2012 Fiat 500 Lounge Road Test Review

Angus MacKenzie - CAP staff
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Is there such as thing as too cute? I'm talking babies holding puppies while kittens recite Hello Kitty cute. Cuteness to the extreme. If such a thing exists, and I'm pretty sure it does, then the Fiat 500 may fall into this category.

Born of Joe Pesci's eyelashes, Danny DeVito's dimples, a shot of cinnamon gelato and a 500 cc engine, comes the 2012 Fiat 500. Fiat short for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino has reborn the tiny road-going toaster from its Italian originations of 1957. Hardly able to stop, go or fit anyone taller than a DeVito, the original 'city car' was testament to the Italian manufacturer's ambition, and unfortunate inability to properly execute.

Flash forward 50 years and you have the introduction of the 'nuovo' 500 in Europe. Flash ahead another 5 years to BC's Sea to Sky Highway and you have me tossing the 2012 500 about like an Italian whippet.

If there were design awards for cuteness then the 500 would be at the podium lauding its charismatic traits over the land. With its pert, rising rear, wee snubby nose, engaging headlights, short overhangs, slim hips and rounded surfaces, the cinquecento makes itself a most unique visual piece in the Whistler Marketplace lot.

A 'manly' car it is not. With its many rounded edges, miniature footprint and effeminate attributes the 500 pushes the definition of a unisex automobile. Think Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (a.k.a Lady Gaga) meets John Pinette in a gelato shop, over panini, warmed up in a DeLonghi 1950s retro-toaster and you have the stylistic mandate of the 500.

Sporting a euro-tested Twin-Air 1.4 litre engine, this piccolo four-banger puts out a whopping 101 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and an accountant arm-twisting 98 foot pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. But for city driving, where the 500 demographic resides, the powerplant will meet most cinquecento drivers' expectations. Buzzy would best describe the aural qualities under acceleration. On highway, under spirited driving, much shifting is required to maintain the tiny sweet zone in order to carry speed through various sections of the undulating, circuitous Sea to Sky.  I don't think we need to go into 0-60 times (9.6 sec) because for the targeted demographic, track performance is not a priority. Another 25-30 horsepower would definitely enhance the car's overall appeal – the new Abarth version should appease the Alonso crowd. Curb weight is a meager 1,100 kilos (2,400 lbs), thus allowing the double air-puffer to provide the previously noted performance specs.

The 5-speed gearbox unfortunately loses the Fiat many points. For a car that has been tested in the Euro market for years I find it hard to understand how the gearing could be so frenetic? 5th gear is almost useless as the legs are too long for available torque to support. 2nd to 3rd is equally disappointing with a full 1,000 drop in rpm, making for constant inner city shifting. The only gearing to make sense on the highway was between 3rd and 4th. Would hope to see this resolved in future models.

Fuel economy as expected is impressive with ratings at 6.7 L/100km city and 5.1 highway.

Maneuverability is quite ridiculous, or ridicolo as one would expect. The road toaster's minimalist sizing makes abbreviated parking spots possible and trundling about Vancouver's urban landscape a treat rather than a chore.

Low speed steering is Bud light and over powered, but under spirited driving provides excellent linear feedback. On centre feel firms up and remains consistent under hard driving. I do recommend leaving the 'Sport Mode' button on as steering and throttle response are tightened up, thus providing a proper road going experience.

In spirited cornering, oversteer is easily set by coming off throttle before corner inception, inducing a rather entertaining experience via the pert rear end chasing the nose playfully about… ensuring Sporting Mode is engaged.

The Sea to Sky's many varied and diverse corners, switchbacks and elevation changes afford a most jaunty and fun road course for the 500. Born of Italian heritage the toyish 3-door is capable of running out to 140 km/h while still retaining its playful attitude.

Ride and suspension composure at speed finds the car pushed to its comfort zone. Lateral ride management is a bit chatty and jouncy on poorer road sections with the back end fighting to retain composure. But overall, ride set up is compliant yet firm for both city and highway driving.

In keeping with the nod to retro and the chrome meets pastel theme, the 500's interior décor is exactly on brand with the car's heritage and Italian influences. The interior is bright, fun and playful. Greenhouse space and visibility are excellent. The sunroof further adds to the spatial argument.

Spazio interno, or interior space is surprisingly ample with enough headroom for six-foot plus drivers. Legroom is equally as impressive. Lateral space is cozy given the car's slender 163 cm wide hips, but then again the Italians are renowned for their ability to bring couples closer together. Seats provide not so bad lateral support for spirited driving with sufficient bum comfort for 2-plus hours of extended driving.

A very much personalized stylistic experience can be found when mixing one of the car's 14 exterior ice cream colour combinations with interior options. One of the 500s more defining old-school touches is the colour-keyed gloss panel insert that delivers a contrasting splash of colour for a true retrofied experience.

The large single tach/speedometer info hub quickly provides speed and rpm info, however the degree of information packed into one visual point is excessive. I believe the automotive term is tachdometerclockenspieltempgaugecalendarmileagesportmode, but then again with a name that long it would have to be a German car.

Remaining bits like AC adjusters, defroster and fan controls are piled up neatly above the console-mounted shifter. The window up/down switches are unfortunately placed on either side of the shifter. But the Bose sound system provides an excellent aural experience and makes up for these aforementioned design deficiencies.

Max storage space is a whopping 770 litres (27.2 cubic feet)! But despite the spatial challenge we managed to fit 2 suitcases, 1 ski/hockey bag, 1 projector, 1 camera bag, 1 six-foot Scotsman and his accompanying wife rather comfortably. So really, who needs that Suburban?

If cuteness, Italian inspired design, gelato flavoured colour options, a $13,500 price point and favoloso fuel efficiency are your cup of espresso then the 500 may be for you.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Fiat, 2012, 500, $10,000 - $19,999, Subcompact,

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page