A few key questions are posed by the 500C, Fiat’s achingly fashionable newly hatched version of the trendy 500. Why doesn’t it open up all the way down to the waistline, like a Mini Convertible? Has it clung too closely to tradition in aping the historic Fiat Topolino of 1936 and the original 500 Convertible from 1957? How do you open the boot with the hood down? Is it actually any good?
Last question first, and yes, from the driver’s seat, the 500C impresses as a well-conceived, bright and breezy little car. Keeping the sides in place has given it impressive rigidity for a cabriolet, free from the flexing and rattles that all too often blight a flat-deck convertible. The triple-layer fabric hood is electronically operated and rolls back in stages, like a very long sunroof peeling all the way down to the top of the bootlid. Once it’s fully open, the folded hood actually overlaps the upper edge of the boot lid, rather than lowering down inside it and taking up valuable boot space, which is already at a premium in such a small car. This means you lose only a paltry three litres of luggage capacity over a standard 500 hatchback, which is seriously credible. Ingeniously, when you want to open the boot lid, the folded hood automatically shifts upwards just enough to let the hinge operate unobstructed.
With the hood down, the cabin is fresh and comfortable, an air-cooled sun trap but one without excessive wind rush. The downside is rear visibility – or lack of it. It’s really quite difficult for the driver to see out of the back with the hood down, as the fabric cuts right across the rear view mirror view line and forces the driver to rely on the door mirrors. With the hood raised, it’s a tight and tidy fit with no significant increase in noise over a standard steel-top 500. The little cabriolet performs briskly with the 1.3-litre MultiJet engine, which feels well up to the task in this light-bodied car. Expect a bit of a racket when you get the revs up, though.
On paper, the car looks almost too obedient to its heritage, compromising on ultimate open-top style for the sake of reinventing history. But out on the road, where it offers a great blend of glamour and practicality without any serious drawbacks. Safety is catered for with seven airbags, and all 500Cs come fitted with an electric hood, air conditioning, Bluetooth and MP3 connectivity. The higher-spec Lounge model adds ESP as standard as well as automatic climate control, rear parking sensors, front foglights and a handsome set of alloy wheels.
RIVALS: CITROËN C3 PLURIEL CÔTE D’AZUR 1.4 HDi, SMART FORTWO CABRIO cdi PASSION, VAUXHALL TIGRA AIR 1.3 CDTi
- Engine: 1248cc, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel
- Gearbox: 5-speed manual
- Max Power: 75bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 107lb ft at 1,500rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 800kg
- Combined Consumption: 67.3mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 110g/km (B)
- 0-62mph: 12.5secs
- Max speed: 103mph
- Insurance Group: 6