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Fiat 500C 1.2 Lounge

Click to view picture gallery“When a ‘C is attached to Fiats 500
  badge it stands for a lot more than
  just plain
cute’ — actually, it tells you
  it
s a convertible. Not just any old
 
drop-top, but one with all the laid-
  back
friendliness of the expressive
  Italian greeting ciao bella
...


AND TALKING OF 'bella', una bella macchina (a pretty car) is another Italian expression that perfectly sums up the 500C. Actually, the 500C goes further than the fashionably 'pretty' of its hatchback sibling — the 'C' is more carefree; more… flirty.

Top-up it could easily be mistaken for a metal-roofed 500 hatch. Look closer though and the canvas roof gives its cabrio secret away.

With styling cues prompted by the famous Fifties original, today's 500C is not a traditional drop-top as the upper sides of the car and window frames remain an integral part of the bodyshell. You let in the sun by pressing a one-shot button that power-slides the full-length fabric sunroof back from the top of the windscreen header rail and stacks it neatly on the top of the bootlid — almost like a sardine can's lid being peeled back. The benefit of retaining much of the original 500 hatch's bodywork is that you won't experience any scuttle-shake, even over poorer quality roads.

“Thanks to the efficient
design of the 500C’s roof,
at most speeds you’d
want to drive along
topless, the cabin, for
both front and back seat
passengers, is always
agreeably habitable
...”
'C' also stands for 'civilised'. With the passenger compartment completely open to the sky, the sides of the 'glasshouse' prevents any buffeting — the bane of many full convertibles. The result, at most speeds you'd want to drive along topless, is a cabin that, for both front and back seat passengers, is agreeably habitable.

And 'C' also stands for 'cool' — certainly when finished, like our test car, in Fiat's new Chillout Purple metallic paint (an easily- justified £450 extra spend). While it boosts the 500C's eye-candy rating, the interior is just as attention-getting. The £14,360 Lounge 500C, with its £3,000 premium over the all-of-a-piece 500 hatchback, comes well kitted-out.

Standard equipment, in addition to the powered fabric roof (that can be black, red or ivory coloured), includes automatic dual-zone climate control, Dualdrive electric power steering, Blue&Me hands-free (with Bluetooth technology, voice recognition, player steering wheel controls, and USB port), radio/CD/MP3, height adjustable driver's seat, one-shot power windows, electrically-adjustable door mirrors with defrosting, 50:50 split/fold rear seat with height adjustable head restraints, rear parking sensors, 7 airbags (driver, passenger, side, window, and driver's knee), Start&Stop, and a set of 15-inch alloy wheels.

500C owners will have no qualms about flashing the cabin. The body-coloured dash — in this case a rich plummy-purple — breaks up the deep fascia and centre stack and is done with a flourish of chrome highlights. Switchgear is orderly (and there's not too much of it) with easy to use on the move buttons for all the important stuff. This is a cabin that doesn't put any pressure on the driver.

Unexpectedly, given its compact external footprint, it's also a genuine four-seater. The cloth-covered seats (with smart black-and-white patterned centre panels) are big and well padded and provide good lumbar and under-thigh support. Access to and exit from the rear cabin is easy through either side door and doesn't require assistance; and your passengers won't argue about who travels in the back because the rear seats are far less restrictive than you'll find in many larger convertibles.

Everything you really need to know while driving is displayed in the single multi-tasked hooded dial clearly visible through the top segment of the steering wheel, which also carries remote controls for the audio, etc. Semicircular digital bar graphs either side of the driver's information display (average fuel, range, time, ice-warning, etc) show the fuel level and the engine coolant temperature.

“Unexpectedly, given its
compact external
footprint, it’s a
genuine four-seater.
Access to and exit from
the rear cabin is easy
through either wide-
opening side door
— and your passengers
won’t argue about who
travels in the
back because the rear
seats are far less
restrictive than you’ll
find in many larger convertibles
...”
Analogue road speed is marked on the outer band (black-on-white) with 70mph conveniently at 12 o'clock; revs appear on the white-on-black smaller inner band. The traditional handbrake will please many; you don't need forearms like Popeye to pull it up, and once applied it holds the car even on very steep hills.

The buttressed centre stack is mostly taken up with the climate controls and the electric window switches. The gear lever is mounted high and is only the shortest of reaches away from your left hand.

The five-speeder has a polished change action and is nice enough to use, and even in stop-go city traffic never sets you thinking about an auto (an auto transmission is an option). The three-spoke wheel only adjusts for height but even so the driving position is fine with good front and side visibility.

With the roof in situ you could be sitting inside a fixed-roof 500 hatchback; the cabrio transformation has been that well done. In the winter you'll be glad of the glass (and heated) rear screen; at all other times you'll appreciate the excellent noise insulation which, combined with the cushioning and comfy seats make the 500C an enjoyable place to be.

With it down, the 500C offers perhaps the best al fresco experience of many drop-tops — all the pleasure of sun and fresh air and none of biting back-draughts that usually accompany top-down convertible driving. One-shot operation in each direction makes the roof a delight to use — even more agreeable is that it can be lowered at speeds of up to 37mph.

And if Mr Sun hasn't come out to play, the excellent heater will wrap you in hot air of up to 32 degrees. Recommended is a topless drive on a chilly autumnal evening with the heater blasting volumes of hot air over your feet. Try it. More good news is that when cruising at the legal limit there's minimal mechanical or road noise, and only just a hint of wind whisper.

Short drivers may find their pleasure tempered by the restricted rear visibility as the roof doesn't fold flat to the rear deck; and even when it's closed the rear screen is not full width — but it's nothing you can't live with because of the big views afforded by the door mirrors and the audible rear parking sensors.

Something that it is hard to live without is a boot. But even here the 500C comes up trumps: it has a boot and it's a pretty spacious one too, with 185 litres (which betters many in this class) for your luggage. Dropping down the rear seatbacks extends its practicality; folded, they transform 185 into 520 litres and also permit the carrying of quite long items. Plus, under the boot floor, is a 'real' wheel — not one of the messy 'puncture repair kits' that are absolutely useless if you damage a sidewall, but a space-saver.

Below the 500C's bonnet can be any one of the engines already fitted to the 500 hatch line-up: a 1.2-litre 69bhp petrol, 85bhp .9-litre petrol, or a 1.3 diesel putting out 95bhp — and there's also a go-faster, Abarth-tuned 1.4-litre petrol motor offering 135 or 160bhp. So, something to suit all tastes.

“Top speed is 99mph
which will be more than
enough for most 500C
drivers (especially if
they’re driving al fresco!)
with 0-62mph coming
up in 12.9 seconds.
Actually, it bombs along
at a gleeful 80+mph
if you dont watch it!
The 1,242cc petrol engine is good for 69bhp along with 75lb ft of torque from 1,900rpm, and provides a decent blend of performance and fuel economy.

Top speed is 99mph which will be more than enough for most 500C drivers (especially if they're driving al fresco), with 0-62mph coming up in 12.9 seconds.

Actually, if you don't watch it you can find yourself bombing along at 80+mph! Slowing, as opposed to accelerating, is a 'no worries' experience thanks to decent brakes.

This particular four-pot gets through unleaded at the official rate of 58.9mpg in the combined cycle. Extra-urban (or 'touring', as it — more descriptively — used to be called), could return as much as 65.7mpg. In the real world, a week behind the wheel driving on fast-moving motorways and slugging it out in stop-start town traffic saw an average of 41.1mpg.

The 500C doesn't need a lot of road space, which makes it nippy around town, and the 'normal' steering weighting is fine — if you like it lighter for parking you can press the button on the fascia and Ecco!, lighter it is.

It's no blinkered urbanite either — out on the open road the 500C's neat dimensions and direct steering let you enjoy its grip (aided by a pleasantly firm ride) down even the narrowest of winding country lanes. Wherever you're headed in a 500C, even if you're driving alone, you can guarantee you'll always have a smile for company! — MotorBar


Fiat 500C 1.2 Lounge | £14,360
Maximum speed: 99mph | 0-62mph: 12.9 seconds | Average test MPG: 41.1mpg
Power: 69bhp | Torque: 75lb ft | CO2 113g/km