2012 Fiat 500c front 3/4 view
Keith Griffin's picture

2012 Fiat 500c Review: Cute but Underpowered and Overpriced

Maybe you've heard the old cliché that good things come in small packages? Unfortunately, in the case of the 2012 Fiat 500c cabriolet that's not the case. It's a small package, but it's underpowered and overpriced, which just don't cut it no matter how cute you are.

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.

(For the latest new car news, follow me on Twitter at aboutusedcars. You can also read the latest automotive news at TorqueNews.com, where I am a contributor, or learn about buying and selling a used car at UsedCars.About.com.)


  • 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

Subscribe to Torque News on YouTube.

Follow Torque News on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.


24k? Where were you shopping? We went to East Hartford yesterday, looked at a lot full of Fiats. The most expensive one on the lot was 22.5k. Plenty of room, very comfortable. I can't wait to get mine after Christmas.
Jeez, for someone that doesn't want to bash this little beauty, you sure do a lot of bashing. There are many (many,many) reviews that would contradict your view. And, the thing is, the 500 has won many awards.
I think the 500 and especially the 500c are brilliant. We finally get something fun on the US roads and should be welcome it (then again, most "other" reviews can see how fun this car is). Yet, it always comes back to this hunger for power... Sure its no V8 HEMI but wake up already, one can have fun with a rev-happy engine and great design. I would even consider their fascinating TwinAir (2 cyl.) if it was available in the US (thanks to people like you, it will only be available in FUN HEARTER EUROPE). I am definitely considering one. BTW, at sweet 500c Pop nicely loaded is under 21k.
You should give more specs for perspective. No, it is not a fast car, but I did find the power to be adequate when I drove one. Rev it. It goes! Unless you are drag racing it, it moves well. You have to remember the object of this kind of car. This is a "city car", mainly for the city and suburbs, with the occasional highway stint. It's not designed or intended to be a highway cruiser. The 500C starts around $19K - not $24. Unless you are a big person, I don't understand what you mean about pressed against the door. I am an average sized man (about 6ft /170lbs), and I had plenty of shoulder and hip room when I test drove two of them. Yes, the cabin is narrowish, but not as much so as a small car from the early 90s and before. As for the EPA estimate, experience has shown that the estimage is very conservative. A friend of mine with a manual has been getting low 40s on the highway and mid 30's combined. Not fantastic, but it beats just about anything else on the American road.
Get your facts straight. My fully loaded 500C Lounge was 24,500 plus tax. I have an Audi A4 Quattro turbo and I take the Fiat out every possible chance. I have my 0 to 60 car in the Audi and this car is actually more of a blast to drive. My dad is 220 pounds and has plenty of room, so my question to all this is, how much do you exactly weigh? Just wait for the Abarth announcement if you want a speed demon.
My advice for anyone reading this review: Drive it yourself. This reviewer is one a of a very small minority. Most people...and reviewers..disagree with most of his oipnions. Do some checking.
Obviously this reviewer did not go test drive the completion. I drove several competitive cars and did not find anything as fun as the FIAT. It has plenty of power as a 6spd. Yes if "Lazy" Americans want an automatic it's going to be slugish so are all the other cars. Just go and test drive one for yourself.
I would not get an automatic for this kind of car, it screams for a stick!
Keith? Sure it wasn't Peter Griffin? Lose some weight and take another test drive. Jeesh..I'm 5'11, 220, and have broad shoulders, but fit fine in mine.
The fiat multi air system may yet prove to be unreliable remember the Cadillac 4-6-8 and with fiat`s decades old reputation for unreliability I would look elsewhere....... anywhere else to spend my money remember they don't call Fiat Fix It Again Tony for no reason. VW Jetta , Hyundai Accent ,Ford focus ,Chevy Cruise .Honda civic all in the same price range and almost anything else on the planet are likely more car for the money ! A link here to 34 cars likely better for the money.
And your point about the list? Not one of them is a convertible, not one of them has the styling of the Fiat. Actually, every one of them is something I wouldn't buy even if the Fiat wasn't available. As for the reliability? We'll see. They're new.
Funny how all of these pro-Fiat comments appeared all at once. Viral marketing much? Fact of the matter is -- why would I buy this vehicle, when I could buy a more substantial, legitimate car, like a Focus, Civic, Jetta, etc -- vehicles which are better in every conceivable way -- for thousands less?
I am not a viral marketer, I just want a small, affordable convertible. I don't need power, I could give two poops for a fast car. I drove this car, it's fun. It's great for getting around town, going back and forth to work, down to the shore. I don't like the Jetta, Civic, Focus, which of those is a convertible? Going again an a couple hours to try again, and work a deal.