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2012 Fiat 500 Pros and Cons at TrueDelta: The Fiat 500: an amazing city/commuter car, provided you can hang with the big boys on the road. by afeinman

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Introduction

I owned a 500 Sport for a bit under two years. I loved driving it, but it had a few crucial downsides.

Reviewed: 2012 Fiat 500

2dr Hatch 101-horsepower 1.4L I4 5-speed manual FWD

Compared: 2013 Honda Fit

4dr Hatch 117-horsepower 1.5L I4 5-speed manual FWD

Why the 2012 Fiat 500?

  Compared to the Fit
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much better Better Worse

Let's face it; the reason to get the 500 is that it's cute, compact, and practical for city driving. The 500 is adorable standing still, even moreso next to the enormous trucks and SUVs. FEAR NO PARKING became my slogan; it was rare to find a spot that the short overhangs and miniscule length couldn't make short work of. In fact, I never really got used to _how_ short it was, and often ended up with 3-4' in front of the front bumper.

Handling
Handling: Much better Better Worse

The 500 is absolutely fun to toss around; planted, loads of oversteer to be sure, but feeling most like a shopping cart that refuses to tip over. It tilts in corners, quite a lot, but that's part of the experience. The short wheelbase means you feel like you turninside a curve; my first few weeks driving it, I often had to take some steering back out, because I'd turned too sharply. It was firm over bumps, but stayed planted, even at 75+ mph.

Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: About the same Better Worse

The car is based around a very upright seating position, almost like a bus driver. With the gearshift up high (I of course bought a manual), a relatively high steering wheel, and a vertical seatback, the result was a great view out the front. The side--not so much. The first test drive, I literally slammed my head into the driver's window trying to check my blind spot. The high driving position made traffic seem much less stressful, despite the car's small size.

Why Not the 2012 Fiat 500?

  Compared to the Fit
Safety & braking
Safety & braking: Worse Better Worse

So, you might ask, why sell such a fun, practical little car? Two reasons: Safety, and reliability. Safety was always a slight concern, just due to the vehicle's size relative to other vehicles. But subsequent offset crash tests really showed how poorly it performed in some situations. Additionally, there were some reports of the seats failing when the car was rear-ended. Because its unpresupposing demeanor meant I was getting cut off a lot, I decided I couldn't take the chance.

Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Much worse Better Worse

The other reason was sheer reliability. Lots of little things went wrong with the car, and a spotty dealer network meant each one took 3-5 hours out of my day. The shifter knob came off in my hand while driving. The steering shaft developed a "clunk" and needed fixing. Various bits of plastic trim came off. The seat got a little wobbly. All of this in the first nine months!

Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Much worse Better Worse

One more thing. Rear seat comfort was obviously not a big selling point, nor a necessary feature. But one piece of it was worse than it had to be: the rear seat headrests. The artful circular shape and limited adjustment made the rear seats even harder to use; the headrest would tend to jab passengers in their spine. A better solution which was more even with the seat back would really have helped here.

Conclusion

The 500 was a fun, efficient, easy-to-live-with car. I miss driving it, and I miss the package. I routinely got over 40mpg on my commute (all 45mph back roads), sometimes up at 43-44. I could park basically anywhere. It didn't feel oversized the way many cars do. It held two passengers in plenty of comfort, and four in a pinch. The interior was cozy, like sitting at a dinner table next to your passenger, and that was fine. The trunk was more than big enough for a commuter car, and even held enough stuff for a 3-day, 2-person camping trip.

But US roads are full of things that made it hard to drive this car. Monster vehicles all over. Dealers that were few and far between. It wasn't the car's fault; it just didn't fit.

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