Aesthetically, the 500C shares much with the fixed-roof 500. The one major change is a longer windshield, which contributes to a greater forward view, and only subtly changes the car’s overall profile.
Much like the Mini Cooper, the 500C is a small car that can still accommodate a lot of stuff. Fiat claims there is 76.2 cubic feet of space in the cabin overall. There is a surprising amount of legroom for both driver and passenger, although we did have some space issues in terms of the smallish pedal box on our manual-transmission 500. Ingress and egress to the driver’s seat was simple, requiring a slight ducking of the head to clear the frame rail that spans the A- and B-pillars. Getting into the back seat was more difficult, but then we can’t imagine there are a great number of 500 drivers who use the backseat for anything more than occasional trips. The seats themselves proved comfortable over our drive, although a bit more bolstering and support certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The most difficult thing to get used to in the 500 is the lack of visibility. Because of the way the top folds back, one’s rear view is almost completely obscured when the top is all the way down. The thick C-pillars and tiny rear windows don’t help either. Putting the top in Sunroof mode alleviated the problem to a certain extent, but the 500C still limits what you see around you.
While the 500 is plenty quiet with the top up, it’s just as impressive with the top lowered. A wind deflector mounts above the windshield, limiting the amount of buffeting in the cabin and allowing us to hold conversations without yelling, regardless of speed or top position.
As the roads got twistier, we were able to wring the 500 out. With the top down, we were able to take in the full sound of the 500’s throaty exhaust, making rev-matched downshifts through the hilly terrain.
The 500C had proven to be a worthy travel companion across all manner of roadways. Although it lacks the beloved Sport trim, and we aren’t totally certain that it truly qualifies as a convertible, this is still a small car that enjoys being driven quickly, but is far more at home cruising up and down the nearest boulevard. The Fiat 500C is in dealerships, and with a 40-percent take rate for manual transmissions (a good sign there), expect to see this little Italian on a winding road near you.
VS: Mini Cooper Convertible
Dynamically, the Cooper is the more compelling car. In terms of refinement though, the 500C is simply miles ahead of it. The interior of the Fiat is a match even for the revised cabin of the Mini in terms of quality of materials and overall fit and finish. The real go ahead for the Italian comes in terms of noise. Simply, the Fiat is much quieter, and therefore more comfortable, over all manner of terrains.
The Mini suffers from quite a bit of cowl shake, and the completely open top results in a windier and louder driving experience for both passenger and driver. Although the Cooper is a lot of fun, and arguably more of a convertible, we have to give the nod to the Fiat for its excellent blend of driving dynamics and comfort.
VS: Smart Fortwo Cabriolet
Like the Fiat, the Smart is a convertible that isn’t really a convertible. With roof down, it retains the frame rails that connect the A- and B-pillars, meaning that it retains a stiff structure that is inherent in the coupe models. That’s really where the similarities end.
While the Smart has a 70-horsepower three-cylinder engine, the Fiat boasts a more powerful and better sounding, 1.4-liter I-4, with 101 horsepower. Throw in the superiority of Fiat’s six-speed auto over the recalcitrant five-speed sequential gearbox in the Smart, and this is really an open and shut case in favor of the 500.
2012 Fiat 500C Pop
Engine: I-4, 1.4 liters, 16v
Output: 101 hp/98 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 9.6 sec (est.)
Curb Weight: 2416 lbs
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 30/38 mpg
Base Price: $19,500
As Tested: $21,750
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