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2012 Fiat 500: A First Impression - Life is Better When Driven

2012 Fiat 500 (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Fiat 500

Fiat 500: A First Impression, Life is Better When Driven

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Chicago, February 2011 - “It’s not how big your car is. It’s how big your life is.” This statement is written on a wall in the Fiat Design Studio in Turin, Italy. Laura Soave, Head of Fiat Brand North America, gave Chicagoland auto journalists a first hand, up-close-and-personal look into the development of the Fiat 500 as well as the work needed to bring the 500 to the U.S, market starting with the July 2009 decision to do so.

The 2012 Fiat 500 is on its way now to the 130 Fiat dealers—Fiat refers to them as Fiat Studios—in 37 states around our country. Introduced on July 4, 2007 in Europe, the beginnings of the new 500, the Cinquecento, took place in 2004 with a ten-person design team. Their objective was to continue the expression of the first iteration launched 50 year earlier on July 4, 1957.

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The first Cinquecento provided freedom. It was innovative, safe and light-weight. It featured unique design elements such as its clam-shell bonnet, or hood. Italian styling combined with timeless functionality, efficient design and innovative technology are attributes described by Fiat.

Fabio DiMuro, chief engineer of the Fiat 500, and his team knew that American drivers have high expectations. With the main competition of the 500 being the Mini, Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit, ride comfort, a quiet acoustic package and high safety level were very important. Six months of development work took place at Fiat in Italy and then it was moved to the U.S. A new rear axle design for all models with a 300% increase in torsion stiffness was designed. Noise reduction measures such as new door seals, foam body insulation, hydraulic engine mounts, and an engine cover reduced noise from 76dB to 71dB at wide-open-throttle. The sport model was made more sporty.

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Surprising to me, the only change to the assembled body-in-white was a new rear floor panel in the area of the spare tire needed for the U.S. rear crash requirements. The 500 already has a European 5-star crash rating.

The 500 is powered by a 4-cylinder, 1.4-liter, 101 HP engine using Fiat’s patented Multi-air technology which significantly reduces emissions and improves fuel economy. The 1.4L Multi-air engine is rated at 30 city mpg and 38 highway with the manual 5-speed transmission and 27 city mpg and 34 highway mpg with the 6-speed automatic. I’m anxious to get the 500 on the road and I expect with its compact size and light weight the performance will deliver quite a bit of fun driving.

In the safety arena the 500 is completely equipped with an array of 35 safety features. An all-new air bag system with seven standard air bags and reactive head restraints that help minimize head injury in a rear crash among them. Also, Anti-lock Brake System, Electronic Stability Control, Electronic Traction Control, Electronic Brake Override of the throttle, tire-pressure monitoring, and BLUE&ME hands-free communication are some of the many.

The exterior and interior of this new Fiat with its iconic look are not changed much for the U.S. market. New front and rear fascias, new circular projector headlamps and lower park lamps, new tail lamps and side lower valence trim freshen the exterior. On the inside, arm rests, cup holders, a glove box and Bose 6-speaker sound system round things out. An available glass roof gives a nod to the well-known canvas roof of the original.

An amazing array of 14 different exterior colors is offered. The 4-person interior is available in 14 different color and material combination's providing the maximum in personal styling. In all, with the different combination's of color, interiors, features, dealer installed accessories and decals there are 500,000 combination's to choose from. The three 500 models, Pop, Sport and Lounge, offer something for everyone.

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The 500 Pop is priced at $15,500, the 500 Sport is $17,500 and the 500 Lounge is $19,500. Very favorable pricing within the competitive landscape.

The 500 was launched in 2007 and over 500,000 have been sold in more than 80 countries. This bodes well for Americans who will now get a high quality, well established car design. The 500 had earned over 60 international awards including being named the 2008 European Car of the Year.

For me the ownership experience is an important consideration and Fiat has covered the bases here. The 500 comes with a 4 year/50,000 mile warranty and also a 3 year/36,000 mile maintenance program that includes wear-and-tear items and trip-interruption reimbursement. Fiats of old didn’t have a particularly good reliability reputation. In the car-world of today that won’t cut it. Fiat appears to have covered all the bases and is bringing to market a car with an established track record of delivering a fun and reliable driving experience.

The 500 is very city friendly with its short overall length and ease of maneuverability. Whether you are a young Gen-Y millennial, a Gen-X’er needing a second car in your growing household or a re-urbanizing, empty–nester baby-boomer I think the 500 will fit in to many lifestyles extremely well. Have a look at I hope to get behind the wheel of a 500 soon and share my experience. Ciao.

Larry Nutson