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2012 Fiat 500 Lounge Review

2012 Fiat 500 Lounge Review
Photo: Michel Deslauriers
2012 Fiat 500 Lounge
A lot has been said about Fiat’s return to the US and Canadian markets, and they probably couldn’t have chosen a better model to start with. Oh, not because they’ll be selling tons of copies of its 500 subcompact — that market segment has yet to catch fire — but because it stands out and makes a statement.

The 2012 Fiat 500 is as much about branding as the car itself. You’re not just buying a transportation device; you’re buying an expression of your character and taste.

For the ladies, that’s fine. For us guys, purchasing any Fiat 500 that doesn’t have Abarth and chromed scorpion badges on it might not be best option for making a statement. Special edition versions such as the 500 by Gucci should be enough to convince you.

This thing is really small
Unsurprisingly, the Fiat 500 ain’t no family car. While front-seat passengers get sufficient space, back-seat occupants won’t be very happy, even if they’re kids. The 269-litre trunk can haul a week’s groceries, but fitting in a suitcase requires that you fold down the split rear seatbacks.

Actually, I don’t feel all that comfortable up front either. The seat cushion can’t be lowered enough, so my head is virtually scraping the side window ledge, and although I’m getting used to it, it still bugs me. There’s a significant blind spot on the left side, thanks to the B-pillar; the driver must exploit the driver-side spotter mirror before performing a lane change. In addition, the circular headrests are more fashionable than comfortable.

Interior plastics are exactly what you’d expect from a car that costs as little as $15,995. The colour-coordinated dash trim brightens up the cockpit, the overall design is upbeat and except for the sound system, the switchgear is straightforward.

I’d prefer volume and tuning knobs to buttons, as they’re easier to use while driving. There is a USB port for plugging in a wider selection of music, and you can browse through folders on the trip computer display located in the centre of the speedometer; however, the process is fussy and almost every time I started up the car, the radio didn’t memorize which song was previously playing, reverting back to the first song on the USB key. Irritating to say the least.

Modest power, modest fuel economy
The Fiat 500’s 1.4L engine develops 101 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque; it’s sufficient for the everyday commute, but like a few subcompact rivals, merging onto a busy highway is a small challenge.

Equipped with the optional 6-speed automatic, the 500 accelerates to 100 km/h in 11.2 seconds and reaches the quarter-mile in 17.8 seconds at 123 km/h. The Sport mode, activated by a button located above the climate controls, quickens gear changes and holds gears for longer periods as you reach the engine’s redline. Fiat says it “provides greater driving enjoyment,” which sounds like an exaggeration, but I guess it does.

The 500’s pipsqueak size makes it very manoeuvrable around town and in shopping centre parking lots but the car isn’t as tossable and go-kart-fun as a MINI Cooper or even a Honda Fit, due to its slow steering ratio. It’s got very effective brakes, though.

As for fuel economy, the automatic Fiat 500 boasts a city rating of 7.4L/100km and a highway rating of 5.7. Not bad, but the vast majority of subcompacts achieve a better result. Our calculated average is 7.9L/100km. For the best fuel economy, one should choose the 5-speed manual.

Like nothing else on the road
Guy or gal, no one should debate the fact that this Fiat stands out in the crowd of small cars. The 500’s happy face is contagious.

The 500 is offered in Pop, Sport and Lounge trims, the latter’s being the most expensive. It features 15” alloys, a fixed glass roof, fog lamps, leather seating surfaces, A/C, Bluetooth connectivity, trip computer and Bose sound system with wheel-mounted controls. We dudes who can’t swing for a 500 Abarth will probably settle for the Sport trim, which gets a rear spoiler, a sport suspension, 16” alloys and cloth seats.

A base Pop model starts at $15,995; our Lounge tester, equipped with the 6-speed auto and heated front seats, lists for $21,100 before taxes, freight and delivery charges. It’s not the best deal for a subcompact car, but know that just like MINI and smart, you’re purchasing a brand — a fashion statement.

A chic car or a chick car, call it what you will. But if it isn’t the turbocharged, 160-hp Fiat 500 Abarth, I won’t call it manly.

 

By Michel Deslauriers,