MPG-o-Matic 2012 Fiat 500 Review Summary: While the 2012 Fiat 500 is available in entry-level Pop trim at an enticingly low price, it’s the mid-level Sport model that hits the mark.
The 500 Sport manual proves that fuel-efficient cars can be exceptionally fun to drive. If you’re ready to learn how to drive a stick shift, the 500’s easy-to-drive gearbox is the ideal place to start. Ciao Bella!
The 2012 Fiat 500 is equipped with a 1.4-liter four cylinder engine that produces 101 horsepower (HP) and 98 foot pounds of torque. The 16-valve SOHC MultiAir inline four can be mated to either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The manual just might be the best in the business at this price point. The 500 is available in three models: Pop, Sport, and Lounge. The automatic is standard on the top-end 500 Lounge and optional on the Pop and Sport.
The official fuel economy estimates for the 2012 Fiat 500 are 30 city / 38 highway MPG with the five-speed manual and 27 city / 34 highway with the six-speed automatic transmission.
We covered more than 500 miles in our five-speed manual Giallo 500 Sport review unit and eased past the official mileage estimates on the open road, hitting an average of 42.4 MPG on the Interstate highway and 37.1 MPG combined in temperatures ranging from the fifties through the eighties. Interstate highway testing temperatures were in the mid-sixties. Our test unit was delivered with under 3500 miles on the odometer.
The 2012 Fiat 500 Sport is equipped with with 16-inch alloy wheels and either Pirelli Cinturato P7 A/S or Continental ContiPro Contact P195/45R16 XL all-season tires. (Our test unit was clad with the Pirellis.) The 500 Pop and 500 Lounge roll about on 15-inch wheels (steel on the Pop, cast-aluminum on the Lounge), wrapped with either ContiProContacts, Cinturato P7 A/S, or Firestone Firehawk GTH tires.
Interstate Mileage Testing:
- Cruise control set to 68 MPH, A/C off, windows up: 40.9 MPG
- Cruise control off, target speed 60-72 MPH, A/C off, windows up: 44 MPG
The five-speed manual is a joy to row as it allows for maximum enjoyment of the tiny MultiAir engine’s distinctive exhaust note. For those afraid of rolling backwards on an incline, Hill Start Assist is standard issue.
The 2012 Fiat 500 tips the scales at 2363 lbs. (curb weight) for the five-speed manual and 2434 lbs. for the six-speed automatic. While it may be significantly faster, the Mini Cooper is hundreds of pounds heavier and thousands of dollars more expensive.
The 10.5 gallon fuel tank allows for a good amount of highway driving range when you have the discipline to keep your foot out of it. While the 500’s MultiAir engine can run on regular unleaded (87 octane) gasoline, 91 octane is recommended. We performed our testing with premium fuel.
The four-wheel Antilock disc brake system uses 10.1-inch front and 9.4-inch rear discs.
The monochrome LCD Vehicle Information Center is nested within the unique speedometer/tachometer layout and provides data including: average speed, travel time, trip meters, driving range, average and real-time fuel economy (MPG) (current consumption). Using the Instant MPG gauge will help 500 drivers adopt a light-footed, fuel-efficient driving style.
The Sport model is equipped with tuned shocks and springs. Zipping through city streets and back roads is a hoot. Poking the Sport button tightens up the 500’s steering and changes the throttle calibration for quicker gear changes and higher RPM limits on automatic-equipped cars.
Our tester was equipped with the standard Sport model’s cloth bucket seats. Seat height is (manually) adjustable. Leather seating surfaces are available in the Lounge model.
Blue & Me Handsfree Bluetooth integration is standard. USB and audio input jacks are located within the glovebox. A single twelve-volt outlet is located at the base of the dash. A six-speaker Bose audio system with subwoofer is standard on the Sport and Lounge models, while a 4.3-inch TomTom Navigation system is optional.
Our test unit was equipped with two options: the Safety & Sound package (consisting of SiriusXM Satellite Radio with a one-year subscription and a security alarm) and a Power Sunroof.
So here’s the bad news … the 500’s second row seats are only suitable for smaller folks, with a meager 35.6 inches of headroom and 31.7 inches of leg room.
Popping open the 500’s hatch reveals another shortcoming. There’s just 9.5 cubic feet of storage with the split rear seat up. Folding the 50/50 seat down adds more room for cargo, but there’s no mistaking the 500 for a Honda Fit.
Wish List: The 500 lacks adjustable lumbar support. Heated front seats are available, although not in all configurations.
All-in-all, the 2012 Fiat 500 is more than just an affordable alternative to the Mini Cooper. Sure, it’s small. It’s quirky. It’s not for every one. But the fun-to-drive and fuel-efficient 500 is introducing a new generation of Americans to the joys of the manual transmission. And while the engine’s horsepower output may be modest, the manual Sport model scurries from corner to corner and happily darts through city traffic. This one needs to be driven to be understood …
Parts Content Information
US/Canadian Parts Content: 11%
Major Sources of Foreign Parts Content: Mexico – 59%
Final Assembly Point: Toluca, Mexico
Country of Origin:
Engine – USA
Transmission – Italy
- by Daniel Gray
November 28th, 2011
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