2012 Fiat 500
2012 Fiat 500. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2012 Fiat 500

San Diego, California – Pop quiz: in what year did Fiat introduce its last Canadian new model, and what was that model? Answer: The year was 1980 and the model was the Fiat Strada, of which only a handful were sold before Fiat left Canada for a very long time.

This year, Fiat returns with an homage to its past dressed up in modern sheetmetal, and driven by the latest technologies. But even though we’re effectively seeing a new automotive brand come to Canada, the 2012 Fiat 500 is generating interest far beyond its diminutive size as it is SOOO CUTE!

At least, that’s what just about everyone gushes upon first seeing Fiat’s engaging little blast from the past.

But here at Autos, we are not so easily convinced. We want to know, does it have enough power? How does it handle? Can you fit actual people in this tiny conveyance? Is it for real?

2012 Fiat 500
2012 Fiat 500. Click image to enlarge

First of all, the reason we’re seeing any Fiats at all in North America is because Fiat is now the putative owner of Chrysler (along with the Canadian and U.S. governments, as part of a complex deal that we won’t go into here). Suffice to say that the association with Chrysler has generated new and improved Chrysler Group vehicles, and an opportunity for Fiat to return here with a yet-to-be announced array of Fiat vehicles, with new dealer showrooms and all.

The first of these vehicles is the subcompact Fiat 500, built in Mexico at the former Chrysler PT Cruiser (now Dodge Journey) plant, powered by Fiat engines assembled in Dundee, Michigan.

The car, as you may know, is a reinvention of the Fiat 500 model first introduced in 1957. The name “500” refers to the displacement of the original rear-mounted, two-cylinder, air-cooled engine (that would be 500 cc’s, not 500 ci’s…). The modern version of this car was introduced in Europe in 2007 and subsequently named European Car of the Year in 2008. So the 2012 version is not an all-new vehicle that will be de-bugged in North America; it’s a well-sorted car with three years production under its belt.

2012 Fiat 500
2012 Fiat 500
2012 Fiat 500
2012 Fiat 500. Click image to enlarge

Just to be clear, the engine is no longer in the back. It’s a conventionally front-mounted, liquid-cooled, 1.4-litre, four-cylinder “MultiAir” powerplant that makes 102 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 98 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm (MultiAir is a Fiat engine technology that maximizes engine performance and fuel economy while minimizing emissions). It’s mated to a five-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic sourced from Japanese maker Aisin (the same automatic transmission used in the Mini Cooper).

Brakes are four-wheel discs and fuel consumption from the manual transmission 500 is a miserly 6.7/5.1 L/100 km, city/highway, and 7.4/5.7 L/100 km, city/highway, for the automatic.

Three trim levels will be offered, each with the same drive-train. The $15,995 “Pop” arrives with power windows, power locks with remote keyless entry, power and heated mirrors, chrome door handles, 15-inch wheels with wheel covers, six-speaker audio, cloth seats with driver seat height adjustment, vehicle information centre, tilt steering and the full package of safety features including anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, seven airbags and the useful hill-start assist.

For $18,500, the “Sport” features 16-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers, a sport suspension, unique front and rear fascias, fog lamps, rear spoiler, side sill treatment, air conditioning, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, cruise control, sport seats, chrome shift knob, hands-free communication and a passenger grab handle.

The top model is the “Lounge” at $19,500. It includes leather interior, automatic temperature control, 15-inch cast aluminum wheels, panoramic glass roof, chrome mirrors, Sirius satellite radio, hands-free communication, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, cruise, aspheric driver exterior mirror, chrome exhaust tip and exterior graphics.

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