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Fiat 500C 1.2 Lounge

Click to view picture galleryThe UK is the first market in the
  world to receive the 500C soft-top
  convertible whose styling pays
  homage to the original fabric roof
  Fiat 500 launched in 1957.
  The good news is that the chic ‘C

  is the right car at the right time at
  the right price
...

HOW LUCKY CAN YOU GET, launching a cool new convertible in heatwave Britain? But we all recognise you make your own luck and Fiat have really turned around their business worldwide, but particularly in the UK where a new managing director has shaken up the dealer network into recognising that today's customers demand a quality service if they are to come back to the brand.

And in fairness Fiat the manufacturer has done its part with the introduction of the right new cars at the right price at the right time. There is no better evidence of that new model planning than the Fiat 500C, the convertible that arrived in the UK this week as Britain melts.

The Fiat 500 two door city car launched eighteen months ago has been a huge success for Fiat, with 15,148 of them being sold last year — and over 20,000 will be delivered this year. Due to supply restrictions, only around 1,500 500C convertibles will be coming to the UK this year — a third of them already spoken for. Next year, around 2,500 500Cs will be available.

Priced at nearly 3,000 more than the 500 city car, the 500C convertible models range from 11,300 to 14,100. Just as with the saloon, the convertible is available with the choice of 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines and a 1.3-litre turbodiesel. A semi-automatic gearbox is available as an option for both petrol engines.

The best-selling model is likely to follow the same pattern as the 500 saloon: a 1.2-litre petrol, cheapest to run but linked with the with most expensive Lounge specification. That 500C costs 12,700 and you can always trade in a 10-year-old 'banger' and get 2,000 off that price under the 'scrappage scheme'.

There is also a PCP finance offer to go with the launch of the 500C. A 1.2 Pop costing 11,300 can be obtained by paying a deposit of 1,130 followed by 36 monthly payments of 199 with a final optional payment of 4,818. The APR is 8.2%.

Customers have the opportunity to create a 500C that best suits their image and pocket thanks to the choice of 11 paint finishes, three interior trims (with fabric and leather) and over 100 accessory combinations — and the electrically operated fabric hood is available in three colours: ivory, red and black.

The original Fiat 500 was launched over 50 years ago and that had a fabric roof as standard. Today's 500C, with its electrically operated soft-top, is technically a much more sophisticated and more expensive vehicle, but they can both be said to be chic.

Personally I like the 500C convertible version more than the latest 500 saloon and I think these new soft-tops are going to be in very short supply given the number that can be built, even though the UK was the first market in the world (by 2 days!) to get them.

“What’s to like?
Top of the list
is the 500C
s chic
must-have styling
...”
Over 70% of Fiat 500 users are women and that figure is likely to be replicated with the 500C although as a male I'd rather be seen driving the rag-top. As for engine choice, again the 1.2 is expected to come out top because of purchase price and running costs plus the benefit of only a 35 road tax charge. However, the 1.4-litre unit is a much better option if your regular journeys involve hills or passengers. During a sunny south coast test drive this week, the 1.2-litre model returned 48.3mpg and the 1.4-litre 39.8mpg but the bigger powerplant costs 120 for road tax.

The ride comfort and the performance of the rear suspension in particular have been improved on the 500C over the 500 saloon launched last year. Why? The platform is shared with the latest Ford Ka and they came up with a different rear suspension layout which included softer setting and an anti-roll bar for the beam axle so Fiat introduced this system with 500 Abarth models and now with the 500C. I'm not saying the ride quality of the handling is perfect but it is now good enough to not put me off buying one.

The fabric hood is the main item of this review — that is what the new car is all about. Due to strengthening of the bodyshell, the 500C uses a deeper windscreen than the 500. This gives rear passengers a better forward view. However, the rearward vision with the roof in the fully folded position is very limited but thankfully the door mirrors are large enough to redress that situation somewhat.

Rear parking sensors, though, are still a must either as an option on the Pop version or standard on Lounge models. Believe me when I say that rear visibility is a major issue with the roof down. I also had issues with the lack of space for my feet in the driver's foot-well and twice my clutch foot hit the brake pedal. There is the usual body-shake now the solid roof has gone but after a while the performance blends in with the fashionable cruising characteristics associated with the car.

On a practical note, the double-layered roof fabric should ensure good insulation from the elements after the current heatwave is gone and forgotten, and along with the fabric covered pillars, it completes an attractive finish from the inside.

The electrically operated soft-top can be controlled either by buttons next to the interior roof light, or from the car's remote control unit. In addition, the soft top can be operated at any speed under 37mph.

The roof is designed to be easy to use: to open it, just press the button for at least half a second to trigger the movement that then continues automatically up to the spoiler position (a midway point can of course be chosen by pressing the button again). Press the button once more (again for at least half a second) to fully open the roof. When using the remote control, the roof can be opened only as far as the spoiler. For safety reasons, the roof stops at around 25cm from complete closure; simply press and hold the button to complete the movement.

When the boot is open the soft top can only be closed (the opening function is de-activated). However, if the roof is fully open and the boot needs to be accessed, the soft-top automatically moves to a midway point to avoid obstructing loading operations. In addition, when the roof is down, the spoiler is arranged so that the third brake light remains visible.

Finally, an optional 80 wind-stop can easily be positioned behind the rear headrests. It offers a notable reduction in turbulence for all passengers, at all speeds, and there is no need to remove the wind-stop to open or close the soft top.

What's to like? Top of the list is the 500C's chic must-have styling, followed by the easy-on-the-eye and easy-to-use electrically-operated convertible roof. For the record, the Lounge specification is much the better choice in terms of value for money.

Not so hot is the 1.2-litre engine because it doesn't like hills. Other irritations include the roof: in the folded down position it leaves no rear visibility. The driver's footwell is cramped and Pop models only have air conditioning as an option. And another issue is that ESP is only standard on 1.4 and Lounge models. Those comments aside, it's really an open and shut case: the Fiat 500C has a sunny future! — David Miles

Fiat 500C 1.2 Lounge
| 12,700
Maximum speed: 99mph | 0-62mph: 13.4 seconds | Overall test MPG: 48.3mpg
Power: 69bhp | Torque: 75lb ft | CO2 119g/km | Insurance group 5