by John Davis
When it went on sale in America this past spring, the Fiat 500 brought a splash of Italian style to our often dull subcompact car market. Now, the original two-door hatchback is joined by a convertible just in time for the hottest days of summer.
The 500c, for Cabrio, is certainly unlike any other car in the segment, with a fully retracting canvas top that’s more like a big sunroof, than a true convertible. But, leaving the side pillars and doors intact does have a host of advantages, like structural integrity, and retaining the curtain airbags.
The top can be folded in stages, which is good, as all the way down, the top stack blocks the rear view mirror’s line of site. Folding it three-fourths of the way still gives you the full open-air experience but leaves the rear view in tact.
Like the Mini Cooper Convertible, the 500 Cabrio trades its hatchback for something akin to a trunk. And, under the smaller lid, there’s also smaller space. But, the 500c’s rear seats do still fold to accommodate longer items. Otherwise, the majority of the exterior remains the same friendly, Euro-chic bulldog that we loved so much in the coupe.
Much like the 500 Hatchback, the 500 Cabrio is fun to drive, and, for the most part it does feel like driving a true convertible. Inside, there’s very little wind buffeting as the interior stays calm. Still, it feels most at home in relaxed cruising, and would make the perfect beach car.
Inside the new Cabrio, not much has changed from the hardtop. The 500’s retro-dash mixes body color and black plastics, while our Lounge model adds nice looking brown leather. Radio sound comes from BOSE, and despite a vintage look, controls are all touch sensitive. The Cabrio retains rear seating for two. But, we don’t recommend putting any of your friends back there.
Under the 500 Cabrio’s small hood is the same 1.4-liter engine as the hardtop. The in-line four rates 101-horsepower and only 98 lb-ft. of torque. But, it never felt like it was really working that hard. Both a manual and smooth shifting automatic transmission are available.
Through the cones, this Cabrio Lounge model had a distinctly different personality than the Coupe Sport model, but still good fun. Despite plenty of roll, you can really hammer through here and the 500c never gets upset. And, as it scoots through without a care, you can’t help but smile.
Inexpensive, stylish, unique… these are all reasons to love the 500 Cabrio, but our favorite reason is that while it has acquired a convertible top, it has retained the fun to drive nature that we loved so much in the Coupe.
For more on the Fiat 500c be sure to check our MotorWeek Road Test on episode #3048 which begins airing on August 5, 2011. For a complete listing of the public television stations that broadcast MotorWeek, go to “Find Your Station” on our home page. MotorWeek is also seen Tuesday evenings on HD Theater cable channel.