This week I was in a very different type of vehicle, the latest convertible, Fiat’s 500C. First a recap. When I first drove the 500 I thought it was far too stiff. The ride was awful, it was underpowered and I wasn’t even taken by its looks. I then drove the faster Abarth version and things improved a lot. The looks have grown on me too. The fastest version yet, the Essesse comes in a couple of weeks.
But blasting along the Jurassic coast, roof down in the heat wave, it was great. There are six variations on the 500C, with three engine choices, two interior trim levels, and two equipment levels. I drove the Pop spec, Lounge being the range-topper. After trying this, most of the misgivings I had about the 500 were obliterated.
When you open the boot with the fabric roof fully open, the roof slides forward half way to allow access to the boot via its clever hinge mechanism. Now, it may be small but it is all about how you pack. If you’re off for a weekend, I’d suggest that “cleverly” is the way forward, but it is entirely doable.
It’s a small car, but it’s okay for passengers in the rear, too. It’s better for small adults or children, true, but I think you forget about comfort to a certain extent when the sun’s beaming down on you and your very retro friends.
Roof open or closed, there was no wind buffeting at all as we stretched our legs along the top of the headland above Chesil Beach. The 500 convertible feels very stable, belying its diminutive stature and there are lashings of grip too. As for the overall ride, well, what a difference a bit of tweaking makes. This is a wholly better driving experience than the other 500s, the only deficit I see is in the power delivery from this 69bhp engine.
Of course you could opt for the 1.4 petrol or the 1.3 MultiJet diesel if you need more power but actually the 1.2 covers most bases just fine, it’s the long hill-climbs where it struggles. Both the diesel and the faster petrol coped much better.
There is an argument about that this isn’t a “proper” convertible as the roof pillars don’t collapse, but who cares? Windows down, roof right back, it looks great fun and it is a real head-turner. Beware though if you live in London, the dirt and general detritus will have a habit of getting in and even after a few hours of open-top countryside driving, it was showing signs of gathering across the dash, not helped by the shiny plastic that will always attract it. Where there’s no plastic there is leather in this particular Pop version and it’s a perfect compliment to the quintessential look of the car. If the sun is behind you or directly overhead with the roof open, the instruments are hard to read due to the glare, worth bearing in mind.
Overall, I enjoyed the little 500c very much, it’s cute, fun and makes you and passers-by smile. Children point and seem transfixed too in a “that’s a toy car” way. A loveable and sure-to-be-popular reinvention of an icon.
THE FACTS: FIAT 500 CONVERTIBLE 1.2 POP 5-SPEED MANUAL
0-62 MPH: 12.9secs
TOP SPEED: 99mph (limited)
CO2 G/KM: 119g/km
MPG COMBINED: 55.4