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New Fiat 500


By Linda Sharp

It was easy to be drawn to attend GAAMA's July 27TH luncheon presented at Don Jackson's avante garde Fiat Studio in Marrow, GA. The always pleasant, ever effervescent Fiat/Chrysler PR rep Lisa Barrow had teased us with the opportunity to get behind the wheel of Fiat's first entry in years to the US market, their oh so cute, oh so adorable looking Fiat 500.

As a long time sporty car girl, I remember the Fiat 500's that were raced in the '70's. The new 500 is a wonderful example of how you can take what was once old and make it all new again – and at the same time remain totally true to the vehicle's heritage.
The 2012 Fiat 500 is every bit, if not more so - as retro as competing vehicles such as VW Beetles or Mini Coopers.
The first thing you notice about he 500 after you get past its cuteness is that it's not very big on the exterior. But when you get inside, it's like "Wow!" This petite little package packs a lot of space in the front seat room. There is ample head room for even a 6 footer plus. A real surprise in this segment. Lot's of shoulder space, well positioned window sills and exceptional visibility. The front seats remind me more of overstuffed lounge chairs than typical A Class vehicle seating. OK, I'd be remiss, it I didn't point out that the back seat is pretty minimal. Small children, small pets and purses and brief cases will be right at home. However, fold the seat back down and you get more usable space. Certainly, not in the SUV carrying capacity, but enough to make this diminutive player practical.
The 500 is offered in three trim levels: entry being the Pop, mid level the Sport and top of the line the Lounge. Now, I wonder where they came up with that last name? Could it have been from those inviting front seats?

It's also available in a very clever cabriolet version. Much like the top treatment on 2CV's, the automatic, multi adjustable fabic tops moves backwards, while the sides of the car's "greenhouse" remain in place. Some may consider it the world's largest sunroof, but personally, I think it makes for an exceptionally safe open air experience and does not compromise the structural integrity of the vehicle. The design also provides a quiet non buffeting interior cruising experience.
So now for the meat and potatoes of the 2012 Fiat 500. Here is what Fiat extols about their little darling beginning by stating emphatically that this is not the European counterpart except in looks: – It has been successfully tailored for the U.S. Market Every detail of the new 2012 Fiat 500 has been thoroughly examined and improved to successfully adapt the vehicle for North American customers and roads. "The Fiat 500 is an icon of efficient personal transportation, and for its U.S. premiere, we adapted the entire vehicle while retaining its Italian essence," said Doug Betts, Senior Vice President — Quality, Chrysler Group LLC. "The Fiat 500 is an excellent package to start with. As we enhanced it to match North American driving conditions and consumer expectations, we also made sure to preserve the world-class fit-and-finish standards achieved by Fiat's development team."   The new Fiat 500 adds refinement for American drivers and maintains world-class dynamics

Taking lessons learned from the European-produced model, the new 2012 Fiat 500 starts with a redesigned body structure to meet North American regulatory requirements for exceptional strength, crashworthiness and performance. A specially engineered suspension delivers tailored performance for the U.S. market. A redesigned twist-beam rear suspension features retuned bushings with more built-in roll stiffness, delivering ride comfort and handling suited for American drivers. Revised front-suspension geometry reduces dive during braking and features an increased front-stabilizer bar rate for reduced body roll and added driver confidence. In addition, retuned twin-tube shock absorbers and springs, all-new structural sub-frame brace, upgraded upper-strut mounts and retuned control-arm bushings make the U.S. market Fiat 500 as nimble as its European cousin while delivering a more comfortable and quiet interior cabin. The new Fiat 500 also features a quiet cabin, thanks to a newly designed acoustics package. New floor, tunnel, trunk and instrument panel sound-deadening materials reduce road noise. New body and door seals, along with foam-in-place carpet, provide an additional level of interior quietness. An all-new 1.4-liter MultiAir® engine cover with an acoustic-dampening design further minimizes engine noise into the cabin. New 15-inch and 16-inch tires reduce road noise, and premium hydraulic powertrain mounts minimize engine vibrations into the cabin. The Fiat 500's new four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system (ABS) features redesigned front calipers for the best in brake performance, while new organic brake linings reduce brake dust and noise. New brake rotors feature an anti-corrosion coating for enhanced durability and smoother operation. A revised electronic stability control (ESC) system is tuned for the Fiat 500's new all-season tires. With its new efficient 1.4-liter MultiAir engine capable up to 38 highway mpg, Fiat engineers designed the 2012 model with a larger 10.5-gallon fuel tank for extended driving range. An enhanced heating and cooling system was designed to be environmentally friendly with lower CO2 emissions while providing the performance needed for North American climate extremes. As new Fiat 500 owners will want to keep their car shining, new wheels are designed to avoid unsightly curb rash from car wash tire guides. In addition, a new rear wiper is designed to protect against car wash damage while providing a wider swept area. At the front, new windshield wipers feature a flexible silicone uni-blade design for improved all-season functionality. Inside the 2012 Fiat 500, redesigned driver and front-passenger seats feature a new armrest and seat cushion design for improved comfort on long journeys. Getting in and out for rear-seat passengers is now easier thanks to an easy-entry system designed into the new front seats. New heated seat controls have been relocated to the lower instrument panel for added convenience, while larger heated seat elements provide front-passenger comfort in colder weather. Delivering improved durability, resistance to scratches and a better aesthetic, metal seat backs have been replaced with carpet. For easier operation and to keep the driver's eyes on the road ahead, the Fiat 500's steering wheel features new cruise control and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. In addition, revised steering effort calibration makes parking easier while increasing stability at highway speeds (against crosswinds). For high-performance sound, a new BOSE® Energy Efficient Series (EES) premium audio system features six premium speakers and a subwoofer. For the best music, entertainment and information from coast to coast, SIRIUS Satellite Radio with more than 130 channels is now available on the
2012 Fiat 500.

For those of you who are more into how your car looks than how it goes, the 500 does not disappoint offering FOURTEEN exterior colors. There is also an expansive array of interior colors that results in more combinations than anything in the market place. Yes, you can definitely make this car your own! But for me, the best part of any vehicle has always been the drive. I'd be less than honest, if I didn't admit that I jumped behind the wheel of a five speed manual gear box Sport with great anticipation and much expectations. The little yellow sweetheart did not disappoint. It's nimble, agile and peppy on city side streets. It's size makes maneuvering through traffic an effortless task. As I approached Atlanta's busy I-75 Interstate, I was wondering if it would truly live up the claim that in drove and rode like a much bigger car in such circumstances. Again, the 500 lived up to it's billing. While still maintaining a lithe feel much like a fleet footed runner, it was firmly planted to the road surface, quiet as church mouse and produced a most complaint ride you would expect to find in a much larger and more expensive vehicle. Safety is always a concern when you are looking at a vehicle that comes in a small package. Fiat has shown it is committed to set the standard for safety in the segment. In Europe, the Fiat 500 was the first A-segment vehicle to achieve a 5-star Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) adult occupant protection rating. This is actually a more stringent test than the US test. The US tests have not yet been completed, but Fiat officials are confident of excellent results. That's because they have done their homework in the area of safety with the 500 featuring S E V EN S TANDA RD A I R B AGS and R E ACT I V E HE AD R E S T R A INT S

Its seven standard air bags 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, all to offer enhanced occupant protection to all occupants in the event of a collision. Reactive head restraints, which activate during a rear impact, are another innovation that helps to minimize injuries by reducing the gap between the head restraint nd the passenger's head No doubt about it. This would be a car that a "driver" would enjoy. A car that a "driver" would like to live with. And with base pricing for the Pop beginning just over $15,000 and the top of the line Lounge ringing the register at just over $20,000, it's a vehicle that can find it's way in to most driver's budgets. My only disappointment with the 500 was that I didn't get to drive it home!

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