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SAFETY | 6 out of 10
Four stars overall; four stars frontal, five stars side
'Good,' frontal, side, rear impact; 'good,' roof strength
'Poor,' small overlap frontal impact
The chassis received stiffening and a few extra parts to meet U.S. crash standards, enough so that a 500 that had gone through a 40-mph offset test could easily open and close its doors.
Fiat offers a six-speed manual gearbox in Europe, but chief engineer DiMuro tells us that he was not able to package it in the U.S.-spec 500 without sacrificing a vertical linkage between the horizontal crash-protection beams.
Despite its size, the 2012 Fiat 500 is loaded with safety gear. Stability control and ABS are standard, along with Brake Assist, seven airbags and substantial structural revisions wrought for the U.S. market.
In the land of SUVs and big trucks, safety should absolutely be concern when shopping for a small car like the Fiat 500. However, if you take into consideration how nimble and responsive the 500 can be–plus Fiat's inclusion of the necessary safety features, buying this small car doesn't seem all bad.
Like any modern car, the Fiat 500 offers standard dual front, side and curtain airbags; it also includes a driver knee airbag. And in addition to the anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, there's a hill-hold feature that's nifty in the city.
As for top-tier active-safety systems (things like lane-departure warning or adaptive cruise control), you won't find those in the Fiat 500.
So far, the Fiat 500 has earned respectable (although not top-tier) results in U.S. crash-test programs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has rated it four stars overall, as well as four stars for frontal crash and rollover resistance, although it earned five stars for side impact. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), on the other hand, has given the 500 top 'good' scores in most areas of testing, but it received a worrisome 'poor' rating in the new small overlap frontal test.
The 500c Convertible and Abarth performance model have not yet been crash tested by either agency.
A poor showing in the IIHS' newest crash test drops the Fiat 500's safety score to a new low.