The Italian Job: Fiat Returns to the US

The Fiat 500 is an international car, with nearly universal appeal.

Photo Credit: Chris Hermer

There's a lot to like about the new Fiat 500, but is it amore?

Chris Hemer
May 1, 2012
Filed under Dinghy Towing, Top Stories

Fiat’s return to the U.S. market was met with as much trepidation as it was anticipation. Not merely because the company would be riding across the Atlantic on the shoulders of its most recent acquisition, the Chrysler Corp., but because of its lackluster history in the United States during the ’70s and ’80s. The company withdrew from the U.S. market in 1984, and for the most part, hasn’t been missed. 

Fiat aims to change all that with its Fiat 500, a miniscule two-door hatchback that oozes cuteness. A long-standing favorite in Europe, the U.S. market 500 is built in Mexico with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder Fiat-designed engine assembled by Chrysler employees in Michigan. It’s about as Italian as an Olive Garden chef, but to be fair, most cars on the market today are “world cars” with assembly plants and suppliers located around the globe. The question now is, how will the Fiat brand be accepted this time around? And how good of a car is the 500? 

We can’t predict the former (although sales at press time are well below expectations), but we can tell you that there’s a lot to like about the Fiat 500. First and foremost to motorhome owners, the manual transmission version is dinghy towable, and the procedure couldn’t be simpler: put it in neutral and insert the key into the ignition to unlock the steering wheel. The 500 is also very light at only 2,363 pounds, so it’s towable behind just about any motorhome.

The Fiat 500 may be a subcompact as far its EPA vehicle class is concerned, but unlike some other cars in the segment, a low price point wasn’t Fiat’s primary objective. Like the popular MINI, the 500 is part of a growing trend toward small, premium cars aimed at people who don’t want to sacrifice style and comfort for something that’s economical and easy to park. As such, the base model, the Pop, starts at $15,500, the Sport at $17,500 and the Lounge at a heady $19,500 (there are also special models like the $23,500 Gucci model, the $22,000 Pink Ribbon and the upcoming performance-oriented Abarth at $22,000). That’s a lot of green for a little car, but when you look a little closer you’ll start to understand why. 

Dinghy Towing the Fiat 500

After a quick install, pulling the Fiat 500 as a dinghy was a dream.

Fiat 500 As a Dinghy

The Fiat 500 is an ideal dinghy, light weight, and easy to set up.

Fiat 500 Engine

The 1.4-liter Multiair engine produces 101 horsepower, which is just enough for spirited driving in this lightweight subcompact.

Fiat Front Seat

The seats were some of the most comfortable we’ve sat in, but the instrument cluster could use some improvement.

Fiat 500 Back Seat

The Fiat’s interior is a delight for the eyes, with a body-colored dash and chrome trim everywhere.

Fiat 500 Wheels

The Fiat 500 features bright, attractive splashes of color all around.

Fiat 500 Exterior

The Fiat 500 is an international car, with nearly universal appeal.

For one thing, the 500 is offered in 14 exterior colors with 14 available interior color and material combinations — try finding that in another subcompact. And it comes standard with features like air conditioning, cruise control, power windows/locks and power heated exterior mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, AM/FM/CD radio and a BLUE&ME hands free communication system with iPod, USB and MP3 interface. All models also include safety features like four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, electronic stability control, traction control and seven air bags. 

The Sport model adds a rear spoiler, unique front/rear fascias, 16-inch alloy wheels, sporty red brake calipers, sport-tuned suspension, fog lamps and Bose premium audio. Lounge, as its name would suggest, leans more toward luxury, with a standard six-speed automatic transmission (not towable), fixed glass roof, bright exterior accents and climate control.

To read Chris’ full evaluation of the Fiat 500 and how to turn the small wonder into an ideal dinghy vehicle, find the May issue of MotorHome on newsstands or subscribe!


Body style: Two-door hatchback

Engine: 1.4-l SOHC 16-valve inline 


Horsepower: 101 bhp @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 98 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Wheelbase: 90.6″

Overall length: 11′ 7.6″

Overall height: 4′ 11.8″

Curb weight: 2,363 lbs

Headroom: 38.9″

Legroom: 40.7″

Shoulder room: 49.4″

Brakes, front: ventilated disc

Brakes, rear: solid disc

Standard safety features: 7 air bags, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, traction control, stability control, tire pressure monitoring system

MSRP: $17,500

Price as Tested: $19,000

Fiat USA: 888-242-6342,

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6 Responses to “The Italian Job: Fiat Returns to the US”

  1. RVing and Economies of Scale on May 1st, 2012 9:03 am

    […] And most of these cars and SUVs are also enjoyable to drive. I hated to give back the Fiat 500 we tested for this month’s cover story. As author Chris Hemer spells out in his evaluation, the […]

  2. Grrlduda on February 18th, 2013 12:43 pm

    What’s the recommended equipment to Flat Tow the Fiat 500 behind a Motorhome?

    Is it better to Flat Tow or buy a Trailer for cross country RV’ing for a year or two?


  3. Iggy on March 30th, 2013 4:53 pm

    I have been towing my 2012 Fiat 500 for almost a year and whenever I stop in a campground I usually have many interested inthe FIAT 500 as a toad.
    I have a motorhome with a Ford V10 gasser aand the 2,363lb FIAT doesn’t hinder me a bit.
    Now with the gas prices at a all time high you can consider lookin into the economical FIAT 500 again. Oh best mpg is 44 but average between 33 and 38 mpg in city stop and go driving.


    Ginette Reply:


    Im considering of buying a Fiat 500, are you satisfy with yours?

    Thank you for getting back to me,



  4. Towing my 500 manual transmission on June 16th, 2013 3:42 pm

    […] installing a roadmaster base plate on the 12 500 yellow sport. Here is the link to a summary of it.…rns-to-the-us/ Reply   Reply With […]

  5. Sally on September 21st, 2015 3:27 pm

    Recently purchased a 2014 FIAT 500L, Trekking model, turbo engine, 6 sp manual to dinghy tow. Was told by the RV mechanic that there is no baseplate that will fit the car as a toad, yet the RV motorhome Dinghy guide recommends the car. Any ideas?


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