2012 FIAT 500c Cabrio
2012 FIAT 500c convertible makes going topless affordable
One of the great automotive joys is open-air driving. Cruising along with nothing between you and the elements on a sunny day is a pleasure that few of us get to experience. After all, it's a luxury because convertibles are usually impractical and expensive. Enter the 2012 FIAT 500 Cabrio, also called the 500c.
Pricing and Styling
Starting at $19,500, the FIAT 500c is just $1,810 more than the cheapest ragtop, the smart fortwo. It's a little bit smaller than the MINI Cooper convertible and costs some $5,350 less. The 500c makes open-air driving affordable and offers uncommon practicality, but is this Italian ragtop right for the American market?
The 2012 FIAT 500c is a small car in the style of the MINI Cooper. It's a modern reinterpretation of a European original and it's smaller than all U.S. offerings but the smart. It is offered in Pop and Lounge models, foregoing the hatchback's additional Sport model. Notable standard features on the Pop include air conditioning, Blue&Me hands-free communications, a USB port, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The Lounge costs $4000 more and adds automatic climate control, Sirius satellite radio, and aluminum wheels.
The top works quite well. Press and hold the button on the windshield header and the top moves to what FIAT calls the "spoiler" position, stopping a couple of inches behind the B pillars and leaving the glass rear window in place. You can also stop the top anywhere along the way, leaving the roof in any number of partially open positions. Once in the spoiler position, hit the button again and the top goes to the "full down" position, taking the rear window, rear spoiler and center high-mounted stop light with it.
There is a manual windblocker at the top of the windshield. You'll want to put it up when the top is in the spoiler position to prevent wind buffeting. When up, however, the blocker creates wind noise right above the driver's head. It's not overly annoying, but it is noticeable. Put the blocker down when the top is in the full down position, and the air flows freely over the car with less wind noise than most convertibles.
When the cloth top is up, it does a good job of shutting out noise. While the design doesn't allow for a completely open-air feel like other convertibles, there are some advantages. With the top up or even in the spoiler position, rear visibility is largely unobstructed, better than in most convertibles. Unfortunately, when fully open, lower visibility to the rear is blocked by the bunched up top. It's a trade-off, but it's nice to have that visibility in the spoiler position.
Stylish But Simple Interior
Inside, the 2012 FIAT 500c is stylish, but obviously built to a price. The design looks good but the quality of the materials is at best underwhelming. The dash panel looks cool because it's the same color as the exterior, but it's just hard plastic, like the rest of the dash. The headliner looks a bit like the cardboard and a loose carpet in one test car might be an indication of build quality.
The controls are simple and easy to reach, but some can be a bit frustrating. The speedometer and odometer are housed in the same round instrument pod and they can be hard to read. Instead of a knob, a pair of buttons is used to scroll through radio stations. This requires drivers to look away from the road longer, which is never a good thing.
FIAT provides an inner armrest for the driver's seat, but not one for the front passenger seat, another indication of cost cutting. Otherwise, the seats are comfortable and supportive, and front seat occupants have plenty of room. As expected, the rear seat is quite small. It's best left to kids, and their little legs will only fit if front seat occupants aren't too tall.
Cargo space in the 2012 FIAT 500 Cabrio is largely unaffected by the top. There is a small 5.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats, but those seats fold down to open up close to 30 cubic feet of space. That's a far cry better than the MINI convertible's tiny 4.2-cubic foot trunk. The only drawback is the trunk opening is smaller than in the hatchback.
FIAT does offer a bit of unexpected electronic wizardy. It's called eco:Drive and it works through the Blue&Me USB port. Plug in a memory stick and the application keeps track of the CO2 emission level for each trip and monitors driving performance. Move the USB stick to your home computer and eco:Drive analyzes your driving style and gives suggestions on how to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. It's a neat little application for green-minded buyers and it helps make people aware of how they drive.
2012 FIAT 500c Test Drive
The partial top design gives the 500c more rigidity, and FIAT has beefed up the structure further by reinforcing the windshield header, the top of the trunk, and the wheelhouses. As a result, the company says the 500c has 70-percent less shake and 40-percent less noise than the MINI ragtop.
On the road, the 500c has the same go-kart feel as the MINI. Until the 500, no other car offered the same type of fun-to-drive character. With its small size, light weight, and short wheelbase, the FIAT 500c reacts quickly to steering inputs, dives willingly into corners, and gets in and out of tights spots with ease. There is a little more lean than in the MINI, but it's still very fun. The steering feels light at low speeds and isn't quite as sharp as in the MINI, but it firms up nicely at speed to increase stability in high-speed corners.
While the structure is relatively stiff, there is still some of the cowl shake and body quake found in most convertibles. It's less noticeable than in the MINI, but the 500 Cabrio is not as controlled as the hatchback.
The ride is generally good, but the short wheelbase means that the rear wheels can react to bumps shortly after the front wheels do. This makes the ride busy on bumpy roads, tossing occupants about more than in any longer wheelbase car.
Little But Useable Power
The FIAT 500c is powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that makes a modest 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. That's less power than just about anything on the road, but the car weighs only 2,500 pounds, so what power is there is useable. There is enough power to get out ahead of traffic, though passing on two-lane roads requires room and planning.
The Pop comes with a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. The manual is easy to shift and makes the FIAT 500c more fun to drive. The power comes on best at 4,000 rpm and redlines at 6,800, so manual drivers can keep the revs up to get the most out of those limited horses. The automatic works well, too, but it shifts up too quick to make power readily available. That's okay because FIAT provides a Sport button that holds gears longer, increases throttle response and gives the steering more weight. Using the Sport button makes the automatic almost as responsive as the manual.
With either transmission, the 2012 FIAT 500c gets outstanding fuel economy. With the manual, EPA fuel economy ratings are 30 mpg city/38 highway. With the automatic, the ratings are 27/34.
The Final Word
All things considered, the 2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio is a welcome entry in the American market. It makes top-down driving affordable, delivers excellent fuel economy, and offers more utility than other ragtops thanks to the distinctive top design. The retro good looks give the 500c more style than most cars at its modest price, and the cherry on top is a sporty character that makes it fun to drive every time out. www.fiatusa.com Read our quick-take test drive of the 2012 FIAT 500 hardtop.
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