Nicknamed the 500C, the cloth top Fiat 500 is a playful solution to rising gas prices and cluttered urban spaces. But for this stylish mini-car, are the good looks to good to be true?
|1. The power-operated soft-top has three positions, including fully open and a sunroof option and is operable at speeds of up to 60 mph.
2. A standard Sport button elevates the steering, engine and shifting response for a quicker feel.
3. One engine is available, a 101-hp 1.4-liter 4-cylinder.
4. 500C models start at $19,500 with Lounge models at $22,500.
With retro looks style to the original 1957 500, that Italian icon was rear-wheel drive while this modern Americanized machine now moves the front wheels with 101 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque. The city-ready cabriolet generates that power from a 1.4L engine available with either 6-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission.
Like many small cars it comes with lighter fuel costs and supplies a solid 30-mpg city and 38-mpg hwy with the stick-shift, though automatic models are less impressive at just 27/32. Of note, however, for 2013 the cabrio’s fuel efficiency is estimated to improve to 31/40 for the 5-speed manual and 27/34 for the automatic.
The base 500C Pop model starts $19,500 while the 500C Lounge version we tested equipped with better audio/tech features, more chrome and design elements sells for $22,500.
Finally the “pièce de résistance” is Gucci’s branded 500C starting at $27,750 for those looking to make a definite statement. Lovers of the high-end Italian brand will appreciate additional options include Gucci-inspired green and red branding, black or white exterior paint, and accoutrements such as a navigation.
NOT-QUITE A CONVERTIBLE
When it comes to the outer shell, the 500C is eye-catching and one might even say glamorous. It isn’t sophisticated but rather cute, like a bubbly chart-topping pop star – attracting buyers of the same persona.
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Our Lounge test car gets strategically placed fog lamps, 15-inch premium aluminum alloy wheels, chrome accents and signature badging. And of course, there is the soft-top which adds to the allure. As an added bonus that is unique to the model and the convertible segment, the three-position cloth roof retracts at speeds up to 60 mph, which means you never have to stop to put the top up. Though it offers the aesthetic of a cabriolet, unfortunately it doesn’t really afford for the complete sensation of convertible freedom. The 500C’s frame remains intact maintaining a coupe shape, with the convertible top really more like a grandiose sunroof.
THE CHILL-OUT CABIN
Giving the 500C a “Lounge” trim designation is fitting, with the only thing this cabin is missing to complete the sensation is a Dry Martini or glass of Chianti. The inside amenities and design of the cabrio are trendy, complimenting the exterior shell. In fact, some may notice that the Fiat interior resembles that of the revamped MINI with rounded instrumentation, bright plastics, two-tone leather trimmings and an overall premium feel. Far from a bad thing, it might disappoint some folks to know that the 500 is not completely original.
In addition to being a Lounge model, our tester was equipped with the optional Luxury Leather package which includes leather-trimmed seats plus heated driver and front passenger bucket seats. Regrettably, the seats feel extremely upright, similar to an office chair, meaning they aren’t very sporty or even relaxing.
Leather trim does come standard on the shift knob and steering wheel, while five two-tone leather trim options are available at your designing leisure. Further delights include a rearview mirror with an auto-dimming feature, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and rear 50/50 split fold-down seats.
On an audio-visual level, the 500C delivers with the BLUE&ME voice-activated convenience for music. Harmoniously accommodating the interior is a 6-speakers Bose audio system with a subwoofer tucked under the front-passenger seat. With the exception of the sit-at-attention seats, the loungy inside is a natural extension of the already amusing exterior.
SPORT MODE HELPS
Behind the wheel, the Fiat 500C has less charm than you might expect. Smooth for such a small car, the suspension does also offer solid handling, though the high-up seating position makes it feel ill-equipped in faster speed zones. Tailored for city driving, even with modern safety features the 500C can deliver a subtle dose of anxiety when crowded amongst large trucks on the freeway.
Peppy and responsive, the 101-hp engine is aided by engaging Sport function, which comes standard on all Fiat models. The push-button feature elevates the steering and throttle response to help engage the driver.
Perhaps the one element that makes driving the 500C slightly unpleasant is the main reason why shoppers would buy this boutique vehicle: the three-point soft-top. With three positions to choose from, (up, down and sunroof mode) when completely down it creates a blind spot and creates significant wind noise within the cabin. Obstructing the rear view, Fiat has countered the issue with a standard Rear Park Assist System, which aids drivers with audible warnings.
Beyond its heavy retro styling and retractable roof cache, the Fiat 500 Cabrio isn’t overly fun, and when compared to more mainstream small cars isn’t excessively fuel efficient, practical or affordable.
Made for those who like small city cars with the added chance to let the sun shine in, what the 500C does offer is style and individuality at a level not readily available in similarly-sized machines.