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2012 FIAT 500C Convertible Lounge Review & Test Drive

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Filed under Automotive, Featured, Fiat, Test Drives

To introduce the US market to FIAT, Chrysler leaves the traditional Italian brand’s design somewhat untouched while adding many features and safety improvements over the European version. The all-new Fiat 500 is a two-door subcompact available in a hatchback or convertible variants.

As cute as it is, the new Fiat 500 is a fully functional vehicle that has a long European lineage with a few reworkings to better suit its needs here in the states. For the US-spec Fiat 500, it gets a bigger fuel tank (one additional gallon) for a total of 10.5 gallons, additional safety features and improved fuel efficiency. Being the small vehicle that the Fiat 500 is, you can manage to get up to 336 miles in one tank on the automatic convertible version going by its EPA estimated 32 mpg highway figure. Gas mileage is rather consistent and I was able to get better than the 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway estimates on my Fiat 500C test vehicle. The manual transmission version of the 500 improves fuel economy standards to an excellent 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.

Powering the all-new 2012 Fiat 500 is a new 1.4-liter engine with MultiAir technology. The MultiAir system is a great technological advancement which essentially decouples the intake valves and camshaft. MultiAir basically achieves what other valvetronic systems do to vary valve positioning (timing) dependent on load and engine speeds to optimize efficiency and power output. All of this technology yields 101 horsepower and 98 ft. lbs. of torque through a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission driving the front wheels.

With the new 2012 Fiat 500C weighing in at 2486 pounds, you are not going to win any races but you can still be cute, turn some heads and have a ‘little’ fun (no pun intended).

Styling has been kept undeniably classic on the Fiat 500 closely mimicking the original Italian design from the 60’s and 70’s. My Fiat 500C convertible was equipped with a power-sliding cloth top. The top can be operated up to 60 mph and folds the rear window down to reduce wind resistance. Rear visibility is cut short with the top down on the 500C convertible due to the bulk of the cloth top folded to the rear.

The exterior styling is quite unmistakable but shares a few modern-day aesthetics such as the projector beam halogen headlights and stylish 15-inch wheels with color accents.

The engine of the all-new Fiat 500 is built in Michigan while the rest of the vehicle is assembled in Mexico. Despite an odd marriage of parts and assembly locations, the build quality of the new 2012 Fiat 500 was surprisingly good from my standpoint. There were no rattles or odd noises with the exception of the 4-cylinder engine’s buzz at high rpm. Interior plastics do not appear to be cheap-looking making the fit and finish well worth the price of admission.

Comfort in the new 2012 Fiat 500C is interesting to say the least. Being that I am over 6-feet tall I really did not have a problem fitting into the drivers or passengers seat. I found the front seats to be very comfy and positioned well for tall and short people. As far as the back, it would be an embarrassment to even think about utilizing the back seats for anything other than luggage. Although, I do give the rear seats praise for having enough room to seat small children who have just graduated from their booster seat.

The interior of the all-new Fiat 500C has a convoluted thought to design. The dash board plastic face-panel is painted with a high-gloss finish. My red Fiat 500C had the interior dash panel to match while the rest of the dash accents were an iPod-ish-looking off-white color. The bright amber backlighting on the white-face dash and leather-wrapped steering wheel standout well, especially at night. The driver’s gauge cluster combines both the tachometer and speedometer in the same large circular pod. All-together it works well to save on space which is obviously not the Fiat’s forte.

Most of the controls are clear-cut with the exception of the dash cluster functions. They do take a while to navigate and find the specific function that you desire for something as simple as reading the current mpg figure or toggling to the trip computer.

The Bose stereo system sounds surprisingly well considering the small form factor of the Fiat’s cabin. Engineers took the time to develop the sound system specifically for the small space. You can even find a Bose subwoofer located under the front passenger seat making the best use of a small space.

I spent the better part of 15 minutes attempting to figure out where the power door lock switch was. My fully loaded Fiat 500C has all of the power amenities so I was convinced I was overlooking the lock button. Interestingly enough, the door locks are activated by pushing the classic ‘hooked’ door handle and simply unlocked by pulling the handle. Small touches like this put the Fiat 500 in a category all by its self if the small size does not already do it.

Trunk space is short for the most part on the Fiat 500C Convertible. The Fiat 500 hatchback immensely improves upon rear storage space with a full rear hatch door that opens wide versus the convertible’s smaller rear half-door.

Smaller vehicles like the Mini and Fiat 500 sometimes give consumers the notion that it is unsafe due to its size alone. Contrary to the belief, the new Fiat 500 is focused on safety. The all-new Fiat 500 has a total of 7 standard airbags including multi-state front-passenger advanced air bags, driver’s knee air bag, seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags and full-length side-curtain air bags. Active head restraints are activated during rear impact to prevent whiplash. The Fiat 500 recently earned IIHS Top Safety Pick status in the mini-car category.

The 6-speed automatic transmission meshes well with the small 1.4-liter with only 101 horsepower. Together you have just enough power to keep up with cars in the fast lane on the highway. The engine is always eager and spin up near redline while the 6-speed auto keeps you in the power band.  Where the Fiat 500C lacks in performance, it makes it up for being one of the smallest cars on the road fitting into virtually any parking spot that you can find. With a wheel base of only 90.6 inches and total vehicle length at 139.6 inches, you could almost put the Fiat 500 in the back of a large pick-up truck or park it across a two-car garage driveway.

When it comes to performance, enthusiasts would rarely think of a Fiat unless they are anticipating the new Abarth version of the Fiat 500. Historically, just like the Mini received extra “performance” treatment from John Cooper, the Fiat Abarth will make its way to the US shedding weight and gaining some much needed power. A new Fiat 500 Abarth is slated to go on sale this Fall. For now the Sport button will have to do in my new 2012 Fiat 500C which changes shift patterns and remaps throttle positioning for optimal performance.

Like many small cute cars on the current market, the Fiat 500 is gives buyers plenty of personalization and unique characteristics at a relatively low price point. A comparable Mini Cooper could put you a couple grand over the Fiat 500’s price easily. You could opt for a much larger vehicle for the Fiat 500’s fully-loaded price at 25 grand, but they won’t be as cute as the classically designed Fiat 500C and may not turn as many heads.

Copyright: 2011


  • Price: Base Fiat 500 Hatchback Pop $15,500 / As-Tested Fiat 500C Convertible Lounge $25,250 loaded including destination charges
  • Engine: 1.4-liter 101 horsepower @ 6500 rpm / 98 ft-lbs. torque @ 4000 rpm
  • Wheelbase: 90.6in.
  • Total length: 139.6in.
  • Total width: 64.1in.
  • Total height: 59.8in.
  • Track: f/r-55.4/55.0in.
  • Ground clearance: 4.6in.
  • Headroom: f/r-38.6/
  • Legroom: f/r-40.7/31.7in.
  • Fuel tank: 10.5 gallons
  • Turning circle: 30.6ft.
  • Interior volume: 81.6cu.ft.
  • Curb weight: 2,486lbs.
  • 0-60mph: 10.8 seconds (manual transmission)
  • EPA mileage: 27mpg/city, 32mpg/highway

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