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Hey guys, want to test how secure you are with your masculinity? Drive around in the endearing Fiat 500 for a few days.

I test-drove it and managed to survive with my man card still intact despite the frequent glances from both men and women. What I discovered is the new 2012 Fiat 500 inspires quite a difference of opinion between the two sexes.

In the minds of most women, the new 2012 Fiat 500 is an adorable, little car that was made even cuter by the popular Jennifer Lopez commercials. J.Lo cruises the streets of New York City in a white Fiat convertible (Cabrillo) during one commercial, and in another one manages to evade a gaggle of adoring men in a far-fetched chase scene.

2012 Fiat 500

  • Performance: 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, 101 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 30-38 mpg
  • Price: $15,00 to $22,000
  • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles; drivetrain 4 years/50,000 miles; corrosion 4 years/50,000; roadside assistance 4 years/unlimited

While most men definitely have no problem watching the seductive J.Lo commercials, that doesn’t mean they are fans of the Fiat 500. In a small informal poll, I didn’t encounter one man who would consider buying a Fiat 500. No surprise there – adorable small cars just don’t appeal to most men.

Did you lose track of Fiat? Join the club. Fiat had a decent U.S. run in the late 1960s and mid-70s. But the Italian automaker disappeared for more than 30 years. A year ago, Fiat bought Chrysler and the 500 model was picked as the vehicle that would reintroduce the U.S. market to the Fiat brand.

The gas-saving Fiat 500 is a two-door, subcompact hatchback that is available as a hardtop or convertible. Both are offered in Pop and Lounge trim levels, and the hatchback has a Sport option as well.

When talk turns to the smallest cars sold in this country, the Fiat 500 is high on the list. Even the popular four-door Mini Cooper is larger than the Fiat, measuring 7 inches more in overall length. The Fiat is 4 inches taller than the Mini Cooper and weighs just over 200 pounds less at 2,350 pounds. The Fiat 500 owns a small edge in gas mileage – 30-38 mpg.

Note that the Fiat 500 base model costs approximately $15,500 and the Mini Cooper is priced $4,000 higher. Other competitors like the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta all provide more room than the Fiat 500 and are priced a bit lower. However, they don’t possess Fiat’s female-approving personality or its 14 color choices.

All 500s, with the exception of the Abarth, share the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. The Fiat can be a plodder, especially uphill, evidenced by its 12.4 seconds acceleration time going from 0-60 mph. The five-speed manual, which is standard in the Pop and Sport models, goes about 1.5 seconds faster from 0-60 mph.

If getting there in a hurry is a big issue, the Abarth could be the answer. It has a turbo-charged, 160-horsepower engine and possesses a sport-tuned suspension, sporty seats and upgraded brakes. The Abarth goes for around $22,000.

Even with a lack of performance, the Fiat 500 can be fun to drive in manual mode. The steering provides a good feel for the road and the Fiat absorbs small bumps fairly well, while larger ones are more problematic. The Sport mode will improve the overall driving experience.

With any small vehicle, interior space is typically a problem. That is definitely true with the Fiat 500, which has a back seat that no one, not even small kids, will want to reside. Up front, the high-mounted seats allow for good leg room and the comfort level is acceptable. Cargo space is lacking in all models.

The unique European styling and the appealing J.Lo commercials should sell a few Fiats. But once the buzz halts, it could be tough for the Fiat 500 to take on some established rivals in the subcompact class.

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