Bottom line: The Fiat 500 is a contender for dollars spent on cute, fuel-efficient small cars. It has a clear price advantage over the Mini Cooper and could snag sales from that European rival. But the Mini Cooper beats the Fiat 500 on fit, finish and materials quality — cosmetic stuff that, nonetheless, could make a big difference in the marketplace.

Ride, acceleration and handling: It gets excellent marks in all three.

Head-turning quotient: It one-ups the Mini Cooper on the cute factor, a truly charming little car.

Body style, layout: The Fiat 500 is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive subcompact hatchback with two side doors. It is available as a hardtop or convertible (the Fiat 500 Cabrio). The hardtop model has three trim levels — base Pop, mid-grade Sport and upscale Lounge.

Engine/transmissions: Fiat 500 models sold in the United States come standard with a 1.4-liter, 16-valve fuel-injected
in-line four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing (101 horsepower, 98 foot-pounds of torque). In the Pop and Sport trim levels, that engine come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional for Pop and Sport but comes standard with the Lounge hardtop and the Cabrio.

Capacities: The Fiat 500 can seat two people (driver and front passenger) comfortably and four (including two rear passengers) with a squeeze. Cargo capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 10.5 gallons of gasoline. Regular grade is recommended.

Mileage: You can get 30 miles per gallon in the city or 38 mpg on the highway. But Fiat has a neat idea here — an easily used computer application, which can be downloaded free of charge at Download the application to a flash drive. Stick the flash drive into one of the Fiat 500’s USB ports. The program analyzes the fuel efficiency, or lack thereof, of your driving style and comes up with suggestions for changes. Theoretically, using ecoDrive’s suggestions could yield as much as 31 miles per gallon in the city and 45 miles per gallon on the highway — and a huge reduction in carbon emissions.

Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; front, side and rear (head) air bags; and electronic stability and traction control.

Price: The base price for the 2012 Fiat 500 Sport is $17,500. Dealer’s invoice price on the base model is $16,850. Price as tested is $19,080, including $1,080 in options (single-zone climate control with micron filter, heated front seats, TomTom portable navigation unit with Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio) and a $500 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $18,333.