2012 Fiat 500c Review and Test Drive

By Jonathan Spira on 12 October 2011
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La Dolce Fiat: Does the world need another cute small car that handles well?

Fiat’s “Drive-In” commercial clearly plays to the company’s attempt to transport us to 1950s Italy, Fiat 500cshowing an original 500 on a drive-in’s movie screen (in black-and-white) while a couple who bring their modern-day 500 to the same drive-in are shown undertaking the same activities as those on screen.

While the 500 may be a novelty to Americans, it’s been a fixture on European roads since 1957.   The current version of the 500 was introduced in Europe in 2007 and it took Fiat’s takeover of Chrysler in the U.S. to bring the 500 to these shores.

The version sold to American buyers, however, has been modified to meet local requirements and tastes. Manufactured in Mexico (the engine is made in Michigan), it has a more robust climate control system, a stiffer suspension, and the option of an automatic transmission.

It has a lot going for it, which could bode well for Fiat’s return to the U.S. market.  The Cinquecento (Italian for “five-hundred”) is small, adorably cute, and (most importantly) affordable – and if this sounds familiar, there’s a clear reason: Fiat’s marketing strategy bears a close resemblance to Mini’s.

No matter where I went with the Cinquecento cabriolet, I had admirers (to be honest, they were admiring the car, not me).  Its cuteness factor appealed to a wide variety of people (including car salesmen selling other brands as I visited two dealerships while I had the 500 and it seemed at times as if everyone on the sales floor was outside in the parking lot admiring it.

DRIVING THE FIAT 500C

The Cinquecento is as much fun to drive as it looks.  Steering is responsive and linear and the Sport button (located on the dashboard) lowers the power assist to just the right level and allows for more feedback.  In the ten days I had the 500c, I always remembered to push Sport when getting into the car.

Even though the inline-four only produces 101 hp, the car felt quick.  This must have been due to its appearance as it does take 9.6 seconds to get from zero to sixty.   The brakes were more than sufficient in terms of stopping power and they had a nice firm feel.

The ride is surprisingly firm and pleasant, despite the short wheelbase.  The suspension was firm yet not harsh; it certainly outhandles other cars in its price range and would probably give a Mini a thrashing on the autocross track.

The only downside is the penalty that drivers will pay for having the (U.S.-only) automatic transmission.  While the standard transmission gets 30 mpg (7.8 l/100 km) in the city and 38 mpg (6.2 l/100 km) on the highway, the automatic gets 27 (8.7 l/100 km) and 32 (7.4 l/100 km).  The automatic did shift smoothly, however, and it will no doubt be popular with buyers.

Click here to continue to Page 2 – Inside the Fiat 500c and Multimedia Content

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