Test Drive: 2012 Fiat 500 Lounge car test drives reviews fiat
2012 Fiat 500 Lounge. Click image to enlarge

Performance is adequate for urban use, and it cruises pleasantly on the highway, turning over about 2,500 rpm at 100 km/h with the automatic transmission. But its zero to 100 km/h time of 12.3 seconds (AJAC) with the automatic transmission isn’t going to win any drag races — and expect a little less performance if you’re using regular gas instead of premium. The engine is a bit noisy while accelerating, but settles down to a distant drone at highway speeds.

For greater driving fun, the optional six-speed Auto/Stick transmission has a manual shift mode for better control of shift points: to shift up, you pull the lever back, and to shift down, you push the lever forwards, the opposite of many manumatics. To improve performance further (but reduce fuel economy) the driver can press a “Sport” button on the dash that alters the automatic transmission’s shift points, makes the throttle more responsive, and firms up the steering feel. It does make a noticeable difference, and given the engine’s rather weak torque (98 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm), I found myself using this button a lot.

With its narrow track, short wheelbase and tall body, the 500 is nimble around town, but feels tall and tippy when cornering at high speeds. Its front MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam suspension are entirely adequate, but the standard 500 is not meant to be a great handling car like the Mini Cooper. That’s especially true of the 500 Lounge which has a softer suspension tuning than the Pop and Sport models. The upcoming 500 Abarth model, however, may give the Cooper a run for its money.

Test Drive: 2012 Fiat 500 Lounge car test drives reviews fiat
Test Drive: 2012 Fiat 500 Lounge car test drives reviews fiat
Test Drive: 2012 Fiat 500 Lounge car test drives reviews fiat
2012 Fiat 500 Lounge. Click image to enlarge

Around town, the Fiat 500’s short overall length and narrow body allow it to fit into the smallest of parking spots, and its short 2300 mm (90.6 in.) wheelbase permits a tight turning circle of just 9.3 metres (30.6 ft.) for easy manoeuvrability. Steering effort is light when parking and the driver’s rear visibility is assisted by rear head restraints that slide all the way down to the top of the seatbacks when not in use. Small convex mirrors in the side mirrors help to spot other cars in the 500’s blind spots, but when looking over your right shoulder, there is a small blind spot created by the right rear C pillar. My test car had the optional rear parking sensors ($375) which allowed me to park within a few inches of walls and barriers.

Braking performance is good: with four disc brakes, this lightweight 1104 kg (2430 lb.) hatchback stops from 100 km/h to zero in just 42 metres (137.7 ft.) in the dry with the optional 16-inch tires, according to AJAC.

The 500’s interior is a fun place to be – if you’re in the front seats – but the rear seats have limited legroom and are difficult to get in to, or out of, even with the automatically sliding front driver and passenger seats.

Lounge models come with standard leather seats, and our test car had very attractive two-tone red and white seats with “500” embossed in the seatbacks, and an ivory coloured dash and ivory leather-wrapped steering wheel. Thankfully, the ivory colours are situated in all the right places so they won’t get dirty easily. The red seat cushions and black floor carpets will take the brunt of the wear and tear.

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