A little acceleration. A lot of plastic, and a Lilliputian’s worth of smallness.
The Fiat 500C Cabrio that had been parked on my driveway seemed like a small car’s dream gone by. There were a few chrome accents. A soft top that retracted like an old power curtain contrivance from a 1960′s James Bond movie. Power? The spec sheet showed only 101 horsepower and a mild level of torque. To be brutally blunt, I was ready to be subjected to a Corolla’s worth of acceleration with enough wind buffeting to make the experience not even worth the effort.
Then I turned the key…
Jacque Hedonist: I have never received so much attention from a daily driver! This Fiat was the most widely admired car I’ve ever had on the road. Price be damned.
Top of the line Benzes with custom wheels. A tricked out Mustang police interceptor with the Sheriff’s exterior decals still on it. Even a gold 1974 Ford Ranchero with the Southern Cross painted on the bed didn’t get the eyeballs and conversations that this Fiat received on a daily basis.
I think a big reason why is the copper exterior paint job. Some cars seem to be made for particular colors and the Fiat apparently is a perfect fit for ‘Rame’, which apparently is a sophisticated way to say ‘Copper’. Yellow looks a bit weird on it. White and black make the Fiat generic. Rame? A perfect fit for a nee-retro droptop with European pretensions.
Stefan Frugalist: Four flagdowns in three hours just on the first day. Movies, Costco, Two stop lights. Each one was no more than a brief moment’s worth of outside exposure for the Fiat. Yet folks seemed to be all too comfortable with going up to a young family in a small car and start jabbering away about whether we liked it or not. Other than the first generation Miata, I can’t think of a single new car that generated so much immediate and friendly feedback.
Jacque: There was another surprise to the Fiat 500…
It is indeed smaller than a first generation Honda Insight. Over 15 inches smaller length-wise and about three inches smaller in width. Yet two adults and two kids (11 and 9, normal in terms of size) fit in the back with no problem.
The main reasons why are the ride height and ergonomics. The Fiat is about seven inches more spacious in height than an old Insight, which dramatically improves the drivability and the seating positions.
Chrysler/Fiat also saw fit to eliminate as much aero design clutter in the cabin area as possible.
The A-pillar is not intrusive. The dashbaord doesn’t stretch forward like the cockpit of an airplane, and other than the 5-speed, nothing is jutting out in front of you or vying for your attention. No navigation systems. No big-screen infotainment doo-dad’s that vie for your eyeballs. The interior is a simple and intelligent design for those of us who value driving over ceaseless electronic communications.
Stefan: There a couple of drawbacks, depending on what you want out of a car. The interior design encourages an almost completely upright driving position. As a result, the driving experience is a bit less sporty than you would expect from a modern day small car.
Other than fourth gear, there is also no burst of acceleration that would be considered ‘fast’ and the chassis trades a little bit of comfort for less road feel. This Fiat 500c isn’t so much about sport as it is about in-town cruising and errand running.
The highway ride is surprisingly comfortable and other than the worst of roads, the 500c is always poised and taut. You do have enough power to keep up with traffic with the 5-speed and the fuel economy of 30 city / 38 highway, beats every convertible by a wide margin except for the Smart fortwo Cabriolet.
Jacque: Yes, but the Smart isn’t a real choice given the standards of most of today’s consumers. The Mini Cooper Convertible is likely the closest competitor. But it’s also a modern day speed racer type for Gen’s X and Y, while this Fiat is more of a weekend play toy for empty nester’s who want comfort and fun. This 500C with all the options short of leather came in at an MSRP of $21,750, which is thousands less than either the base Mini or another ‘kinda’ competitor, the Mazda MX-5.
Stefan: The Fiat 500C is more of a second car for couples and singles who are looking for ‘frugality with fun’, instead of the painful austerities of a Smart or the near go-kartish nature of the Mini and Mazda. In the real world, it strikes an excellent balance for those among us who are looking to row their own gears and enjoy the sunshine with minimal drama.
If that sounds like you, go for a test drive. You can always enjoy the sunshine.