2012 Fiat 500: Mini's first true competitor arrives

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2012 Fiat 500

The very first Fiat 500s arrive in the US this week in the form of a special "Prima Edizione" model. This is the first new Fiat to be sold in America since 1984.

I spent a considerable amount of time sitting in this car during the Chicago Auto Show, and though I haven't driven it yet, I think it's Mini's first true competitor to hit our shores. It's a nice-looking compact car with an even more attractive entry price point of $15,500. Mini starts at about $23K.

Since I do think it'll will be a great city car, I was surprised to learn that the first Fiat dealer in the Chicago area will be all the way out in the burbs: Fields Fiat of Highland Park (250 Skokie Valley Rd).

Though I haven't had the chance to get behind the wheel, I'll whet your appetite with some fast facts and photos that I got during a recent media briefing in Chicago. Then, I'll say: To be continued ...
 

So, what exactly should you know about Fiat:

  • There will be 3 trim levels: Pop ($15,500), Sport ($17,500) and Lounge ($19,500)
  • Fuel economy ratings for city/highway are 30/38 mpg for manual transmission and 27/34 mpg for automatic
  • Premium fuel is recommended but not required. You'll get 1 to 2 percent less horsepower with regular fuel -- but no less fuel economy.
  • Bluetooth is standard on even the base Pop model.
  • If you buy a Fiat, at this point in time, it has be be serviced at a Fiat dealer. You cannot take it to Chrysler.
  • Looking forward, after launch of 500 coupe, Cabrio arrives this spring, then you'll see the Fiat Abarth and a BEV model in 2012.
  • Safety abounds in 500 with these standard features: 7 airbags (including knee airbags), electronic stability control, antilock brakes, brake override, hill start assist, side guard door beams ... and much more.

All told, I think the new 500 will initially be a kitschy niche car -- something you can have that not many others will. Kind of like the Smart car. But the key difference is that it can actually fit 4 passengers and some stuff. Not to mention the fact that I think it will actually feel stable at highway speeds.

For Chicagoans especially, I think the Fiat 500 has some serious potential. I'd consider it myself if they had a model with heated seats and a manual transmission. As it is, the Sport model has a manual but no heated seats, and the Lounge model has heated seats, but no manual transmission is offered.

Sigh. I guess my quest for a car under $20K with heated seats and stick shift sallies forth ...

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  • I also spent a lot of time checking out the 500's at the show. I was really impressed, it might have been one of my favorite vehicles at the show - maybe because I wasn't expecting much from the little Fiat in the first place. I especially liked the interior. I'm 6'-3" and I fit without any problem.

  • In reply to killer6795:

    i'm a the other end of the spectrum, and with my driving position you could probably even sit in the back seat! :) i have high hopes for fiat myself ... now if they could just get that manual transmission and heated seat thing figured out.

  • In reply to jillciminillo:

    The can call it the 500 Cortina Sport model after the Italian Alpine region that hosted the 1959 Winter Olympics. It's probably one of the few regions in Italy where seat heaters could come in handy. Of course FIAT might get an earful from Ford which used to field a Cortina model.

  • In reply to glslaw:

    Sorry meant the 1956 Olympics.

  • In reply to glslaw:

    i use heated seats year round ... even in the dead of summer. i'm just funny that way.

  • In reply to jillciminillo:

    Seat heating in the summer? Just turn off the AC. I'm just sayin'.

    Anyways, you won't like the fact that the NHTSA is looking into seat heaters which may pose an "unreasonable risk to safety" then will you....

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