Seven-seat version of Fiat 500L revealed with new ‘Multi Purpose Wagon’
Fiat 500C review (2009 onwards)
Model: Fiat 500C "Lounge"
Bodystyle: two-door convertible supermini
Engine: 1.4-litre 16v petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual
Gallery: Fiat 500C
What is it?
In a word: adorable. As cute as a button: cuddly as a kitten. The 500C is a car to make you smile inside and make pedestrians and other drivers look fondly on you no matter what.
The 500C is the obvious but wonderful thing to do to the nifty and nearly ubiquitous Fiat 500 hard top. Clever Fiat engineers and the workers at the 500 factory in Poland have neatly sliced off the roof along the sides of the roofline - opening it up like a sardine can.
This method, instead of whacking the entire roof off like a Mini or other small convertible, helps retain a high level of structural rigidity in a small hatchback like the 500C. The doors are still there, the door frames and the strong rear-C-pillars. It doesn't just feel a little less exposed, it makes for a very solid driving experience without the scuttle-shake which bedevils roofless cars.
What's it like?
That solidity of build, the wind-in-your-hair freedom of the slide-back electric-powered roof, and the zippy 1.4-litre engine and handy six-speed gearbox makes for great driving around town. Press the "Sport" button on the left of the shiny dash and the car revs a little harder, the steering tightens a little and it is altogether rowdier and busier. But I found just leaving the car in its normal, very relaxed driving mode, was preferable. The gear stick is just where you want it to be and the throw is so close and light that changing gears becomes a pleasure.
The performance is perky without being hectic and the 500C copes remarkably well with the ridiculous tank traps disguised as traffic calming measures in Camden. I got real pleasure from driving the car smoothly and relatively quickly but not in a rush. It was far smoother than I expected and a much more rewarding drive than a normal 1.2-litre 500 I drove some months ago. Cornering was a delight and you are reminded just how go-kart like a car with a tiny wheelbase can be. The power steering was almost ridiculously light but still precise.
Out on the motorway, with the roof down and very little billowing or noise at 70 mph the little Fiat was perfectly calm, still able to pass the odd taxi and without the sense of being thrashed. It was a perfectly pleasurable trip out to Heathrow along the M4 and certainly less windy than my Vespa.
Is it for you?
The Fiat 500C, in a lovely bone white with cream and brown interior - a sort of mobile cappuccino - was the perfect partner to my white Vespa GTS 300cc: two pieces of great Italian fickle engineering that a sensible person should really know better than to park together.
There lies the question of whether the dear little Fiat is for you. It is an absolutely adorable car if cute is your thing. If macho is more your speed then maybe the hot hatch Abarth is a better option, though even it is hardly a chest-beating testosterone outlet.
If you are confident in your image and like the cute quotient, go for the 500C. The interior, with the exterior-coloured trim on the dash and the owl-like single instrument dial is elegantly retro without being stupid. The steering wheel, particularly on the white car I had, could be Bakelite. The overall effect, plus the red fabric roof is great fun and very stylish in a Vespa-ish way.
What does it do well?
Apart from the perfectly pleasant driving experience - not quite as engaging as a Mini but much nicer than a Micra - the Fiat is a good town car. Reasonable room for four, though the seats-sliding mechanism isn't great, and a modest but accessible boot with no loss of space to the convertible and still with folding rear seats to make it virtually into a weekend utility vehicle.
People also like the Fiat. It got as many admiring looks and probably more smiles than the Ferrari I had a few weeks ago. It is hard not to like. The superbly sporty and scarily look-at-me Mini Cooper S Convertible I have at the moment is a far more ostentatious ride.
The economy also didn't seem bad, though not as impressive as the 46.3 mpg claimed. I achieved 33 mpg average around town and out to Heathrow.
An impressive feature of the Lounge, worth mentioning, is the rather amazing "Blue & Me" system to twin your Bluetooth telephone with a remarkably simple and clever voice-controlled hands-free. Combined with the natty Windows Mobile USB-slot between the seat, the Blue & Me makes the 500C a gadget lover's dream, allowing you to move performance data to your computer and receive and make calls and texts from car by voice commands. "Pairing" the phone and car is a doddle.
Would we have one?
In my head I already have an imaginary white Abarth-version of 500C. It might even have a couple of little chromed bumper strips and a slightly naff Italian-flag on the side. That would be bliss and would fit completely with the white scooter and my other Italian affectations. I could drive it to Bar Italia in Soho and drink cappuccino with the Lambretta and Vespa set.
Since there isn't an Abarth version yet, I would settle for the Lounge. I would be perfectly proud to have the little Fiat in my driveway and it would stop me taking myself too seriously on the road.
More images of the Fiat 500C from Bing
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