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Fiat 500 Convertible is Cute and Fun

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This is a cute foreign car that gets even cuter in convertible mode. Truth be told, the new Fiat 500 may be billed as a convertible, but it actually employs a power-sliding roof that many car owners may prefer over the traditional fold-back model.

The gas-saving 2012 Fiat 500 is a two-door, subcompact hatchback that is available as a hardtop or convertible. Both are offered in Pop and Lounge trim levels, and the hatchback has a Sport option as well.

2012 Fiat 500 Convertible

  • Performance: 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, 101 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 30-38 mpg
  • Price: $15,00 to $22,000
  • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles; drivetrain 4 years/50,000 miles; corrosion 4 years/50,000; 
  • roadside assistance 4 years/unlimited

What's really cool about the sliding cloth roof is it can be utilized as a sun roof and opened at various lengths, or taken to its full distance and reveal as much of the sky as most convertibles. The sliding roof is controlled by an easy-to-reach knob. Pushing it is the lone chore one has to perform to get in convertible mode.

The one drawback to the Fiat 500 convertible is at its full open position the rear view is partially blocked, creating a bit of a safety issue.

Knowledgeable car folks will know that the Fiat had a decent U.S. run in the late 1960s and mid-70s. But the Italian automaker disappeared for more than 30 years. A year ago, Fiat bought Chrysler and the 500 model was picked as the vehicle that would reintroduce the U.S. market to the Fiat brand.

The Fiat 500 is one of the smallest cars sold in this country. Even the popular four-door Mini Cooper is larger than the Fiat, measuring 7 inches more in overall length. The Fiat is 4 inches taller than the Mini Cooper and weighs just over 200 pounds less at 2,350 pounds. The Fiat 500 owns a small edge in gas mileage - 30-38 mpg.

Note that the Fiat 500 base model costs approximately $15,500 and the Mini Cooper is priced $4,000 higher. Other competitors like the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta all provide more room than the Fiat 500 and are priced a bit lower. However, they don't possess Fiat's female-approving personality or its 14 color choices.

All 500s, with the exception of the Abarth, share the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. The Fiat can be a plodder, especially uphill, evidenced by its 12.4 seconds acceleration time going from 0-60 mph. The five-speed manual, which is standard in the Pop and Sport models, goes about 1.5 seconds faster from 0-60 mph.

If getting there in a hurry is a big issue, the Abarth could be the answer. It has a turbo-charged, 160-horsepower engine and possesses a sport-tuned suspension, sporty seats and upgraded brakes. The Abarth goes for around $22,000.

Even with a lack of performance, the Fiat 500 can be fun to drive in manual mode. The steering provides a good feel for the road and the Fiat absorbs small bumps fairly well, while larger ones are more problematic. The Sport mode will improve the overall driving experience.

With any small vehicle, interior space is typically a problem. That is definitely true with the Fiat 500, which has a back seat that no one, not even small kids, will want to reside. Up front, the high-mounted seats allow for good leg room and the comfort level is acceptable. Cargo space is lacking in all models.

The unique European styling and the appealing J.Lo commercials should sell a few Fiats. But once the buzz halts, it could be tough for the Fiat 500 to take on some established rivals in the subcompact class.

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Weidel on Wheels author Jeffrey Weidel is an award-winning writer from the Sacramento region who has reviewed automobiles for more than two decades. He can be reached at skiweidel@gmail.com
Follow him on Twitter at @jeffweidel.



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