2012 FIAT 500

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Key Specs

of the 2012 FIAT 500. Base trim shown.

  • Body Type:
  • Combined MPG:
    31-34 Combined MPG
  • Engine:
    101-hp, 1.4-liter I-4 (premium)
  • Drivetrain:
    Front-wheel Drive
  • Transmission:
    5-speed manual w/OD
  • View more specs

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Well-equipped base model
  • Handling and braking
  • City-friendly turning circle
  • Distinctive styling
  • Three years' complimentary maintenance
  • Relatively inexpensive 500c

The Bad

  • Firm ride
  • Tiny backseat
  • Small cargo area
  • Road and wind noise
  • Front-seat comfort
  • Cabrio doesn't offer full convertible experience

Notable Features of the 2012 FIAT 500

  • Fiat's first U.S. model since the 1980s
  • Two-door hatchback sold globally
  • Available cloth-top 500c
  • Seats four
  • Sold at Chrysler dealerships
  • High performance Abarth model available

2012 FIAT 500 Road Test

Kelsey Mays

A year after Fiat returned stateside with the 500 hatchback, it brought us the Abarth performance version, named for Austrian racer and aftermarket tuner Karl Abarth. The Abarth (pronounced AH-bart) adds another 59 horses to the 101-horsepower 500 — a double-espresso of extra power. Unfortunately, the drink is a bit bitter.

The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth improves on the 500's driving fun, but it feels short on refinement, making its price premium hard to accept.

For standard features, the Abarth roughly matches the 500 Sport, the middle trim level; there's also a base 500 Pop and a better-equipped 500 Lounge. This review focuses on the Abarth; click here for our review of the 500 for a broader overview of the hatchback, or click here to compare all four trims. Whereas the 500 comes as a hatchback or quasi-convertible 500 Cabrio with manual or automatic transmissions, the Abarth sticks with a stick shift in hatchback form only.

Abarth Styling
Extended side skirts and a 0.6-inch lower ride masculinize the Abarth's gumdrop profile, but the biggest change comes in back, where a prominent roof spoiler, black diffuser and dual tailpipes add some needed presence. The Abarth measures 4.8 inches longer than the regular 500, partly because its front bumper extends 2.7 inches ahead of the pencil-moustache face. Fiat says it provides clearance for the turbocharged engine's two intercoolers, which receive air through six separate nostrils. Kudos to Fiat for making each ...

A year after Fiat returned stateside with the 500 hatchback, it brought us the Abarth performance version, named for Austrian racer and aftermarket tuner Karl Abarth. The Abarth (pronounced AH-bart) adds another 59 horses to the 101-horsepower 500 — a double-espresso of extra power. Unfortunately, the drink is a bit bitter.

The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth improves on the 500's driving fun, but it feels short on refinement, making its price premium hard to accept.

For standard features, the Abarth roughly matches the 500 Sport, the middle trim level; there's also a base 500 Pop and a better-equipped 500 Lounge. This review focuses on the Abarth; click here for our review of the 500 for a broader overview of the hatchback, or click here to compare all four trims. Whereas the 500 comes as a hatchback or quasi-convertible 500 Cabrio with manual or automatic transmissions, the Abarth sticks with a stick shift in hatchback form only.

Abarth Styling
Extended side skirts and a 0.6-inch lower ride masculinize the Abarth's gumdrop profile, but the biggest change comes in back, where a prominent roof spoiler, black diffuser and dual tailpipes add some needed presence. The Abarth measures 4.8 inches longer than the regular 500, partly because its front bumper extends 2.7 inches ahead of the pencil-moustache face. Fiat says it provides clearance for the turbocharged engine's two intercoolers, which receive air through six separate nostrils. Kudos to Fiat for making each one functional: Why automakers festoon cars with fake louvers is beyond me, and it happens to cars as fast as the 621-hp Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG.

Turbo Power
Turn the key and the 500 Abarth clatters to life with all the racket of a slammed Honda Civic. Two passengers asked if something was amiss with the muffler. I don't blame them. The exhaust blats and pops at idle; it sounds even more grating than the 500's agricultural note, turning into a less-awful whine only as your right foot sends the Abarth's turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder past 2,500 rpm or so. Mash the pedal and the Abarth starts out tepid but scurries to speed as the engine tears through its torque peak, a plateau from 2,500 to 4,000 rpm. One editor noticed preponderant torque steer, despite provisions in the transmission and front differential to quell it, but the overall experience beats those in yesterday's sport compacts — the Toyota Celica, Acura RSX and their ilk — whose power didn't show up until sky-high rpm.

The Abarth gets a heavier-duty manual transmission than the 500's, and its hefty shifter and medium throws make slapping through gears easy enough. The engine responds instantly to the gas pedal — much appreciated, considering that too many performance cars incur killjoy accelerator lag — and the pedals sit close enough for easy rev matching. But the Abarth's stick still has five speeds instead of six, and it's beyond me why Fiat didn't add another cog. At minimum, it could have narrowed the gulf in EPA-estimated gas mileage between the Abarth (28/34 mpg city/highway) and the stick-shift 500 (30/38 mpg), which is to say nothing of the performance gains it could bring.

A Sport button reduces power-steering assist and unleashes full engine torque, which is otherwise limited, especially in 1st and 2nd gear, to preserve gas mileage. Full horsepower is available if you put the pedal down, but the extra torque means the Abarth will always accelerate quicker in Sport mode, Fiat says. In practice, Sport gives the car punchier response from 3,000 rpm to redline, and the steering feels more settled at highway speeds. Find a cloverleaf and the 500 changes direction quickly, with impressive road-holding from the Pirelli P Zero Nero summer tires.

Despite the rubber's modest width, the Abarth hugs its course, ceding grip to mild understeer at high speeds. Though it shares the same 64/36 percent (front/rear) weight distribution as the driftable 500, the Abarth feels a touch nose-heavier. You feel less body roll than in the 500, thanks to stiffer springs and a new rear stabilizer bar, but several editors still found enough body roll and top-heavy feel to sap the Abarth's fun.

Low­-speed turns, by contrast, frustrate even more. The 500 and Abarth share the same wheelbase, but the latter gets a quicker steering ratio with 2.3 turns, lock to lock, versus the 500's three turns. That increases the turning circle from 30.6 feet to an SUV-like 37.6 feet. Parallel parking, so easy in the 500, becomes a multipoint chore.

The Abarth feels similar to the firm 500 over bumps and potholes, despite stiffer springs and a lower ride height. Highway isolation improves a bit, thanks perhaps to Koni brand selective-damping shock absorbers. It's a compliant setup, no firmer than competitors like the Volkswagen GTI and Scion tC and better than the choppy Mini Cooper S. The Honda Civic Si rides softer than the group, but you give up a lot in return.

The Abarth gets larger front disc brakes than the regular 500 but has the same rear discs. The hardware matches well to the 2,512-pound hatchback with confident stopping power and a linear pedal.

The Inside
The 500's cabin earns a lot of style points, but the lacquered inlays border various textures of cheap, hard plastic. One high point: Generous padding meets your knees at door level — an investment I appreciated during aggressive cornering, as my knees dug against the doors. The Abarth's gauge hood and parking brake get some damn fine leather wrapping, too, while a turbo-boost gauge perches to the left of the other instruments.

The sport seats come in cloth or optional leather. Our tester's leather chairs allowed a lot more sliding than their Porsche-like backings suggest, and one editor found them — and the driver-side armrest — too small. Incorporated into the backrests, the head restraints aren't adjustable. Heated seats, optional in the 500, aren't available. Some may still find the seat bottoms angled upward too aggressively, but the cushioning beats the 500's overstuffed chairs.

Other issues remain, however. Chunky B-pillars limit over-the-shoulder visibility to your left, and the seat belts remain a far reach. The flimsy turn signals and seat-height adjustments feel like they're about to fall off, and the tiny stereo buttons are hard to use.

Cargo room is a smallish 9.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats — enough room for me to throw in a cooler, but not much else. Fold the seats down, and volume expands to 26.8 cubic feet. You might as well leave them down all the time, as their head restraints block some of the view out back — and few adults will want to sit in the headroom-deprived backseat, anyway. With seats folded, I had enough room to help a friend move a heap of dry cleaning and a few boxes, but serious stuff will require a larger hatchback, like the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf/GTI.

Safety, Features & Pricing
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 500 earned top scores in all tests for a Top Safety Pick. Unfortunately, the hatchback scored just three out of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crash tests. NHTSA cited mediocre results with female crash dummies, including just two stars for backseat protection in a side impact and three stars for side impacts with all dummies overall.

Standard safety features include head-protecting side airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Click here for a full list. Standard convenience features in the $22,000 Abarth align roughly with the $17,500 500 Sport, with a USB/iPod-friendly Bose stereo and Bluetooth for wireless cellphone compatibility but not audio streaming. Leather seats, automatic climate control, a moonroof and a TomTom navigation system that mounts atop the dashboard are optional. Major factory options top out the Abarth around $26,000.

500 Abarth in the Market
Fiat priced the Abarth $1,100 below the Cooper S, but throw on a couple options and it costs the same. At that, it's also a stone's throw from quicker, roomier hatchbacks like the GTI, Focus ST and Mazdaspeed3. The stylish Abarth will sell on looks — our red tester drew glances in car-apathetic Chicago — but the performance lacks refinement, and issues with visibility, crashworthiness and interior quality persist. The turbo is addictive, but consider the whole package before it wins you over.

Send Kelsey an email  



2012 500 Video

Following the successful launch of the Fiat 500 in the U.S., the Italian automaker was quick to follow it up with a faster-paced model, the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth.

Latest 2012 500 Stories

Consumer Reviews

Exterior Styling
(4.6)
Performance
(4.2)
Interior Design
(4.5)
Comfort
(4.3)
Reliability
(4.3)
Value For The Money
(4.5)

What Drivers Are Saying

(4.0)

Great for City driving

by LLucia from Los Angeles, CA on August 8, 2018

This car has much more room than you would think it does. My over 6 ft boyfriend still has lots of room above his head. The smallish back seats work well when you need to take extra people. You can ... Read full review

(5.0)

Sporty, Fun, Economical

by ImEponymous from Salem, OR on June 25, 2018

The FIAT 500S is a joy to drive, gets great mileage, and is extremely dependable. It feels sturdy and quick, and is perfect for a young professional, student, or daily commuter who wants to save on ... Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2012 FIAT 500 currently has 2 recalls

IIHS Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

Based on 2012 FIAT 500 Pop

IIHS rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.

Head Restraints and Seats

Dynamic Rating
good
Overall Rear
good
Seat Head/Restraint Geometry
good

Moderate overlap front

Chest
good
Head/Neck
acceptable
Left Leg/Foot
good
Overall Front
good
Restraints
good
Right Leg/Foot
acceptable
Structure/safety cage
good

Other

Roof Strength
good

Side

Driver Head Protection
good
Driver Head and Neck
good
Driver Pelvis/Leg
marginal
Driver Torso
good
Overall Side
good
Rear Passenger Head Protection
good
Rear Passenger Head and Neck
good
Rear Passenger Pelvis/Leg
good
Rear Passenger Torso
good
Structure/safety cage
good
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a nonprofit research and communications organization funded by auto insurers.

Manufacturer Warranty

  • Bumper-to-Bumper

    48 months / 50,000 miles

  • Powertrain

    48 months / 50,000 miles

  • Roadside Assistance

    48 months / unlimited distance

CPO Program & Warranty

Certified Pre-Owned by FIAT

Program Benefits

Every eligible vehicle is 100% inspected and comes with: A factory-backed 6-Year/80,000-Mile Added Care Plus Warranty*, 24-Hour Towing and Roadside Assistance**, Car Rental Allowance***.

  • Limited Warranty

    6 years / 80,000 miles

    6-years/80,000-miles (whichever comes first). Added Care Plus Warranty runs from the date the vehicle was sold new. A deductible applies. See Studio for details.
  • Eligibility

    Under 3 years / 75,000 miles

    Vehicles receive a 100% Inspected.

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The 500 received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker