New vehicle review: 2012 Fiat 500
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
140 mph speedometer
Air conditioning with micron filter
Driver seat memory
Driver height adjustable seat
Driver and passenger front seatback pockets
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
Chrome exhaust tip
Red brake calipers
Tire service repair kit
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
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