Fiat 500C 1.4 Lounge
British buyers will get eagerly awaited cabrio first. But does it live up to the hype?
If the cute, retro 500 appeals to you, it will be love at first sight with the 500C. It offers top-down thrills virtually without compromise, drives as well as the hatch, has the same cabin layout and gives up only three litres in boot space. The only downside is roof-down rear visibility. A £3,000 premium over the hatch might seem steep, but this is still one of the cheapest and by far the cheeriest new convertibles money can buy.
The 500 is rolling back the years! Taking inspiration from the sardine tin-style fabric roof of the 1957 original, this is the new convertible variant of Fiat’s top-selling city car.
And in recognition of the Brits’ love of drop-tops, the 500C goes on sale here in the UK before any other market in the world.
At a glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the newcomer for its fixed-roof relative. In fact, thanks to the novel hood set-up, the four-seat layout, safety features and virtually identical boot space are all carried over, while the exterior dimensions remain unchanged.
There are other benefits of fitting what is effectively an extended fabric sunroof, too. These include the opportunity to cut development costs, thanks to the hatch and convertible sharing a number of body panels. And, with the side sections still in place, the car’s overall rigidity is less affected by the lack of a lid.
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A glorified sunroof it may be, but with the hood fully retracted this car feels every inch a ‘proper’ convertible. Pick up the pace and there’s just enough turbulence to ruffle your hair. Close the hood up again and refinement is the same as with a metal roof.
Operated via either a button above your head or the key fob, the top’s electric pulley operation is slick. You can choose between three stages – and you can change your mind at any point up to a speed of 35mph.
The only real oversight is that with the glass rear window and heavy-duty fabric piled high at the back, the rear view is completely obscured, making roof-down manoeuvres tricky. Optional Parking sensors are essential – but they are only standard on this Lounge-trimmed model.
Available in a choice of three shades – ivory, red and black – the soft-top has been designed to complement the paint colours buyers can specify. These include a trio of new creations for the 500C: Tech-House Grey, Ragamuffin Red and Goth-Metal Blue.
We’ve already driven the capable 1.3-litre Multijet diesel, but here we try the 100bhp 1.4 petrol (31bhp more than the 1.2). And it doesn’t take long to realise that this motor is much better suited to the 500’s playful character, revving freely and offering a tuneful exhaust note.
Dynamically there’s little to choose between drop-top and hatch. Thanks to bolstering of the windscreen’s top crossmember there’s no hint of wobble or shake from the chassis – so the 500C is just as keen in corners.
You still sit very high, though, and the steering is too light in normal mode (yet too heavy in the Sport setting). Also, our car’s optional 16-inch alloys resulted in a harsh ride – we’d stick with the standard 15-inch wheels.
The 500C is so lovable that most buyers will have made up their mind before even taking it for a spin – so its success hinges on the price.
The convertible carries a £3,000 premium over the hatch – with options, our car came to £15,095 – but even so, it’s still one of the cheapest new cabriolets you can buy. And with prices starting from only £11,300 for the 1.2 Pop, there’s plenty of value on offer.
Rival: Peugeot 207 CC
Prettier than its predecessor, with a higher quality cabin and an even more usable folding hard-top, this picks up where the 206 CC left off. It’s not perfect, yet it remains one of the most attractive packages in this class.