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Old 09-05-2011, 09:36 AM   #1
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Default 2012 Fiat 500C - Short Take Road Test

It’s the Fiat 500 with a pricey sunroof.

Decapitating cars rarely infuses performance or testosterone, but it does seem to be the default method for automakers looking to amplify the cuteness of already-endearing cars. In fact, when an affordable darling car hits the market, such as the Volkswagen Beetle or Chrysler PT Cruiser, you can pretty much assume that the top is coming off at some point. So it is with the Fiat 500, which begat the 500C.

Technically, It Converts
It’s worth mentioning again, as we did in our first drive of the 500C, that this isn’t a convertible in the truest sense. Yes, the 500C converts from a vehicle with a fully sealed cabin to one with no roof, but the typical notion of a convertible—a car with nothing but a windshield above the beltline—isn’t satisfied here. That’s because when the Fiat’s top is open in one of its three positions, the door frames and roof rails stay in place. On the upside, this means that the side profile of the hardtop 500 is kept intact, so the 500C retains the stylistic character of its coupe counterpart better than many softtops. Still, the 500C might better be called the 500RBS, for 500 Really Big Sunroof. (The C actually stands for Cabrio.)

With a really big sunroof comes great responsibility. In this case, the responsibility is to watch your surroundings with a conspiracy theorist’s vigor when the top is fully open, since it collects as a heap of cloth at the C-pillar. Rearward visibility in this condition is reduced to a big fat nothing; even with mirrors carefully positioned, you won’t know that there’s an Escalade bearing down until the hulk is atop your rear bumper. While visibility with the roof up is also compromised, the 500C is commendably quiet in this state, and roof open, wind noise doesn’t interfere with conversation.

Automatic for the People
This is the first time we’ve been able to affix our testing equipment to any Fiat 500 with an automatic gearbox. The Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic isn’t the most seamless unit—it was added to the 500 specifically for our market—with the occasional lurch during upshifts. But the bigger problem is that when fitted with this transmission, the car treats acceleration as an afterthought. The two-pedal Fiat needed 11.5 seconds to accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph—1.9 seconds behind the time posted by a 500 with the five-speed manual gearbox. (The fixed-roof car weighed 88 pounds less.) Opting for the automatic in the 500C—as standard on the uplevel Lounge trim car tested here and for an extra $1000 on the entry-level Pop—cuts fuel economy to just 27 mpg city/32 highway, a drop of 3 mpg in the city and a whopping 6 mpg, or 16 percent, on the highway.

As in the hardtop, the steering has a distinctly artificial flavor but enough weight—especially after pressing the dash-mounted sport button—to cut an accurate path. With a short wheelbase, skinny little tires, and a relatively tall profile, it’s easy to feel like the 500 is cornering closer to its limits than it is. Fortunately, the same suspension that makes the 500C feel just a bit tippy during aggressive maneuvers also delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride even on lousy roads.

Pay No Attention to the Other Cars Over There
As mentioned, our 500C test vehicle was an uplevel Lounge model, which starts at $24,000; the entry-level 500C Pop starts at $20,000. For the extra $4000 over a non-C 500 Lounge, buyers are treated to the standard automatic gearbox, 15-inch aluminum wheels instead of steelies, automatic climate control, premium cloth seats, a Bose sound system, and a longer options sheet. Our car was fitted with a $1250 package that added leather seats (heated in the front) and an auto-dimming rearview mirror, as well as a $300 set of rims. The MSRP was thus swollen to a painful $25,550.

For those familiar with the handling of the Mini Cooper convertible or, better still, the Mazda Miata, a loaded 500C drops from consideration. The Miata, which starts at $26,165 with—perish the thought—an automatic, turned in a 7.0-second 0-to-60 run in our hands and offers a full roadster experience. But Miatas and Minis are everywhere, and they aren’t full of Italian zest or as cute as the Fiat, and those are the 500C’s hallmarks. So for a small number of people—probably enough to satisfy Fiat’s expectations—$25K will seem like a reasonable price to pay for a fashionable runabout. Just don’t count us among them.

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