Car Review

2012 Fiat 500C: First Drive

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author photo by Holly Reich July 2011

"The Fiat 500C looks really small…and then you get inside," said Laura Soave, Head of Fiat Brand North America, at the recent launch of the Fiat 500C convertible at the hip Fiat pop-up store in New York City's posh Soho neighborhood. The 500 does seem surprisingly roomy inside, and it was apparently big enough for Texas. The Texas Auto Writers Association recently named the diminutive vehicle the best new car design and best value.

Since launching in the US earlier this year, Fiat has produced a splash of campaigns partnering with design, style and fashion entities. The buzz has worked. The Soho pop-up sold eight cars the first day it opened.

"We have a diverse group of customers," noted Soave, "from people naming their cars and dedicating Facebook pages to them, to an 85-year-old pig farmer in Michigan. What they have in common is passion."

The original Fiat 500, the Cinquecento, made its mark more than half a century ago in Italy. It debuted in the summer of 1957 as a cabrio with a canvas roof that you could unbutton and fold all the way back. Of course, that version of the canvas roof was manual.

This 2012 four-seater has gone more modern. The top is not only automated, it also can be positioned several ways. Push a button and the dual-layered cloth roof retracts to the rear spoiler even at speeds of up to 60 mph. It can also be folded to a midway point or all the way open to tuck behind the rear head restraints (at speeds up to 50 mph). And getting into the trunk is a breeze. Once you open the liftgate the cloth top automatically retracts to the rear-spoiler position.

You already know that the Fiat 500 has the cutest vintage styling this side of a Mini. The 500C stays true to that quintessentially fresh Italian form. The 2012 Fiat 500C arrives in dealerships this spring in two flavors, 14 delicious exterior colors, 12 seat colors and material combos, and three soft-top colors: Nero (black), Bordeaux (red) and Beige.

The 500C Pop model comes equipped with 15-inch steel wheels, chrome exhaust tip, power windows, power heated mirrors and door locks, air-conditioning and hands-free communication. The more upscale Fiat 500C Lounge adds amenities such as chrome accents, 15-inch aluminum wheels, SIRIUS radio and a six-speaker Bose system.

First of all it's pleasing to be inside a car that is so adorably designed that you feel like you're inside an Italian movie. As for the convertible, the only question is why wouldn't one drive with the top down all year long? Our only complaint was that, with the top all the way back, our vision was slightly impaired. No complaints on the quiet factor. The manual windshield guard - a little piece of simple engineering to deflect the wind - really does the trick.

No doubt about it. The Fiat 500C has plenty of pluck. It tucks into corners and sprints on the highways. We drove it from the cobblestone streets of Soho to the hills of Hudson, New York. Push the sport button and it behaves like the big guys with tightened steering and a harder pedal feel. Sure, the suspension was dicey on cobblestone but it smoothed out upstate on roads meant for driving.

And the 500C offers good fuel economy too, with 30 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway for the manual, or 27 mpg city/34 mpg highway for the automatic.

The bottom line is that if you're looking for a convertible city car, the Fiat 500C has got the chops!

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Fiat 500C: First Drive - Autotrader