Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: 2012 Fiat 500c Lounge: It's all about the top

2012 Fiat 500c

We reviewed the 2012 Fiat 500 Lounge hardtop back in November, 2011. The Fiat 500c is essentially the same car, but with a sliding rag top. It drives almost identically and has mostly the same features. It still darts in and out of traffic, has a very upright driving position, and makes plenty of racket when floored. However, the 500c allows you to do everything a regular 500 can do, but with the wind in your hair. You might want to put on an extra coat of sunscreen, though.

 Like the 500 Lounge we tested in ’11, our 500c, also a Lounge model, came equipped with the six-speed automatic, leather, and the 15-inch alloy wheels. The 500c came in a shade of brown called Espresso and had an Avorio (aka ivory) interior with brown leather seats. Plus, the featured item—the sliding rag top—came in beige. We got mixed reviews on the color scheme. I like it.

Since the styling is essentially the same (other than the ragtop), there’s no need to go into detail about the shape. Since it drives just like the 500 we reviewed previously, I won’t go into that either; see the 500 hardtop review for that. I will talk about the trick top, though. In fact, let's take a quick look at how it works:

As you can see in the video, unlike a traditional convertible, the 500c’s top slides down two tracks nestled in the car’s sides, and folds onto itself at the back of the vehicle, just like the original 500s, which were introduced in the late 1950s. FYI, the top has a glass rear window with a defroster. To lower the top, simply press the button at the front of the headliner and the top begins to slide back. It will stop in a few preset positions in case you don’t want to go into full top-down mode. In addition, you can lower and raise the top up to 60 MPH. Let’s see any other soft top do that.

Fiat 500c ragtop folded down

With the top down you get a panoramic view outwards, except for, well the back. In the rearview mirror, the top is squarely in the way and you must rely on your side mirrors more than the rear. It does take a bit of getting used to. Since the vehicle’s sides and rear pillars stay in place, unlike a traditional convertible, you sort of feel like you’re in a car that’s had its top peeled off rather than the usual open-air feeling of other drop tops.

Fiat 500c in a parking lot

The top closes the same way it opens, and stops in the same positions. It also automatically locks up front, so no latches to fasten. With the top up, we found the car to be pretty quiet with minimal wind noise. Visibility is good with the top up. Since it’s summertime in Oregon, I didn’t get a chance to take it through the rain, but we’re sure it’s watertight.

So although it is the same as the hardtop 500 in most respects, there are a few differences other than the obvious fabric roof. Fuel economy takes a two MPG hit on the highway (32 vs 34, respectively—both models drink premium fuel), and the price is, of course higher. Our 500c with the $1,250 Luxury Leather Package, the $1,250 six-speed automatic transmission, and the $400 TomTom navigation comes out to $26,100 including the $700 destination fee. And while you may be thinking that $26K is a lot for a little car—soft top or not—this fully loaded 500c is about $3,750 less than a similarly equipped MINI, and that’s not the turbocharged S model.

Ariel shot of the Fiat 500c

Again, to compare it to the 500 Lounge we last reviewed, you’re paying a $3,800 premium for the soft top. If I were to buy a 500, I might just opt for the open-air experience. Yeah, it’s a bit more, but having the wind in your hair (or what’s left of it in my case) is a great feeling. The top is super easy to operate and it adds even more character to a vehicle oozing with Italian personality. Then again, if I were going to buy a 500, I’d likely spring for the upcoming hardtop turbo version or even the Abarth, but that’s just me.

The “c” in 500c stands for “cabrio,” but it could stand for “curiosity,” as just about everyone would peer into the car with the roof open. It could also stand for “cute”: This car got a ton of attention, especially from women, many of which referred to it as the “cute little car.” If you buy one of these, be prepared for a lot of attention. Heck, the “c” could even stand for “conversation starter.”

The Fiat 500c Lounge with the top up

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