Finally, the perfect city car: 2012 Fiat 500

Finally, the perfect city car: 2012 Fiat 500

Spoiler alert: In case you couldn't guess by the headline, I'm giving the Fiat 500 a perfect 10 on the Chicago-worthy scale. Finally, a car that makes absolute perfect sense in an urban environment.

And it's cute to boot.

Fiat is an old new entry in the US. It left back in the '80s because it just wasn't relevant (or well made). But this new 500 is making a big splash on the scene with kitschy color combos, attractive interiors and fuel economy that makes $4/gallon gas prices bearable.

Several of my twitter buddies asked me how it compared to the Mini Cooper, and I have to say … I'm liking the 500 better. Sure, the Mini has 20 more horsepower than the 500, and sure the Mini gets better city/highway fuel economy with the automatic transmission (29/37 vs 27/34), but there's just something about the 500 that reels me in.

I'm thinking it has something to do with the $15,500 base price. The 500 comes in 3 trim levels, the Pop, the Sport ($17,500) and the Lounge ($19,500). The test car was a Lounge model that was tricked out with the luxury interior package, TomTom navigation and sunroof for an as-tested price of about $23K. That's still not bad for a well-stocked city car.

If I had my choice, though, I'd probably opt for the sport model with a manual transmission (which by the way gets 30/38 mpg) and the safety and convenience package (which brings me heated front seats -- though not leather surfaces). The MSRP would ring in at $18,150.

Fiat 500 interior

I should point out, this exactly fulfills my stipulations for a car I would buy while living in Chicago: Under $20K, manual transmission, heated front seats. I don't ask for much, but you'd be surprised how few cars this turns up.

Other city selling points include the compact size, tight turning radius and peppy acceleration.

Now, that's not to say the 500 doesn't have a couple of downsides. First, I wasn't a fan of the automatic transmission. It was a little too herky-jerky for my taste. Though, I have much higher hopes for the manual transmission. I get that in a couple of weeks so stay tuned.

The other downside: This isn't a good 4-passenger car. You could probably fit 4 people in there who are my size, but when you start talking about average-sized adults, you'll be lucky if you can get 3. Plus, keeping with the compact size, you have compact storage. The trunk will be fine for groceries, but if you have your heart set on a trip to Ikea, well, think rental.

But I should point out that I did a healthy bout of shopping in the 500 which included a new duvet cover and sheets, a king-sized duvet, 2 new pillows and new towels. Most of it fit in the trunk, though there was some spillover into the backseat.

Overall, I thought this car was a blast to drive. It was easy to maneuver and park, it had all the right acceleration at all the right points, and for my more aggressive maneuvers, I shifted into manual mode. I also liked the flashy exterior color options and graphic customizations that were available.

No, it's not as luxurious or customizable as a Mini, but it costs $5K less, too. So, if you're looking for a unique compact car that won't break the bank, Fiat 500 is a must test.

Fiat 500

Chicago-worthy rating: 10. I know, that's a shocker. Finally a 10. The compact size, peppy acceleration and easy maneuverability make this a clear winner in the urban category. But the slick interior, flashy exterior colors and fresh new design set the 500 apart from it's other ho-hum compact competitors.

Be sure to visit my earlier post for a photo gallery. Want more details? Check out my write up from their special press presentation during the Chicago Auto Show.


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  • City obviously needs something maneuverable.

    However, I wonder about the dealers' angle, in that apparently one has to set up a separate Fiat dealership. Is this going to turn out like Saturn, with one initial car, then nothing distinctive from what other divisions sell (C&D at first said that all Chrysler/Dodge cars smaller than the 300/Charger would be on Fiat platforms and with Fiat engines, but no sign of that yet), and then out of business?

    I guess I am not investing, though.

  • LOL ... i don't see fiat ever going big. at least not 300 big. then again, i never thought i'd see the day that mini had an SUV! i do think we'll see some carry over into the chysler lineup with some fiesta-like product. i think the interesting comparison to make would be with the smart car. they are a 2-car lineup (coupe & cabrio), and i haven't seen any plans in the works to bring over their for-four, roadsters or any other cars that have been in their euro lineup. hoping fiat doesn't go that route. they've got some interesting product that i'd like to see in these parts. punto, panda & qubo have caught my eye ...

  • In reply to Jill Ciminillo:

    C & D was implying 200s based on Alfas and the like. Note their original article, including that the 200/Avenger would be based on an Alfa for the 2012 model, but they later said that Fiat "did what it could in a year" to refresh the Sebring to create the 200. Also note that article's reference to selling 2012 and 2013 Alfas in the U.S.

    300s, Chargers, Durangos and Jeep Cherokees, are, of course, based on whatever MB left Chrysler.

  • did i call it or what? without seeing the C&D article, panda & punto are 2 of the vehicles they're looking to morph into chrysler products. fiat to chrysler makes total sense to me ... but i just don't see chrysler to fiat happening any time soon ...

  • Does it come with a luggage rack ? That would allow to carry just about anything.

  • In reply to JamesReyes:

    hi, jamesreyes ... there are all kinds of racks you can get as accessories (snowboards, skis, bikes), but the most promising one for luggage appears to the the "liftgate mounted rack" for $359. i haven't been able to find any description or pictures of the rack in use, though. and there is the chance that it's just the mount for the things that attach the snowboards and skis and bikes ... will do a little digging and see what i can find.

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