Test Drive: 2012 Fiat 500

Photo courtesy http://www.babez.de/fiat/500/fiat-500-pic08.php

J. Lo.


Those are probably things you think are more synonymous with desperate housewives than a car.

But here we are: the Fiat Cinquecento (Italian for 500). The first product of the Fiat/Chrysler marriage slash takeover. On paper, it’s a strategic takeover by Sergio Marchionne; an Italian who became a Canadian lawyer by trade and is now Commander-in-Chief of Fiat. The marriage was set to give Chrysler something it never figured out over decades – small cars, and give Fiat access to all those rear-wheel drive platforms – some of which are learnings from its ex – Daimler/Mercedes. Much like the new Volkswagen Beetle, this car was originally made many years ago (1957 in the 500’s case) as a car for the masses – cheap and cheerful transportation.

Original Fiat 500 – Courtesy of http://www.conceptcarz.com/view/photo/545108,18406/1957-Fiat-500.aspx

Except like the new Beetle, it’s really another car underneath (Fiat Panda) with a different suit on. And like the Beetle, the price is no longer the “everybody can buy one” car for the masses of the original. That being said, this compact urban car is still cheaper than the basic Mini Cooper.

I’m not sure how I feel about the marketing campaigns: I feel like J. Lo somehow cheapens the feel of the car. And a Gucci version makes no ploy about who the target audience is. Both reduce the Fiat to nothing more than a fashion trend, a handbag. And isolate men in the process – which is a shame.


Ok…but only if it comes with the model on top…

Marketing aside, I was just expecting a nicer version of the Abarth; one which doesn’t threaten to “shove my foot down your throat, ’till your sh!t’s in my shoe” (to quote Ms. Natalie Portman). And it is (nicer, not Ms. Portman’s comment).

But thats no bad thing, as it wasn’t power that defined the Abarth – it was its character.

Chez Jeremy Clarkson said it best – “this car makes you feel happy!”. And it does – everything feels light hearted, charming, and laid back. Both inside and out, you have shiny colours mixed with flashes of chrome, and the body-coloured interior panel is reminiscent of a Vespa on four wheels. Like a Vespa, it has this carefree airiness to it, captured in a upscale Starbucks coffee-drinking sort of way without feeling arrogant or snobby.

You do notice the power difference however; 100 hp is not a lot to start with and once you have a passenger in the seat beside you and a few bags in the back, it feels like the car is being powered by a bumble bee – You hear noises, but without any major progress you aren’t sure it’s your car that’s making them.

The major crux in this car was the automatic gearbox I had on my tester. This car is a posterchild for why manuals are needed – it just isn’t right for a small car.

In a small underpowered car, you are supposed to rev the engine. The ability to change gears at will and make the engine sing when you want is what makes small cars fun to drive. You can either poodle around comfortably (albeit slowly) or choose to wring it and drive it on the edge (fun). With an automatic, a small engine drones and feels like it is on an unsuccessful treasure hunt for the right gear. And in this automatic, this fault is magnified by the way the car clings onto first gear like the obsessed girl from Swim Fan.

Normally, if you gas an automatic the onboard computer will tell the transmission to hold gears longer, which also works in opposite as well – smooth gradual driving will encourage earlier shifting. However, no matter how gentle or rash with the throttle I was, I could not get the transmission to shift before 4000 RPM from first into second. This made the shift out of first always clunky. I did not have any problems with the rest of the gears, but this fault just seems like a simple fix – buy the manual.

I normally cringe at the thought of putting a torque converter automatic into any sort of manual mode as it always seems so sluggish to shift gears. This is for the most part the case here, but at least engine response felt direct and linear, like it was directly connected to the engine with no slack from a torque converter. It’s probably one of the better “manual” modes I’ve seen in a torque converter automatic. But no – this does not make up for the fact that it is still an auto. Buy the manual.

Like the Abarth, the car drives keenly, albeit with less gusto. The front end feels planted and stable, but the steering is a bit fuzzy, which i think matters less in this car than it did in the Abarth version. It really is like the Dr. Jekyll to the Mr. Hyde of the Abarth – similar look, less deranged. As with a base Mini, there is a myriad of colour and customization options available if you are allergic to driving the same car as somebody else.

Please, stay away from the Gucci version. Look at the options list below – isn’t that the most ridiculous list of options you have ever seen? Green-painted calipers? “Unique” wheels? Some badging? Chrome hood spear? I don’t know how much money it adds but its just not worth it. Save your money and buy yourself an ACTUAL Gucci bag instead if that’s what floats your boat.

Not worth it – the only thing this has in common with Gucci was the sweatshop they were made in

I was talking with a friend recently who is not into cars but rather surprisingly reads this blog. She said she was more of an “A-B” kind of car girl, but I think that this is true because she hasn’t found the right car. Its sort of like people who say they are only into casual relationships, but change their mind when they meet “the one”.

Today, there are too many cars that are “just” A-B, that try to appeal to too many people and by doing so inspire none. As I have gotten older, I have found fewer and fewer people who are passionate about cars and I blame this on too many manufacturers making them inoffensive. And boring. I’m not saying that cars all need to be sporty, but they SHOULD inspire you in some way.

A car is probably the most expensive thing you will buy that can’t be considered an investment, so you should at the minimum like it (preferably love it). You don’t have to look at expensive cars to find this inspiration however, and the Fiat 500 proves this. Not everyone will love the mouse-y looks, or the bumblebee under the bonnet (hood), but for me this is part of the appeal. I would rather a car divide opinion than generate none at all, and in this case its a good one. For $15,000 you can have your piece of Italy – a car that not only gets you from A-B comfortably, but makes you feel happy and look good in the process.

My friend should try this car.

11 Comments Add Yours

  1. Cousin Eva

    Two things:

    1) The Smart car made us giggly enough to place an order for one. After waiting almost 15 months for ours, we decided to cancel a week before we received our delivery email. Good thing we did.

    2) My Prius was my “A-B” car…for 8 months. I couldn’t stand it any longer so I traded it for one that is now my “A-Z” car =) (whatever that means LOL!)

    • admin

      What is your a-z car?

      And thanks for continuing to read my blog!

  2. Cousin Eva

    A 2012 CR-V. You may remember I had my Pilot, which we traded in for the Prius b/c I was driving a whole lot more after returning back to work and having to take T to my mom’s 3x week + to work (100 miles/day roundtrip). After 8 months I dreaded each day driving. Great gas mileage, cheap feel almost scary driving sometimes. Although I should’ve just sucked it up and kept my Pilot, I do enjoy the “compromise” on the mpg on the CR-V…been averaging 28.8 mpg since I took ownership 3 months ago =)

    And you’re welcome, I enjoy your writing style =)

    • admin

      Haha thanks

      I think in order for fuel efficient cars to be successful in the long run they have to be more than just efficient. Interesting to look at? Fun to drive? Take your pick but I don’t think the Prius does more than efficiency.

      Hmm maybe I will write an article about Toyota….

    • admin

      Hey guys

      I mention it here a few times but you can also check out my review on the Abarth version as well.

      Go to the categories on the right hand side/test drives/Abarth 500.


  3. source

    I feel one of your ads caused my internet browser to resize, you might well want to get that on your blacklist.

    • admin

      Hi Carmichael,

      First off, just wanted to thank you for visiting this site and I hope you have enjoyed reading the articles.

      I’m not sure what you mean however as I run this site from a blogging source so there is inherently no ads that I see.

      This may be a stupid question, but did you happen to hit the alt key while scrolling? I have done that before and it changes the size of the browser.

      Let me know if you are still seeing this issue.



  4. sell your automobile

    You are soo right. I hear about this on a regular basis.
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    • Jon

      hi Tori – thanks for visiting my website and for commenting! Checked out your website and you have some excellent photos in there – well done!

  5. auto

    Cheers forr a real well-informed post. Makes me want to start blogging once more.
    Any kind of advice about how greatest to get going.

    • Jon

      Haha thanks for the kind words auto. To be honest, blogging was a difficult thing for me at first because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.

      I found what really helps me is to channel my emotions into my blogging the way a musician channels their feelings, emotions, and experiences into their music. Its their way of expressing themselves. I guess that makes me a bit of an emotional person (haha), but I find its much easier (for me) to write about things I have a personal tie to vs. a bunch of facts. Perhaps something else may work for you, but for me its about getting behind something that you are really passionate about, as ultimately when everything is said and done that is what will keep you going.

      i hope that helps?

      Cheers – Jonathan

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