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2012 FIAT 500 Sport Review & Test Drive 16
Jan
Posted by Malcolm Hogan in 2012 Fiat 500, Automotive, featured, Fiat, Fiat 500, Test Drives on 01 16th, 2012

Small light-weight compact cars are attempting to make a big impact on the American car culture. Many brands are injecting what they consider to be “the best offering” when it comes to a subcompact. Chrysler and Fiat has made a fair attempt at this endeavor in the all-new 2012 Fiat 500.

The Italian Fiat 500 has been welcomed by many in the European market. For them, 2012 Fiat 500 nothing new under the sun. Now, the American market gets our own version of the Fiat 500, which is not sway too far away from the sense of the current European-spec Fiat.

The all-new 2012 Fiat 500, surprisingly, is a competent subcompact car. Of course naturally everyone will compare the new Fiat 500 to the MINI Cooper or the new Scion iQ. In retrospect, the new Fiat 500 Sport is a nice blend of a MINI Cooper hardtop and Scion’s new iQ. Having driven the convertible Fiat 500C just a few months ago, stepping into the new Fiat 500 Sport brings on a surprising better drivability factor. This ‘factor’ could legitimately compete head-on with a standard version of the MINI Cooper hardtop provided the Fiat 500 had a bit more power. Maybe the answer is in the 160-horsepower Abarth version of the Fiat 500.

The Fiat 500 Sport is much lighter on its feet with the 5-speed manual transmission. Having the 5-speed manual transmission gives the driver more usable power to the pavement.

The Fiat 500 two-door subcompact hatchback comes in three trim levels, Pop, Sport and Lounge. The convertible Fiat 500C is available in only two trims, Pop and Lounge. My Fiat 500 Sport two-door includes larger 16-inch wheels (15-inch standard on Pop trim), sport suspension, roof spoiler, sports seats, fog lights, heated front seats, automatic climate control and re-tuned steering.

The new Fiat 500 Sport is powered by 101 horsepower and 98 ft. lbs. of torque 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. Fiat’s new “MultiAir” system variably controls the valves for optimal output and fuel economy. It is obvious that you can get much more “optimal” than 101 horsepower, but there is still an eagerness from the ‘little-engine-that-could” at full-throttle. I have to say, fuel economy was pretty good considering I had to rev the 1.4-liter engine to infinity and beyond to keep things moving well on the highway. After the little Fiat 500 Sport gets up to speed, it is shockingly smooth and stable. Anything  involving turns well-above highway speeds, simply put, is not recommended.

As a testament to the Fiat 500 Sport’s power output, going up a steep inclined bridge in 5th gear, the Fiat is able to only hold a constant speed. If you wish to accelerate at the least bit, you must down-shift into 4th gear or even 3rd gear. Although, the 5-speed manual transmission’s gearing makes the best use of the MultiAir 4-cylinder engine’s limited 101 horsepower output. The energetic buzz sound from the 4-cylinder becomes a customary tune until you turn the volume to what is an excellent sounding stereo system with 6 speakers, and a subwoofer. For a subcompact vehicle, the Fiat 500’s Bose premium audio system reproduces clear high and low notes.

Rowing through the 5-speed manual transmission can be a bit clunky. However, a competent driver may still manage to perform smooth shifts and rev-matched down-shifts with ease.

The Fiat 500 Sport’s 16-inch wheels and 195/45/16 tires, look great while at the same time give the Fiat 500 a better handling edge over the standard Fiat 500 Pop trim level.

Justifiably so, subcompact cars seem to always get a bad rep for interior space. When it comes to the new 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, interior space can be summed up by calling it usable. In other words, I found myself and three of my small friends, using every bit of available space. Front passengers have just enough space even for someone who is well-over 6-feet tall. The new Fiat 500 has a very high roof-line, that is almost as high as some crossover vehicles. The trunk space is only good for two medium to small sized luggage bags. As a plus, the rear-hatch space is slightly larger that of the Fiat 500 Convertible’s.

Dashboard controls are kept reasonably simple. With the dash encased in a glossy body-colored array of plastic panels, the controls are contrasted very well and easy to see. The gauge cluster, as with the Fiat 500C Convertible that I tested months ago, combines the tachometer and speedometer in the same larger circular pod. The pod also encloses a round LCD screen for displaying a variety of information such as, mpg figures, trip computer, outside temp, current date and time, fuel gauge and temp gauge. The mph and rpm numbers are represented in a retro-styled font.

Like many lightweight subcompacts on the market, the Fiat 500 has its own unique characteristic. The all-new 2012 Fiat 500 retains its Italian roots embodying a classy look and plenty of style to go around despite its smallish size. The all-new 2012 Fiat 500 Sport is delectably priced at a starting MSRP of $17,500.

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Copyright: 2012 AutomotiveAddicts.com

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Price: Base Fiat 500 Hatchback Pop $15,500 / Base Fiat 500 Hatchback Sport $17,500
  • Engine: 1.4-liter 101 horsepower @ 6500 rpm / 98 ft-lbs. torque @ 4000 rpm
  • Wheelbase: 90.6in.
  • Total length: 139.6in.
  • Total width: 64.1in.
  • Total height: 59.8in.
  • Track: f/r-55.4/55.0in.
  • Ground clearance: 4.1in.
  • Headroom: f/r-38.9/35.6.in.
  • Legroom: f/r-40.7/31.7in.
  • Fuel tank: 10.5 gallons
  • Turning circle: 30.6ft.
  • Interior volume: 85.1cu.ft.
  • Curb weight: 2,363lbs.
  • 0-60mph: 10.8 seconds (5-speed manual transmission)
  • EPA mileage: 30mpg/city, 38mpg/highway (5-speed manual transmission)


Is The Fiat 500 The Next Smart Car? 22
Nov
Posted by Kurt Ernst in 2012 Fiat 500, Automotive, Fiat, Kurt, smart fortwo on 11 22nd, 2011

The Fiat 500. Image: Chrysler Group LLC

When the Smart brand debuted in the United States, the timing couldn’t have been better to launch a small, fuel efficient brand. Gas pricing had spiked to record levels and the U.S. economy was in a tailspin. Families were looking to squeeze every single penny out of a shrinking household budget, so replacing a fuel-sucking SUV with a skaterboard-sized commuter car seemed like the practical thing to do.

In the beginning, Smart’s sales numbers backed this up, too. In 2008, Penske Automotive sold close to 25,000 Smart cars in the United States, but by 2010 that figure had plummeted to just under 6,000 units. The combination of a high price tag, lower fuel prices, poor media exposure and a further-worsening economy had killed sales of Smart, prompting parent Daimler to take back distribution rights and give them to Mercedes-Benz.

If you could pick the two biggest reasons for Smarts failure in the U.S., they’d be value for the price and lack of advertising. There are now several options that offer more practicality and similar fuel economy to the Smart, for a lower price. Unless you need the car’s diminutive size, there’s no good reason to choose Smart over a Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic or Nissan Versa.

Smart has ramped up advertising now, targeting the same urban-dwellers it wanted to sell the car to all along. Whether or not Mercedes will be able to turn the brand around in the United States remains to be seen, but this much is clear: it’s fighting an uphill battle.

The same may be true with Fiat and the 500. To call year-to-date sales “disappointing” is an understatement; Fiat hoped to sell 50,000 units per year, but as Left Lane News points out, they’ve moved just 15,826 units year to date. Since sales only began in March, the numbers need to be adjusted accordingly. Still, factoring in a shortened year, Fiat is on pace to sell just 23,739 units per year. That’s less than half of what its projections (and budgets) had estimated.

Worse, Fiat now has some 14,000 500s in dealer inventory, which represents at least a six-month supply. More Fiat dealers are in place (the company has finally hit the 130 number it promised earlier in the year), but twenty-five percent didn’t sell a single Fiat 500 last month. Advertising has been non-existent until recently, which hasn’t helped draw buyers into Fiat showrooms, and the combination of these factors resulted in the release (or resignation) of Laura Soave, the former head of the Fiat brand in the United States.

Like Smart, Fiat is now at a crossroads, and it must move carefully if its to reestablish the brand in the United States. To do so, it needs to draw more attention to the brand, targeting the very same urban market as the Smart. A lower price wouldn’t hurt, either, since an optioned-out Fiat 500 can easily reach the mid-$20k range. Finally, Fiat needs to borrow a page from Ford’s playbook, and use social media to get the 500 in front of as many people as possible. We know that road shows are expensive, but we also know this: they work to sell cars.

A change in gas pricing, which again seems likely thanks to events in the Middle East and speculation on oil futures, will make the Fiat 500 an easier sell, too. No one wants to see gas prices above the $5.00 per gallon mark, but when they get there, the Fiat 500 will be an easier sell.

Fiat dealers still have two years to wait for new models to sell alongside the Fiat 500, so it will be a long wait if sales don’t ramp up soon. We like Fiat and we want to see them succeed again in the U.S. market. Let’s just hope that the new management will get the brand back on track before it’s too late.



2012 FIAT 500C Convertible Lounge Review & Test Drive 19
Oct
Posted by Malcolm Hogan in 2012 Fiat 500, Automotive, featured, Fiat, Fiat 500, Test Drives on 10 19th, 2011

To introduce the US market to FIAT, Chrysler leaves the traditional Italian brand’s design somewhat untouched while adding many features and safety improvements over the European version. The all-new Fiat 500 is a two-door subcompact available in a hatchback or convertible variants.

As cute as it is, the new Fiat 500 is a fully functional vehicle that has a long European lineage with a few reworkings to better suit its needs here in the states. For the US-spec Fiat 500, it gets a bigger fuel tank (one additional gallon) for a total of 10.5 gallons, additional safety features and improved fuel efficiency. Being the small vehicle that the Fiat 500 is, you can manage to get up to 336 miles in one tank on the automatic convertible version going by its EPA estimated 32 mpg highway figure. Gas mileage is rather consistent and I was able to get better than the 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway estimates on my Fiat 500C test vehicle. The manual transmission version of the 500 improves fuel economy standards to an excellent 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.

Powering the all-new 2012 Fiat 500 is a new 1.4-liter engine with MultiAir technology. The MultiAir system is a great technological advancement which essentially decouples the intake valves and camshaft. MultiAir basically achieves what other valvetronic systems do to vary valve positioning (timing) dependent on load and engine speeds to optimize efficiency and power output. All of this technology yields 101 horsepower and 98 ft. lbs. of torque through a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission driving the front wheels.

With the new 2012 Fiat 500C weighing in at 2486 pounds, you are not going to win any races but you can still be cute, turn some heads and have a ‘little’ fun (no pun intended).

Styling has been kept undeniably classic on the Fiat 500 closely mimicking the original Italian design from the 60’s and 70’s. My Fiat 500C convertible was equipped with a power-sliding cloth top. The top can be operated up to 60 mph and folds the rear window down to reduce wind resistance. Rear visibility is cut short with the top down on the 500C convertible due to the bulk of the cloth top folded to the rear.

The exterior styling is quite unmistakable but shares a few modern-day aesthetics such as the projector beam halogen headlights and stylish 15-inch wheels with color accents.

The engine of the all-new Fiat 500 is built in Michigan while the rest of the vehicle is assembled in Mexico. Despite an odd marriage of parts and assembly locations, the build quality of the new 2012 Fiat 500 was surprisingly good from my standpoint. There were no rattles or odd noises with the exception of the 4-cylinder engine’s buzz at high rpm. Interior plastics do not appear to be cheap-looking making the fit and finish well worth the price of admission.

Comfort in the new 2012 Fiat 500C is interesting to say the least. Being that I am over 6-feet tall I really did not have a problem fitting into the drivers or passengers seat. I found the front seats to be very comfy and positioned well for tall and short people. As far as the back, it would be an embarrassment to even think about utilizing the back seats for anything other than luggage. Although, I do give the rear seats praise for having enough room to seat small children who have just graduated from their booster seat.

The interior of the all-new Fiat 500C has a convoluted thought to design. The dash board plastic face-panel is painted with a high-gloss finish. My red Fiat 500C had the interior dash panel to match while the rest of the dash accents were an iPod-ish-looking off-white color. The bright amber backlighting on the white-face dash and leather-wrapped steering wheel standout well, especially at night. The driver’s gauge cluster combines both the tachometer and speedometer in the same large circular pod. All-together it works well to save on space which is obviously not the Fiat’s forte.

Most of the controls are clear-cut with the exception of the dash cluster functions. They do take a while to navigate and find the specific function that you desire for something as simple as reading the current mpg figure or toggling to the trip computer.

The Bose stereo system sounds surprisingly well considering the small form factor of the Fiat’s cabin. Engineers took the time to develop the sound system specifically for the small space. You can even find a Bose subwoofer located under the front passenger seat making the best use of a small space.

I spent the better part of 15 minutes attempting to figure out where the power door lock switch was. My fully loaded Fiat 500C has all of the power amenities so I was convinced I was overlooking the lock button. Interestingly enough, the door locks are activated by pushing the classic ‘hooked’ door handle and simply unlocked by pulling the handle. Small touches like this put the Fiat 500 in a category all by its self if the small size does not already do it.

Trunk space is short for the most part on the Fiat 500C Convertible. The Fiat 500 hatchback immensely improves upon rear storage space with a full rear hatch door that opens wide versus the convertible’s smaller rear half-door.

Smaller vehicles like the Mini and Fiat 500 sometimes give consumers the notion that it is unsafe due to its size alone. Contrary to the belief, the new Fiat 500 is focused on safety. The all-new Fiat 500 has a total of 7 standard airbags including multi-state front-passenger advanced air bags, driver’s knee air bag, seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags and full-length side-curtain air bags. Active head restraints are activated during rear impact to prevent whiplash. The Fiat 500 recently earned IIHS Top Safety Pick status in the mini-car category.

The 6-speed automatic transmission meshes well with the small 1.4-liter with only 101 horsepower. Together you have just enough power to keep up with cars in the fast lane on the highway. The engine is always eager and spin up near redline while the 6-speed auto keeps you in the power band.  Where the Fiat 500C lacks in performance, it makes it up for being one of the smallest cars on the road fitting into virtually any parking spot that you can find. With a wheel base of only 90.6 inches and total vehicle length at 139.6 inches, you could almost put the Fiat 500 in the back of a large pick-up truck or park it across a two-car garage driveway.

When it comes to performance, enthusiasts would rarely think of a Fiat unless they are anticipating the new Abarth version of the Fiat 500. Historically, just like the Mini received extra “performance” treatment from John Cooper, the Fiat Abarth will make its way to the US shedding weight and gaining some much needed power. A new Fiat 500 Abarth is slated to go on sale this Fall. For now the Sport button will have to do in my new 2012 Fiat 500C which changes shift patterns and remaps throttle positioning for optimal performance.

Like many small cute cars on the current market, the Fiat 500 is gives buyers plenty of personalization and unique characteristics at a relatively low price point. A comparable Mini Cooper could put you a couple grand over the Fiat 500’s price easily. You could opt for a much larger vehicle for the Fiat 500’s fully-loaded price at 25 grand, but they won’t be as cute as the classically designed Fiat 500C and may not turn as many heads.

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Copyright: 2011 AutomotiveAddicts.com

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Price: Base Fiat 500 Hatchback Pop $15,500 / As-Tested Fiat 500C Convertible Lounge $25,250 loaded including destination charges
  • Engine: 1.4-liter 101 horsepower @ 6500 rpm / 98 ft-lbs. torque @ 4000 rpm
  • Wheelbase: 90.6in.
  • Total length: 139.6in.
  • Total width: 64.1in.
  • Total height: 59.8in.
  • Track: f/r-55.4/55.0in.
  • Ground clearance: 4.6in.
  • Headroom: f/r-38.6/36.8.in.
  • Legroom: f/r-40.7/31.7in.
  • Fuel tank: 10.5 gallons
  • Turning circle: 30.6ft.
  • Interior volume: 81.6cu.ft.
  • Curb weight: 2,486lbs.
  • 0-60mph: 10.8 seconds (manual transmission)
  • EPA mileage: 27mpg/city, 32mpg/highway


Small But Safe: 2012 Fiat 500 Earns IIHS Top Safety Pick 19
Oct
Posted by Kurt Ernst in 2012 Fiat 500, Automotive, Crash Test Ratings, Fiat, Kurt, Top Safety Picks on 10 19th, 2011

The 2012 Fiat 500. Image: Chrysler Group LLC

Americans, it seems, are genetically conditioned to equate size with safety. Thanks to advances in automotive design and materials, the physical size of a car or truck is no longer a good indication of how safe the vehicle is. Take the 2012 Fiat 500, for example: the IIHS has just awarded Fiat 500 models built after August of 2011 a “Top Safety Pick” award, and the 500 is small enough to fall into the “minicar” category.

Earning the Top Safety Pick award requires a car to score “Good” (the agency’s highest rating) in frontal offset, side impact and roof strength testing. Cars also must be equipped with electronic stability control, which can help even inexperienced drivers avoid catastrophic rollover accidents.

As Autoblog points out, the Fiat 500 joins the Ford Fiesta as the only minicars to earn the Top Safety Pick rating. Since Chevrolet has big plans for the Spark in the U.S. market, expect that car to do well in crash testing when it hits the market next year.







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