By on October 31, 2011

Throw “Sport” on a car, and I’m going to expect certain things from it. So I wasn’t kind to the first FIAT 500 I reviewed. But, as with people, I’m always willing to give a car a second take from a more amenable angle. To avoid bits I didn’t care for, I requested the base-level “Pop” trim with an automatic transmission. Chrysler counter-offered a top-level Lounge. In brown. With brown leather. Not quite what I asked for, but as a member of the Brown Car Appreciation Society (sans card, alas) I felt duty bound to accept.

Dip a 500 in Espresso Metallic and fit it with multi-spoke alloys (a $300 extra), and no one will think it an economy car. The look is as upscale as the Scion iQ’s is not. And this is before opening the door to find seats upholstered in chocolate brown leather, with matching trim on the doors and dash. The ivory steering wheel, upper seatbacks, and control panels provide a classy contrast while keeping the whole from seeming too serious or somber. Most definitely lounge-worthy.


Sadly, all parts of the 500 can’t deliver on this initial impression. Work the manual height adjuster in an attempt to lower the high-mounted seat, and the degree of flex suggests it’s not long for this world. Then again, the seat is so high in its lowest position that few people will ever use this adjuster. The buttons for the HVAC and audio feel very much like those of a sub-$20k car (even though this example wasn’t). Drive down any but the smoothest roads, and the doors constantly scratch against their seals. Perhaps press cars aren’t prepped as thoroughly as conventional wisdom suggests? A few dabs of a suitable lube might have gone a long way.

Thanks to the 500’s unsportily high seating position, the view forward is open. As is the view upward through the Lounge’s standard large fixed glass roof panel (much of the utility of the optional sunroof, without the rattles and leaks). The view rearward, not so much, as the B- and C-pillars are thick and close. But with so little car back there the Luxury Leather Package’s rear obstacle detection is nevertheless pointless. The driver-side spotter mirror is of much more use, enabling fear-free lane changes to the left, even if it does rob some scarce real estate within the mini-compact mirror pods. Whatever the trim level, the ergonomics are, well, Italian. The shifter remains too high and too far forward, but with the automatic this isn’t an issue. Despite the intimate interior, the logic-defying myriad small buttons for the BOSE audio system (thumping sub beneath the passenger seat) are just beyond reach. Would a few large knobs close at hand cramp the 500’s style? The “sport” button is close at hand, but all it does is bump the steering effort without reducing steering numbness and force the transmission to hold gears far too long for casual around-town use. We’re lounging this time around, so absolutely no need for this.

The Lounge’s seat is the same as the Sport’s, but with no clutch requiring frequent full leg extensions the overly prominent under-thigh bulge didn’t bother me. In fact, nothing really bothered me, though my diminutive rear seat occupants did complain about the car’s hard round headrests.

The 500’s 101-horsepower 1.4-liter engine was—surprise—no match for a Ford GT rapidly approaching in my rearview on I-75. Even with the rightmost pedal pressed hard to the floor there’s little thrust at highway speeds. Bill Ford’s supercharged supercar blew by without even realizing I was there. But up to 45 or so there’s easily adequate power. With the Lounge’s mandatory automatic I felt far less need to dispatch the engine anywhere near its redline (though the autobox is more than happy to take it there), and the MultiAir mill sounded much less thrashy as a result. The trip computer reported 33-35 MPG in the suburbs, dipping into the high 20s when my right foot lapsed out of lounge mode. Not bad, but at best a match for the most efficient cars one or two size classes up, despite FIAT’s highly touted throttle-less intake technology. Handling might not be sporty, but it is effortlessly pleasant. And the standard suspension delivers a livable ride, if still a bit choppy and bouncy.

Even if the FIAT 500 Lounge isn’t especially fun to drive, it is nevertheless thoroughly fun (when not hopelessly attempting to match pace with a supercar). The styling is engagingly cute (chics dig it) yet—in brown—also elegant. In Lounge form the car’s easygoing driving character fits. Pulling up to Trader Joe’s with my three chattering progeny, and tight on time, I announced, “All right you clowns, out of the clown car.” My youngest almost died from laughter in the parking lot. That was just the first of four stops on the weekly shopping expedition. Even with all seats occupied, my cargo anxiety heightened by what might well be the world’s smallest cargo cover, and some sale items bought by the dozen, everything fit with room to spare. In the $21,800 500 Lounge BCAS Edition, the entire experience seemed much less of a chore.

Fiat provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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91 Comments on “Review: 2012 Fiat 500 Lounge (BCAS Edition)...”

  • avatar

    I must confess that I just love the look of these things.

    I don’t recall reading it, but how was the suspension compared to the Sport (which I seem to recall you saying was a bit harsh?)?

    • 0 avatar

      Between the less firm suspension and taller sidewalls, significantly less harsh, but still a bit choppy.

    • 0 avatar

      “I must confess that I just love the look of these things.”

      I’m the same way. It’s funny – I dig the modern/retro look of the 500.. And yet, I’ve never liked the looks of the new MINI or New Beetle.

      • 0 avatar

        The 500’s design is more artful and more subtle than the others. It could also be an entirely new car, it’s not dependent on the previous existence of the classic 500–otherwise it would be SOL in the U.S. market. The Beetle in particular would simply not exist if not for the original.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it would look better if it where a little lower (and lowered) and a bit wider. In other words, more Mini cooper S and less Smart fortwo. Still, it is handsome from some angles. It’s like most people… it has its moments.

      • 0 avatar

        redliner – not to specifically be digging at you but I just don’t understand the point nor value of a comment like that one.

        It is like discussing the beauty or otherwise of a woman. The whole exercise is so subjective and entirely personal that one person’s view on how appealing another person, or a vehicle, is to THEM seems to me to be a waste of bandwidth.

        That said, I commend you for using the term “i think it would…” because at least you are indicating your understanding that it is just YOUR OPINION whereas many others tend to make their observations of appearance of vehicles as though their OPINIONS were actual FACTUAL STATEMENTS.

        I know I may be offending you, and many others here, with my comment. I stress that it is not meant to be a personal attack, I am just trying, clumsily I guess, to suggest that a bunch of comments that basically say “i like” or “i don’t like” the looks of a vehicle seem, to me at least, pretty uninteresting.

        Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion and, no doubt, many will disagree with me.

  • avatar

    I have yet to see any Fiat 500 in my area. Admitedly in a rural area west of Houston, but I see 2 Smart cars reguarly and several Mini’s Just curious.

    • 0 avatar

      They are rare but I see them around St. Pete Beach – there’s event a car rental place that has perhaps two of them – they are almost never on the lot, however.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw my first one on the road the other day. Red, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      Plenty of Fiats on the roads up here in Maine. On our monthly family trips to Boston we see bunches down there as well.

      I like the look of this example. Like others here I’m very tired of boring interiors (black, tan or grey, take your pick!) and dull exterior colors. I think if you’re going to opt for a car like the Fiat with its fashion factor then colors like these on the sampler are required. I think they work very, very well here.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting, I see them all over the place here in Chicago (well the city-proper at least)

  • avatar

    I’ve seen a couple IRL on the road (northern NJ). I think they’re rather ugly, look better in pics. But to each their own.

    Stopped by the Mini dealer this past Saturday — place was mobbed. Every model on the floor, snacks, drinks, non intimidating sales people. Folks literally waiting for test drives. Fiat’s got to do a lot to match that vibe.

    (oh, in this neck of the woods, the nearest “studio” is 21 miles away (other than Manhattan!! – no one from NJ is going to drive in NYC for this car)… I can think of multiple Mini dealers — Chrysler, that ain’t going to cut it!)

  • avatar

    The base version of this car seem appealing towards college age girls. This version seems to be attempting to appeal to a similar group that has completed college.

    I have discovered that sinking this king of money into this kind of car is similar to buying expensive condoms. It feels better to you, but still doesn’t feel as good as it should and spending the extra money lets you know it could have been worse.

    • 0 avatar

      There aren’t many options in this price range that are this unique or different, or with so much character. Clearly you’re looking for something entirely different in a car than what this car offers.

  • avatar

    These things are everywhere here in Portland, Maine, and I love it! I find them delightful. I need to stop by our shiny new FIAT store and try one out. White with red leather and the white steering wheel please.

    I have absolutely no eartly need for one, but I want one anyway.

  • avatar

    Some–perhaps many–people are wondering about the reliability of current FIATs. No one has any results yet for the U.S. cars, but TrueDelta is on track to have some stats in February.

    The initial data are promising. Only nine cars reporting, but no repairs so far for any of them.

    Have a 500, or know someone with one? Details on the Car Reliability Survey here:

    • 0 avatar

      I have just returned a Fiat 500 Sport that I had as a rental for a week and was impressed that the car, which came to me with 20,000 kms on it, still looked brand-new. Both my wife and I referred to it as “the clown car” but it is pretty endearing. I hope that people who buy them are not disappointed by reliability issues as my experience was pretty positive.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that wrinkle/stretch/permanent indentation on the driver’s seat leather is a pretty good indication of the scam Fiat is running.

      • 0 avatar

        Scam? Did I miss something out on the conspiracy blogs? Fiat is providing at least an engaging and unique take on a commuter car and the automotive landscape is the better for having more choices than just a Yaris or Versa. It won’t be everybody’s cup of mocha, but I can appreciate it for what it is, and still am looking forward to trying out the Abarth when it hits early next year…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m in Europe the Fiat 500 has gotten good marks for reliability and quality here.

  • avatar

    I’m very tempted by a 500C Pop. Just waiting for reliability reports and hopefully some cash on the hood.

    Just a base model with alloys will be $23k out the door. If Fiat/Chrysler makes it so I can get out the door for $20k, I’m signing a note.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    That Lounge trim level should provide a complimentary soundtrack CD filled with the music of Perez Prado and Juan Garcia Esquivel.

    Here in Colorado’s second largest city, there are no plans to support FIAT showrooms from what the various Chrysler reps have had to say, so there’s an hour’s drive north for anyone in the area who wishes to test one out.

    • 0 avatar

      I would think the market in Highlands Ranch would be more for SUVs, anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Damn, now I really need to clean this keyboard. I had forgotten all about that particular bit of planned community hell south of 470.

        I’ve actually seen a few 500s running around the COSprings area, and the occasional flash of pistachio green along the I-25 corridor, so there do seem to be a few devotees of the marque in town.

    • 0 avatar

      With all respect to our Conservative-Bastion to the south, the Springs does not strike me as a hot-button community to market what is essentially a fashion accessory. On average, the commutes are far longer than they are in Denver or Boulder for the fashionistas.

      I have seen quite a few in South Denver/Cherry Creek, and I have no idea why the dealer is on the “sketch” side of town. People must order them online and have them delivered. They already have my name and number on the list for a test drive (and fitting) of the Abarth…

      Also, do not fret. Most dealers (Mr. Doug included) managed to fanagle exclusivity contracts for dealerships and deals on the side for their respective Pentastar franchises. Not seeing one in the Springs has little to do with the popularity of the cars. Let’s just hope they don’t botch the Alfa launch like this.

  • avatar
    word is bond

    I’m always disappointed by the rear end on these things.
    It’s a great looking car, but the back end just looks fat, with that tiny rear window and the high beltline.

  • avatar
    M.S. Smith

    “Thanks to the 500’s unsportily high seating position, the view forward is open.”

    Which is why I’m not sure the people who just can’t wait for an Abarth know what they’re getting in to. I drove a 500 and I thought it was really good for what it is – inexpensive, maneuverable, but cool transportation – but man, those seats are way too high for any sporting intent.

    You don’t even have to drive either the 500 or the Mini to understand the difference between them. Just sit in them.

    • 0 avatar

      Good point. I am waiting to see the base price on the Abarth, and I will test drive both the Abarth and the 500 Sport – but yeah, one shouldn’t expect an F1 car either way.

    • 0 avatar

      Clearly none of you have driven a MkII GTI…it had the same seating position, same feel, and was nimble and quick like this car….

      Sitting high doesn’t mean “unsporty”…don’t even know where one draws that silly conclusion.

  • avatar

    I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the white steering wheel matches the rest of the brown leather…
    I’m afraid that this would require levels of anal retention and OCD that I cannot comprehend.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 that is the first thing I thought when I saw the pics. On a list of things to make white in a car major touch points (steering wheel, door handles and shifter) might be worst possible choices.

      I do applaud ANY color that is not silver, white or black. Thus the reason I bought an metallic orange 350 Z.

      Wife thinks the 500 is super cute and if she was 18-24 it would be #1 on her list, however at 40 now her tastes have grown up… thus the reason she drives a Volvo C30 these days.

      • 0 avatar

        Before I picked out my 500 I wanted to see a 500C. So the dealer I went to had a Lounge C that he was cleaning up for a show; he let me sit in it and play around, etc. It had a white wheel and I expressed to him my concerns about the white turning, well, not white. He said that he had to clean it daily to keep it looking good without even a lot of traffic sitting in it. No thank you.

  • avatar

    White steering wheel-It won’t be white for long. Either the UV will turn it or the drivers grubby paws.

  • avatar

    Michael: I’m with you, a card carrying member of BCAS. So sick of silver/grey cars! The brown metallic exterior combined with the brown leather seats is a knock-out combo. Convertible version with a creme colored cloth top looked even better. Stopped at the FIAT “studio” in Bloomfield Hills, MI Sunday. The 500 is just a truly charismatic design that can’t help but put a smile on your face. Here’s my take: FIAT needs to cut the base price on all three trim levels by about $1,000. The Lounge should have the manual tranny standard instead of the automatic (especially with a 50% manual trans take rate, why cut all those buyers out from the range topper trim?). Lounge should have the leather seats (currently an $800 option) standard, instead of the auto. Add a Sport trim level to the convertible, why is it only offered in Pop or Lounge trim?. Price the upcoming Abarth version to start in the low to mid $20’s. My two cents on making some tweaks to it.

  • avatar

    Hi! This car scares me somewhat.It is very small.I live up high up in the mountains and I am afraid will not have enough power to get up the hill. It reminds me of the Renault.

    Casey Mahoney Brad P

    • 0 avatar

      even with san fran type hills this thing in a manual would be fine.

    • 0 avatar
      fred schumacher

      I think horsepower anxiety is overrated. I drove an old 2.2 liter Dodge Caravan with 85 hp. and 5-speed all over the Front Range and never felt like I wasn’t going to make it up any grade. Downshift. That’s what the gear lever is for.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, Casey-Mahoney-brad-p,

      As the reply below indicates, both should do well, with the manual especially. That said, the auto CAN act as a pseudo manual and you CAN hold it in gear to nearly redline if you need to, something you can’t do with most autos with manual shift capability.

      For the HP, the car’s weight is very favorable to it as it has a very good HP to weight ratio and weighs in around 2333# dripping wet – and that’s for the convertible too.

      I’d check it out as I had 2 other adults in it when I last drove it and if you keep the tranny in either 1st or 2nd, it can pull the three of us quite well with a good press on the accelerator. The motor just responds as there is adequate torque at lower rpms though nothing spectacular, but enough to get it going though.

      I’ve heard you can chirp the tires in both 1st and 2nd gears if you so choose. Not bad at all.

      It felt very much like my old 83 Civic in it’s frisky manner and that old Civic had 67HP and weighed in at 1800# or so.

  • avatar

    My brother rented a red FIAT so I saw one in person. I like it. It’s really an out and about type little car – maybe not real practical, but I’d love to have one. I like the brown lounge.

  • avatar

    In the second photo, the driver’s seat leather is already rippled. How many miles were on this tester? I don’t know if that correlates to build quality in general on this car, but I know I would be massively annoyed if my new car went wrinkle butt right away.

    I think it’s a good looking car, from the front. The rear wheel stance and rear end seem awkward or disconnected from the rest of the body. Maybe disproportionate. I had the opportunity to sit in one and can vigorously agree with the seat height comments. This is probably a good car for someone, but it’s just not compelling enough for me to give it serious consideration.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      In photo #4 you don’t see it I guess the driver had just gotten up from the seat and the leather has yet to go back in place./ Also being an economy car, the leather is not of the best quality.

  • avatar

    “Pop” trim? In brown this thing looks like a turd. Maybe change to “Poop” trim? ; )

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    “A few dabs of a suitable lube might have gone a long way.” – insert your own joke here.

    I’m all for more colors in interiors. The 500 though doesn’t hold much interest to me.

  • avatar

    “Thanks to the 500’s unsportily high seating position, the view forward is open. ”

    Shame that good forward visibility of the road is not considered a positive sporting characteristic.

    Is the desire to sit lower because it feels cool to be hunkered down or do you really expect to achieve a lower center of gravity and thus enhance handling?

  • avatar

    Nice overall details and then that exhast tip makes me wonder, what were they thinking?

  • avatar

    I live in the NYC area, I’ve just about seen every high-end car you can think of on the road, but curiously I’ve never seen a Ford GT actually being driven. The only Ford GT I’ve seen in the flesh was parked on the lot of a notoriously crooked local Ford dealer (now out of business).

  • avatar

    I like the fiat, like the reviewer I am not sure of longevity, but overall its the price- at 23k Canadian (sport model) its pretty steep for an econobox. A mazda 6 is around the same price. or a mx-5 if you want small and sporty.

    Having driven it for about 45mins I can say its pretty peppy- I was expecting a dodge colt type acceleration.
    couple of points;
    -The shifter is angled a bit like a alfa but certainly not uncomfortable- 5th to 4th a bit of a scratch.
    -armrest was nice touch.
    -rear pillars really create blind spots, this was my biggest beef with the car.
    -motor is nicer looking than most domestics with tape and shit all over the place.
    -seats are a bit short for me (6’1)
    -didn’t notice torque steer

    Would I plunk down 23k for it? no, but I like it at 14-16k.

  • avatar

    Michael, did your front seat passengers ever complain about the lack of a center armrest? That was the very first thing my mother noticed when we checked them out a while back.

  • avatar

    It looked like there was more space in this than in the KIA Soul.

  • avatar

    An ivory-colored steering wheel? Grub city within a month! The rest? I love the right color of brown/tan mettalic – my 1972 Nova was that beautiful shade with the off-white interior and I kept it very clean, but it wasn’t white, either.

    Anything but the obnoxious gray everywhere.

    I saw lots of 500’s running around LA & Phoenix when on vacation, but only a few in the Cincinnati area.

    Do I want one? In a word…no. BUT – the more choices and styles, the better!

  • avatar

    Mr Michael Karesh, I was pleasantly surprised to see you actually do belong to “The Brown Car Appreciation Society”.

  • avatar

    i second brown cars- lookin’ at you cayman

  • avatar

    I do like the color of brown in the interior better than the beige/tan offered by most mfgs, however it clashes with the black/grey that most of the rest of the interior is. The Ivory looks cheap, tacky and dirty and it’s still new, give it a couple of months and it’s going to look really bad.

  • avatar

    So that brown is espresso? Very nice color! I think it looks better with black cloth seats and a black conv. top. that way no ivory

  • avatar

    It’s definitely a chick car that would probably appeal to college age girls or a girl just out of college. I saw one about a month ago and I was not impressed. It’s simply too small for me. If I’m going to buy a small car I want something small and practical (think Honda Fit or Ford Focus). Small and Cute simply does not cut it for me.

  • avatar

    Brown is the absolute worst color for a car, IMO. My sister had a ’70 Cutlass in a very similar color. I would even take the old “avacado green” from the late 60’s- early ’70’s before brown.

    And a brown 500 is the worst. I don’t see the “cute” in this turd at all, I just see an ugly car in the worst color possible, except maybe pink. The white parts of the interior would be a mess after a while, but maybe if they turned brown, they wouldn’t be white anymore, and that would be a huge plus.

    I would be mortified if I was seen driving or even riding in a 500. It is the very definition of the modern “chickmobile”.

  • avatar

    As a long time Alfa owner, the manual shifter on the 500 sport is just right. You are not supposed to slam an Italian car into gear like my college age son driving his E30.

    As for the center armrest, my 164 with factory Recaro seats also doesn’t have an armrest. You are forced to keep both hands on the wheel and enjoy the driving experience. I no longer notice it missing.

    I rented a black 500S with auto from Hertz in Denver 3 weeks ago. I ended up shifting manually, by engine sound. After I got into the groove it seemed to improve the acceleration considerably. I would opt for the manual.

  • avatar

    What always strikes me odd these days is that now Ford and Chrysler basically share a car platform.

    The Fiat 500 and the Ford Ka are basically the same car. It is built for Ford by Fiat in Poland and they are even using the Fiat engines in the Ka.

  • avatar

    They could sell a ton of Kas here.

  • avatar

    It’s just a name but I think of espresso as more black. I guess the crema is brownish. This Fiat is more root beer to me.

    When I see a brown compact cat I think of the college parking lot 1985-89 with all the brown VW Rabbits. That brown did not age well.

    Had a chance to buy a root beer Guzzi Sport 1100, but did not. Add it to my list of regrets, this Goose is a rare bird.

  • avatar

    I am liking the 500 more and more, but I’ve only seen red ones on the road, which look like jellybeans. Dark colors give it a much classier, more dignified look.

    The white steering wheel would bother me, though. It looks cool, but it looks like it would stain easily, (especially if one wears it down and it isn’t white all the way through) and when sunlight gets in the car (a good thing) it would reflect off the wheel into my face (a bad thing.)

  • avatar

    Kudos to the reviewer for giving the car another try.
    As for reliability, I have 16,000 miles on mine. Only ONE flaw: The digital clock loses about a minute every two weeks. Other than that all is well. I drive a 100 mile commute a day, avg 38 MPG, runs fine on 87 octane, fun as hell, gets tons of compliments. BTW, the car just got top marks in US crash testing. To those who think there are better cars for them for their money, I say they are right. There are better cars for THEM for their money.

  • avatar

    All it needs is a rainbow sticker.

  • avatar

    Yes but you can get red/white/green striping.

  • avatar

    Lighten up, fellas. I was only clowning around and seeing how many people would get riled. Besides, it was a TTAC article that mentioned the 500 as the choice for gays. I don’t have anything against small cars, but I have no use for one.

  • avatar

    I test drove the 500 Sport model in the same color combo exterior/interior as the one you tested with the automatic tranny and sunroof. Loved the way the car looked in “mocha” but it has too many strikes against it. I found it comfortable, excellent forward visibility and nimble. I HATED the automatic/engine combo. This engine begs to be revved for it has very little low end torque. I live in Miami and with the air conditioner on, this engine really struggled and I found myself hitting the petal to the metal to accelerate at times. As you noted, the plastics on this car are cheap and flex, same as this report, the plastic levers on the seats felt like they will snap at any moment on your hand – bad sign. I also heard vibration noises in this car, plastics rubbing against each other? I frankly don’t know. I was going to get one but no, too many negatives against it. In Miami, I have only seen two so far and the dealer lot is piled high with the 500’s and I was the only one on the Fiat lot – worrisome too.

  • avatar

    What a stupid review…you can learn a thing or two from this review…a far better balanced, less whiny review.

  • avatar

    I’m hoping the 695 Tributo Ferrari will come here.

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