put a smile on any driver’s face.

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Front brake calipers are single-piston sliders. Note the two tapered dowel pins on the hub face, which greatly aid in retaining wheel position during wheel installation (with the wheel’s dowel pin holes engaged onto the dowels, the bolt holes align, eliminating the need to hold the wheel while trying to rotate for hole alignment. This is a nice touch. By the way, the braking performance on the Fiat 500 is outstanding. Moderate pedal pressure really hauls this thing down in a hurry.

Front brake calipers are single-piston sliders. Note the two tapered dowel pins on the hub face, which greatly aid in retaining wheel position during wheel installation (with the wheel’s dowel pin holes engaged onto the dowels, the bolt holes align, eliminating the need to hold the wheel while trying to rotate for hole alignment. This is a nice touch. By the way, the braking performance on the Fiat 500 is outstanding. Moderate pedal pressure really hauls this thing down in a hurry.

BRAKES

Our sample car featured four-wheel disc braking, with single-piston calipers at all four wheels.

The braking performance is absolutely outstanding. You don’t need to mash the brakes very hard to make this little ride haul-down in a heartbeat. Granted, the small size and light weight of this car factored into this, but nonetheless I was very impressed with the braking.

When you pop the hood, pretty much all you’ll initially see is the large plastic engine cover and the battery.

When you pop the hood, pretty much all you’ll initially see is the large plastic engine cover and the battery.

Since my loan period with the Fiat was during an Ohio winter, I had the opportunity to experience acceleration, handling and braking on a variety of road conditions, including snow and ice. The ABS/TRAC/VSC system definitely works as intended, and the system was quick to respond between dry pavement traction and reduced traction on slippery surfaces. If you paid close attention, you could feel the brakes respond appropriately (grip/loss of grip, etc.), but to most people, the operation will appear seamless.

With the top cover popped off (no fasteners to remove… the cover simply snaps into place with pins that engage into grommeted holes), access to various components is still on the cramped side.

With the top cover popped off (no fasteners to remove… the cover simply snaps into place with pins that engage into grommeted holes), access to various components is still on the cramped side.

SERVICE ACCESS

As you might expect in a small and tightly compacted package, certain component access is a challenge, especially under the hood. You’ll need small hands and a bit of patience for any service involving the brake master cylinder, throttle body, AC compressor, etc. And as is becoming common on many late-model vehicles, you’ll need to remove the plastic under-engine cover to even think about accessing the oil drain plug or engine oil filter.

On the bright side, the DLC diagnostic plug (for your scan tool) is very easy to locate and reach (lower left of the dash).

Aside from the compactness of the underhood area, this is a fun little car to drive. The suspension system and brakes present no unusual challenges in terms of access/servicing.

The rear suspension features coil springs and separate twin-tube shock absorbers. Note the full-size spare tire and the extended damper inside the spring.

The rear suspension features coil springs and separate twin-tube shock absorbers. Note the full-size spare tire and the extended damper inside the spring.

Rear disc brakes feature integrated parking brake operation.

Rear disc brakes feature integrated parking brake operation.

 

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BASE PRICE      $17,500

Exterior color          Giallo (yellow)

Interior color           Nero (black)

Interior                    Sport cloth bucket seats

Engine                    1.4L MultiAir

Transmission          Five-speed manual

STANDARD EQUIPMENT

Advanced multi-stage airbags

Supplemental front seat side mount airbags

Side-curtain front and rear airbags

Driver side knee airbag

Front seat reactive head restraints

Latch-ready child seat anchor system

Four-wheel antilock disc brakes

Electronic stability control

Power windows with front one-touch-down feature

Power door locks

Remote keyless entry

Speed control

Hill start assist

Tire pressure monitoring system

Rear window defroster

Variable intermittent windshield wipers

Rear window wiper/washer

Sentry key immobilizer

12-volt auxiliary center console power outlet

10.5 gallon fuel tank

Sport suspension

140 mph speedometer

Air conditioning with micron filter

Driver seat memory

Driver height adjustable seat

Driver and passenger front seatback pockets

AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio

Bose premium audio

BLUE & ME hands-free communication w/USB port

Leather wrapped sport steering wheel

Steering wheel-mounted audio controls

Auxiliary audio input jack

Tilt steering column

Vehicle information center

Front floor mats

Rear 50/50 split fold-down seat

15 x 6.5 alloy wheels (our vehicle featured 16-inch alloys)

Bi-function Halogen projector headlamps

Power heated mirrors

Fog lamps

Chrome exhaust tip

Rear spoiler

Red brake calipers

Tire service repair kit

The front strut mount locations are found at each side of the cowl area (note the large black round cover immediately forward of the hood hinge)

The front strut mount locations are found at each side of the cowl area (note the large black round cover immediately forward of the hood hinge)

The engine oil dipstick is thoughtfully located next to the oil fill cap for easy access for owners. The AC compressor is located between the dipstick and firewall. Like I mentioned, access to most components is tight.

The engine oil dipstick is thoughtfully located next to the oil fill cap for easy access for owners. The AC compressor is located between the dipstick and firewall. Like I mentioned, access to most components is tight.


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OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT

Customer preferred package 21D

Safety and convenience package (automatic temperature control with micron filter, security alarm, compact spare tire): $400.

Safety and sound package (Sirius XM satellite radio with 1-year subscription): $200.

Tom/Tom navigation with BLUE & ME: $400.

Destination charge: $500.

Vehicle list price as equipped: $19,000

EPA estimated fuel economy: 30 mpg city; 38 mpg highway

Heater hoses feature quick-connect fittings at the firewall.

 Heater hoses feature quick-connect fittings at the firewall.

 

The brake master cylinder is tucked under the cowl. Access is definitely tight.

The brake master cylinder is tucked under the cowl. Access is definitely tight.

The exhaust system is routed through the center of the floor area. Note that the underbelly is primed but not painted.

The exhaust system is routed through the center of the floor area. Note that the underbelly is primed but not painted.

The underside of the entire engine/trans area is shrouded with plastic panels that must be removed to access the oil pan drain, oil filter, etc.

The underside of the entire engine/trans area is shrouded with plastic panels that must be removed to access the oil pan drain, oil filter, etc.

 

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