Vehicle Style: Light convertible
Price: $24,500 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 74kW/131Nm 4cyl petrol | 5spd automated manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: 8.4 l/100km
Approach it from just about any angle and the Fiat 500 is as cute as a button. Head up the range a step though, to the 500S, and you'll find a few style tweaks designed to add a bit of visual muscle.
And that's the one we're driving, but the Cabriolet with a sliding, folding canvas roof.
The little rocket here boasts an uprated engine, dark alloy wheels and a tougher looking (only just) body-kit.
As a convertible version of the 500C, it cops a severe haircut, with the centre section of the roof and upper tailgate replaced with canvas.
It looks pretty good, and it also shapes up ok on paper.
Tied to a standard five speed ‘automatic’ and with style looming large over substance, there’s no denying the obvious cachet of the 500s as a fashion accessory.
Style is one thing, but how it stands up to the hassle of city traffic and modern living is another. Is it right for you?
- Multi-function TFT driver information centre.
- Manual air conditioning.
- Cloth trimmed seats, with blue highlights and leather-look inserts.
- Sliding fabric roof with heated glass rear windscreen.
- Height adjustable steering column with flat-bottomed two-spoke steering wheel and shift paddles.
- Six-speaker radio/CD/MP3 player with Bluetooth and Aux connectivity.
Big on the inside? Actually, you’d be surprised.
You’re hardly going to be hosting a grand ball inside, but up front in particular, the 500C is deceptively roomy.
Width is the tell-tale sign that you’re in a city car, but lofty headroom and ample leg space will make you feel like you’re in something a bit bigger.
The front chairs aren’t quite sporty items either, but they do just fine for comfort on short-to-mid term drives.
The combination of geometrically patterned cloth and leather-look sections with bright blue highlights makes things pretty busy though.
In the rear, the tall roof again gives an airy feel but there’s decent restrictions on leg room. Unlike a traditional convertible though, the roof mechanism doesn’t destroy width so there’s as much (still narrow) room as the fixed roof version.
The 500’s iconic interior is otherwise untouched, with a dash that harkens back to 1950’s kitsch, this time finished in satin silver.
There’s also plenty of hard plastics, and the layout of the interior doesn’t always follow the laws of modern logic - How very Italian of it.
Behind the steering wheel is a multi-function full colour display that houses gauges, trip computer and infotainment functions and looks like it could’ve been poached from a more expensive model.
It’s a bit of a shame Fiat hasn’t linked more functions through it though, the Blue & Me multimedia system is still a pain to use at times.
Fiat doesn’t quote a boot volume for the 500C, a standard hatchback fits a tiny 185 litres of cargo, the roof compartment eats into that a little so think of it as a great place to store a tote bag and a few Minties (loose, of course) and you’re done. The rear seats retain their folding function for long loads too.
Other cabin space is limited with small door pockets, a compact glovebox and open ‘magazine shelf’ above it, and cup holders that only really hold when you’re parked.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.4 litre petrol engine: 74kW/131Nm.
- 5-speed twin-clutch Dualogic automated transmission, front wheel drive.
- Four-wheel disc brakes.
- 17-inch alloy wheels.
- Bullet points for key specs (example here)
In S spec, the 500 gets a 1.4 litre four-cylinder engine capable of 74kW at 6000rpm and 131Nm at a highish 4250rpm. Nothing too extreme here, but keep in mind the diminutive size of the package and it makes sense.
For those seeking bigger thrills, there’s also the more focused Abarth range to consider.
In isolation, this little engine would be a hoot, but it is dragged mercilessly into mediocrity by the very ordinary Dualogic automatic transmission.
That gearbox single handedly drains the driving joy out of the 500S, and in convertible form is the only transmission on offer.
Unlike a traditional hydraulic auto, or dual-clutch system, the Dualogic is based around a traditional five-speed manual gearbox but with an automated gearshift system.
The result is slow shifts, huge gaps in power delivery, and erratic behaviour in anything but full-throttle driving.
In the cut-and-thrust of urban commuting, it can be quite disconcerting to find power delivery cut during a gear change.
As with this type of transmission, manual changes and lifting off the accelerator during gear shifts helps a little, but not enough.
The chassis is also not quite up to the rigours of convertible duty.
Thanks to the fixed roof-rails the bulkhead is reasonably well-braced, but scuttle shake sneaks in somehow.
The steering column also feels pretty loose - if performance driving is your schtick, the hatch version is far the better drive.
The news though isn’t all bad. Get it up to speed and the handling and feel improves markedly.
We pedalled the 500S over a winding mountain road with lots of tight bends and elevation changes, and began to enjoy the eager nose-in handling and the singing little engine under the 500's very short nose.
At speed, all of the car’s idiosyncrasies and quirks come together and it all becomes vastly better-balanced and somehow 'right'. Maybe it's just an Italian thing...
But what a shame it can’t be like this more often.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.91 out of 37 points in tests conducted by Euro NCAP.
Safety features: The entire 500 range is equipped with an impressive seven-airbag count (driver’s knee, dual front, dual side and dual full-length curtain) ABS brakes with brake assist, stability control, adjustable head restraints for all four seats and load-limiting pretensions for the front seatbelts.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Rag roof, city friendly dimensions and maybe even a little ‘zing’ on the road? Tough call.
The closest competitor you’ll find is the equally style-focuses Citroen DS3 DStyle Cabriolet, its a little more expensive but the more substantial buy.
At opposing ends of the price scale you may also want to look at a Smart ForTwo, it’s cheaper, but this one is a strict two-seater. Maybe a Mini Cooper Cabrio? It should be on the list if the budget can be stretched, but the asking is almost $18,000 more than the Fiat.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
I deeply wanted to like this car. The 500 range never fails to stir the emotions for its retro-style and Italian verve.
You would reckon that a budget-priced open-top version should be brimming with unabated joy.
However, thanks to a hugely underwhelming transmission and flexy body, the 500C disappoints. Where this city-car should deliver its best work, in the confines of the city, is precisely where it falls the flattest and hardest.
If a tan is at the top of your priorities, then the 500C makes a reasonable solarium on wheels. If you’re happy to bask in its friendly looks and cheery interior, then go for it.
By any other metric though the appeal is in short supply, something that is an eternal shame with such a great-looking little unit.
- Fiat 500 Pop manual - $17,000
- Fiat 500 Pop Dualogic - $18,500
- Fiat 500 Pop convertible Dualogic - $21,000
- Fiat 500 S manual - $20,000
- Fiat 500 S Dualogic - $21,500
- Fiat 500 S Cabrio Dualogic - $24,000
- Fiat 500 Lounge Dualogic - $23,000
- Fiat 500 Lounge convertible Dualogic - $25,500
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