Ever since June 2009, when Fiat took a controlling stake in Chrysler, it's been all but certain the Italian automaker would bring a version of its 500 to the U.S. It's finally here for 2012, and Chrysler plans to sell it at Fiat displays inside 130 participating Chrysler dealerships. Closer in length to the Mini Cooper than the Scion iQ or Smart ForTwo, the four-seat 500 competes with all three minicars.
Transmissions include a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Fiat calls the base trim Pop, with the Sport and Lounge serving as uplevel models. A cabrio version, dubbed 500c, comes in Pop and Lounge editions.
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At 139.6 inches long, the two-door 500 hatchback measures 7 inches shorter than a Cooper. Although it's considerably longer than the iQ or ForTwo, the car's stubby profile looks more like them than the low-slung Mini. Up front, decorative strakes connect Fiat's all-caps logo with a pair of beady headlights, each one etched with the car's numeric "500" inside the bezel. In back, the 500's vertical taillights recall a London cab.
The Pop comes with 15-inch steel wheels, body-colored side moldings and chrome door handles. The Lounge and Sport have fog lights and alloy wheels — 15s on the Lounge and 16s on the Sport. The Sport also has unique bumpers and a larger grille. Its brakes have red-painted calipers, though their hardware remains the same.
Inside, there's an upright dash with a speedometer and information display inside a circular pod ahead of the steering wheel. A large trim panel spans the dash; it matches the car's exterior color. Levels of customization should be myriad: Fiat says shoppers will be able to choose from more than a dozen combinations of cabin colors, plus an array of interior accessories from Chrysler's Mopar customization division.
Standard features on the Pop include power windows and locks, remote entry, a CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, air conditioning and cruise control. Sport and Lounge models add a Bose stereo with USB input, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and upgraded seating fabric. The Lounge has automatic climate control and a fixed glass roof; heated leather seats and a retracting moonroof are optional. Many features standard on higher trims are optional on lower ones.
Under the Hood
The front-wheel-drive 500's 1.4-liter four-cylinder uses Fiat's MultiAir technology, which varies intake-valve lift, not just the valve timing. It's similar to BMW's Valvetronic and Nissan's VVEL. It offers 10 percent greater fuel efficiency and power, Fiat says. The engine makes 101 horsepower and 98 pounds-feet of torque and works through a five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional on the Pop and Sport; it's standard on the Lounge.
The 500 Sport has sport-tuned front and rear shocks; all three trims use an independent front and semi-independent rear suspension. The manual transmission has optimized gear ratios for American consumers, Fiat says, while the automatic is all-new for the 500. Premium fuel is recommended.
Seven airbags, including two-row side curtains and a driver's knee airbag, are standard. So are active head restraints, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.
The 500c sports a cloth top with various retraction settings, from a sunroof-like ceiling opening to a completely stowed accordion perched over the trunk. The roof retracts with the touch of a button at speeds up to 60 mph, but unlike in most convertibles, it doesn't take the roof structure with it. That makes for more of a panoramic moonroof effect than a true open-air experience from the A-pillars back.
Thanks in part to the remaining ceiling structure, there is 70 percent less cowl shake in the 500c than in competing droptops like the Mini Cooper convertible, Fiat says. The 500c adds extra reinforcements above the windshield to make up some of the rigidity lost to a convertible top, and the windshield itself is slightly longer to conceal things. The hardtop 500's hatch has been replaced by a pop-up trunk compartment in the 500c, with luggage volume behind the rear seats reduced to just 5.4 cubic feet. The hardtop has 9.5 cubic feet.
Drivetrains remain identical. A five-speed manual is standard with the 500c Pop, while a six-speed automatic is optional on the Pop and standard on the Lounge. (Back to top)
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