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FEATURES | 8 out of 10
The dimensions may be compact but the car offers pretty much everything you can get in any modern compact car.
The exterior styling is just right and will be augmented by an unusually large selection of colors, fourteen in all, as well as various graphics packages.
...The redundant volume control on the backside of the steering wheel works well.
Watching the success of MINI and Scion in the personalization wars, Fiat is handing over the keys to 500 buyers and letting them go wild with color, features and other add-ons.
But first, the basics. The 2012 Fiat 500 comes in three essential flavors: Pop, Sport and Lounge. The $15,500 Fiat 500 Pop sports the five-speed manual transmission, 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack, power windows/locks/mirrors, and cruise control.
The $17,500 500 Sport sizes up to 16-inch wheels, adds a fixed glass roof, and gets a sport-tuned suspension and sport-bolstered seats. It also wears specific side cladding and a spoiler on its hatchback, even painted brake calipers. On the Sport, Fiat includes standard Bluetooth and USB hardware.
For $19,500, the 500 Lounge moves back down to 500 Pop spec; it reverts to 15-inch wheels and hangs on to the glass roof, while it adds the six-speed automatic, along with satellite radio, Bose speakers and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The major options on the Pop include the Bluetooth system and Bose speakers; on the Sport, automatic climate control and satellite radio are available. The Lounge edition can be fitted with a TomTom navigation system that can be mounted on a dash bracket; leather seats with heating and rear parking sensors are available, too.
From these core models, Fiat 500 owners can go higgeldy-piggeldy with what Fiat's execs call "extreme personalization." In common speak, that means all kinds of choices from among 14 interior and exterior colors, 30 seat covers, and 50 accessories. In all, some 500,000 different Fiat 500s can be built from the catalog, right up there in MINI Cooper territory. If you haven't been to Fiat's Web site, give it a whirl--you might come to love the frothy mocha color--and we guarantee the white 500 with red and green Italian livery will win you over.
Every Fiat 500 comes with a four-year/60,000-mile warranty--and Fiat will pay for basic maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles of service. Call it penance for the bad old Fiats of the 1970s if you want--it's more a smart marketing reality for a brand that's starting fresh from somewhat tainted roots.
Fiat's been reading off MINI's homework: the 2012 500 specs out in three basic models, but a half-million combos of color and features are possible.