I’ll never forget my fiancée Karen pulling into the driveway and asking me what kind of go kart was parked in front of the garage. She was referring to the new Fiat 500c. She did go on to say how cute the go kart was. This was how my week with the 500c began.
The 500c is one of those unique cars that make you instantly turn to the person next to you and say, “Isn’t that the cutest thing?” The stylized sheet metal is fantastic in a retro and unique way.
Fiat definitely sweat the details with this car. The headlights have 500 inscribed in them and the bezels are stylized. The 500 isn’t bashful about what it is – with over 11 500 badges on the exterior alone, you’ll never forget what kind of car you are in, and neither will anyone else. But, I didn’t feel it was overdone in anyway.
This particular 500c was the Lounge model, which featured fantastic front seats, thick thigh support and nice bolstering on the sides. One thing that was clearly noticeable throughout the week was the lack of a front passenger arm rest. While on some cars this oversight can be forgiven, my fiancée made a comment that a vehicle costing over $25k should definitely have a passenger side armrest (every time she was in the car). I can’t disagree with her logic.
The gauge cluster houses a massive amount of information. From controlling your iPod/iPhone to trip computer functions, the screen inside the gauge cluster displays nearly everything. Typically this would be fine, but I found the interface for settings to be clunky. Controlling my iPhone was even more so. Not a deal breaker for most, but beware, you’ll want to spend a little time with the owners manual.
While the 500c does have rear seats, you really won’t be using them unless you have a child with nearly no legs. I did squeeze someone back there for a short drive across town, but this person had their legs at an angle across the back.
I loved the meaty steering wheel that matched the plastic white dash trim. Unfortunately, I can easily see the white steering wheel becoming quite gross over time. I’d suggest picking a different color.
While the c stands for V-8 when talking about the Chrysler 300, in the case of the Fiat it stands for cabriolet. Who wouldn’t want to see a Hemi V-8 shoved into this Italian go kart though?
The cabriolet roof is well insulated and is pretty trick in its operation. You can open it as a sunroof, take it three-quarters of the way open, or fully open, with the ability to stop it at any point. When it is fully down the third brake light still remains visible to the car behind you, which is a nice safety feature. Unfortunately you can’t see anything behind you when the top is down.
Since this is a traditional cabriolet, the pillars do not move with the top, so at all times you are still somewhat surrounded with metal. It is a completely different feeling than a full-on convertible, and it allows the 500c to have more structural rigidity than a traditional convertible while retaining the benefit of open air driving.
Currently there is only one engine choice, a 1.4-liter in-line four-cylinder with MultiAir (Fiat’s variable valve timing system). While the little four banger is only rated at 101 horsepower and 98 pound feet of torque, it doesn’t feel ridiculously slow, though I wouldn’t suggest hitting the drag strip.
The six-speed automatic transmission in my tester made the most of the engine’s output and was programmed quite well. It didn’t seem to hunt for gears and shifts were quick. When you push the sport button on the dashboard it will almost always instantly drop down a gear, keeping the revs up. Sport mode definitely makes a noticeable difference in the responsiveness of the throttle and the overall driving experience changes. Sadly, the suspension doesn’t change with the throttle response and shift patterns.
Being the Lounge model, this 500c was built for driving comfort, not the autocross. While taking corners was fun, the limits were reached earlier than an enthusiast would like. But overall the handling was impressive and steering felt tight.
I drove the little Italian cabriolet to Wisconsin for my buddies wedding and easily averaged 33.6 mpg. I definitely wasn’t babying it either – this figure easily beat the 27/32 mpg EPA rating.
We shoved three guys in the 500c at the wedding just to see if we could. You basically need to be standing with the top open. This is a two seater with two emergency seats used for holding groceries. But hey, it made for an awesome picture.
My tester was nearly loaded with every option besides the navigation unit and had a sticker price of $26,050.
The bottom line with the 500c is simple – the enthusiast should go buy the sport model and skip the rag top. But for someone looking at a MINI Cooper Convertible, you would be wise to at least take a test drive in the 500c. It is fun, frugal, and unique without being over done.
Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by Chrysler