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There was a time when small European cars like the original Fiat 500, Volkswagen Beetle and Mini represented the very epitome of cheap, stylish, practical motoring.

So much so that all three original cars have inspired contemporary retro-styled rides meant to evoke the memories of days gone by.

But which of today’s modern takes on those eternal classics gets the best gas mileage? The 2012 Fiat 500, 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, or 2012 Mini Cooper?

2012 Fiat 500

The original Fiat 500 — produced between 1957 and 1975 — was so-called because of its tiny two-cylinder, 0.5-liter engine.

But while its 2012 descendant is styled on the original tiny city car, the much-heavier, larger 2012 Fiat 500 is powered by a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine.

With a gas mileage of 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined, the 2012 Fiat 500 with manual 5-speed gearbox isn’t quite as frugal as the 50+ mpg its ancestor.

Adding the six-speed automatic gearbox drops fuel economy to a combined 30 mpg, making it less of an obvious choice in the fuel economy rankings.

But despite its rather poor 3-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the $15,500 Fiat 500 is still safer in a collision than its predecessor.


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