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Spunky and Stylish: 2012 Fiat 500

The Fiat 500 is a small car, but it is by no means an ordinary car. It’s an attention-grabbing vehicle with a strong Italian accent, writes our automotive editor Sally Miller Wyatt.

(Above): Exterior view of the 2012 Fiat 500.

After a season of sedans and SUVs, this month’s test drive was a refreshingly different mode of transportation. The all-new 2012 Fiat 500 is a small car, but it is by no means an ordinary car.

It’s an attention-grabbing vehicle with a strong Italian accent.

In fact, when you get behind the wheel of this spunky, yet retro-modern Fiat, you might think for a second that you’ve landed back in time, on the set of that 1953 movie classic “Roman Holiday.” The original Fiat 500 of 50 years ago – Cinquecento – lives on here, in the distinctively styled dashboard and the steering wheel, in its exterior lines and color combinations. The overall first impression is that the 2012 Fiat 500 is a throwback to cars of the ’50s, yet with a modern twist.

While the 2012 Fiat 500 might have that retro ’50s European look, it is definitely loaded with the kinds of advanced technology that 21st century drivers have come to expect.

Like the original Cinquecento, the 2012 Fiat 500 has a simple design, impressive craftsmanship and clean, minimalistic lines, but with modern-day attention to safety features and fuel economy.

The exterior design – short overhangs, a bodyside constructed of several superimposed layers and a shell-like roof – also includes circular bi-halogen headlamps and fog lamps. The rear has a chromed license plate that was inspired by the original Cinquecento design, which itself was inspired by a bicycle seat.

(Above): Exterior view of the 2012 Fiat 500.

The interior is all clean lines. An instrument panel cluster – highlighted by chrome circular rings – offers all the vehicle information you need but without the clutter. The dashboard color matches the exterior paint and, in the case of our test car, was a combination of cream and a pale, ’50s-like green.

The 2012 Fiat 500 is powered by an all-new 1.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that encompasses “MultiAir” Technology. This offers up to 10 percent greater fuel efficiency and power while decreasing CO2 emissions up to 10 percent, which is impressive enough to receive a “Best of What’s New” award from Popular Science magazine. The engine delivers 101 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 98 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. It’s enough to get you in and around dicey traffic situations and onto the freeway, and is perfectly suited for city driving.

The Fiat 500 is available with two transmissions – an all-new six speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission.

The 2012 Fiat500 is available in three models – the Pop, the Sport and the Lounge. The car’s pricing starts around $15,500.

(Above): Interior view of the 2012 Fiat 500.

As for safety features, there are seven air bags on board, including a driver’s knee bag, full-length side curtain air bags and seat mounted pelvic-thorax air bags. Active headrests should help minimize whiplash injury in the case of rear-end collisions.

The Fiat has a “Blue & Me” hands-free communication system, as well as an optional TomTom navigation system.

Although the Fiat 500 seats four, the rear seat is tight and would not realistically be comfortable for full-sized adults. The rear cargo area is moderate, as would be expected in a car this size.

If you have a craving for a small car like no other – with its retro-modern European flair – and wouldn’t mind turning heads and getting the thumb’s up everywhere you go, then you’re going to love the 2012 Fiat 500.

Sally Miller Wyatt is a freelance writer who writes family-oriented auto reviews for newspapers, magazines and the Web.


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