2012 Fiat 500c Review: Cute but Underpowered and Overpriced
Lest one think this review is an automatic bashing of small cars – it is not. They are actually a particular favorite. The problem comes from the Fiat 500c's powertrain. This is a small – and I do mean small – car with no zip to it nor good fuel economy for its size.
Let's address the latter point first. It's one of the big knocks against the Smart car. It's little and cute like the Fiat 500 and only gets 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. The Fiat 500c, based on EPA figures, does even worse at 27 city and 32 mpg. A Hyundai Accent, which is bigger by all measurements, gets 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.
That's the unsettling thing about truly small cars in the U.S. They get relatively poor fuel economy for their size and typically run on premium fuel. Who wants to pay more just to get less fuel economy?
No Power in the Fiat 500c
What's also unsettling is how under powered this little car is – even for a little car. Americans don't mind small if it has a little zip to it. The Fiat 500c has a 1.4-liter MultiAir in-line four-cylinder engine that provides 101 horsepower and 98 lb. ft. of torque. As I said last summer when I reviewed the Mazda2, torque figures in the double digits are never a good thing.
The new Fiat 500c features the world’s first Fully Variable Valve Actuation (FVVA) system on a production engine. Also known as MultiAir, this intake-valve system replaces a traditional overhead cam with hydraulic actuation controlled by four, fast-responding, electronic solenoids – delivering instantaneous air-fuel adjustment at any time in the engine cycle for maximum efficiency and power or so Fiat claims. Maybe it does deliver maximum power but it's power that is lacking.
No Safety Concerns
One thing I can't knock about small cars is their safety. Sure, you can't overcome the laws of physics. A semi tractor-trailer crashing into a Fiat 500c is never going to end well for the Fiat passengers but there's a lot more protection inside than people may realize. Don't overlook a Fiat for safety reasons. It would be a mistake.
The 2012 Fiat 500 has been named a “Top Safety Pick” for 2011 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS recognizes vehicles that demonstrate “good” performance in front, side, rollover and rear crash test evaluations performed at its Vehicle Research Center. Vehicles must also have electronic stability control, a standard feature on all Fiat 500 models (and required on all 2012 models period).
The Fiat 500 has seven standard airbags for enhanced passenger protection. These include driver and front passenger advanced multi-stage air bags, driver’s knee air bag, full-length side-curtain air bags and standard seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags for enhanced passenger protection. Reactive head restraints that deploy in the event of a rear collision to minimize the space between the driver and passenger’s head and the front head restraints also are standard. High strength steel door beams offer additional protection in the event of a side impact.
Little Comfort Onboard
You may be safe in this car but I'm not sure how comfortable you're going to be. I made a long highway drive from Middleboro, Mass., to my home outside of Hartford (a distance of about 120 miles). All I could think (with a nod to Artie Lange's autobiography, was, "I'm too fat to Fiat." The Fiat is really cut almost like an Italian suit. Anybody broad of shoulder might find it uncomfortable for an extended drive. I had no place to rest my left arm for the trip because I felt pressed against the door.
OK, so not all is negative about the Fiat 500c. Its multi-position power-retractable cloth top is fascinating. With just the push of a button, the Fiat 500c’s power-operated cloth top retracts up to the rear spoiler during speeds up to 60 mph (a midway point can be chosen by pressing the button anytime between). Press the roof button again, and the roof will neatly fold all the way open and tuck neatly behind the rear head restraints (up to 50 mph). It's also constructed to create a quiet cabin under full speed.
2012 Fiat 500c Price
The Fiat 500c has a base price of $24,000. The model Fiat loaned me for review cost $25,020. Frankly, that's too high a price to pay for cute when it's so lacking in practicality. Look instead at a Mini Cooper or the Volkswagen Beetle as two too-cute alternatives that are going to serve you better in the long run.
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- Wheelbase: 90.6 inches
- Length: 139.6 inches
- Width: 64.1 inches
- Height: 59.8 inches
- Curb weight: 2486 lbs.
- Engine: 1.4-liter, four-cylinder
- Horsepower: 101 horsepower
- Torque: 98 lb. ft.
- EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 27/32
- Base price: $24,000
- As-tested price: $25,020
- Also consider: (a comparative vehicle) Mini Cooper, VW Beetle, Smart fortwo