If ever there was an award for the world’s cutest car, it would probably go to the Fiat 500. This incarnation of the original Cinquecento of the 1950s looks like a cuddly toy waiting to be hugged.
The latest variant of this impossibly cute thing ups the desirability factor even higher. With a full-length sliding rag-top roof, the 500C appears even more chic. A deeper windscreen gives more visual elegance besides allowing a resize of the front cross member to give the 500C greater torsional rigidity. Like the original 500C of 1957, the windscreen extends all the way up to the fabric roof without exposing any bodywork.
Since the roof pillars are still intact, the 500C is technically a targa (like the classic Porsche 911) rather than a true convertible. Still, with the sizeable aperture, Fiat has taken pains to strengthen the body and the effort seems to have paid off. Scuttle shake is minimal, with the little fellow feeling reasonably rigid for an open-top car.
The double-layered fabric roof has a three-stage operation: partially open like a sunroof, fully open with the rear screen still upright, and finally, with the screen folded away. The car looks great in any of these modes, but rearward visibility is quite badly compromised when the screen is retracted and stacked.
A useful feature of the canvas roof is its capability of being opened or closed at speeds of up to 60km/h, which must be some kind of rag-top record. This will definitely save quite a bit on wet hairdos and embarrassment in our uncertain, “globally warmed” climate!
Speaking of hairstyles makes me mindful of the fact that the new 500C is a personal car ideal for the sweet young thing or a pretty boy. A macho man may look a mite out of place in a cuddly car like this, which would definitely evoke strong maternal instincts in the fairer sex.
This warm and happy feeling is evident in the car too. Like the rest of the range, the dashboard is painted the same colour as the body. The retro-style instruments are enclosed in one large dial in front of the driver, and all controls, especially the steering wheel and the gear lever, have a subtle tactile feel that seems to caress.
Tech lovers will be pleased with the Bluetooth speaker phone and the USB port to pipe the usual portable music formats. Oddment storage spaces include a large one under the seat cushion plus a document drawer and a smaller drawer under the dash, along with door pockets. A tiny glovebox hides small valuables, but it’s a challenge to open with its fiddly catch.
The 500C is a four-seater, even though space in the rear may be a bit tight for large adults (the people in front can easily help by sacrificing a bit of legroom themselves). Seats are comfy, supportive and set high, giving occupants a commanding view. The driving position would have been perfect if the footrest wasn’t located so far back. This causes the left knee to be too flexed for comfort.
One big appeal of the 500 is its almost unlimited options list. There are over 500,000 possibilities of personalisation, including a host of stickers, so it is easy to spec a 500C that’s absolutely unique.
This new Fiat is not only about fun and frolic. It is actually quite a blast to drive.
Powered by a 100bhp 1.4-litre engine, the 500C is lively for a pretty car if one revs it up.
Gearbox is the “Duologic Robotised Auto”, Fiat’s version of the automated manual transmission. In fairness, this much-maligned system is now more reliable and smooth gearshifts are now more easily achieved. Unless completely ham-fisted, jerky gear changes should now be a thing of the past.
In keeping with its target audience, the controls of the 500C have a light touch. Steering is light, reasonably quick in response and average in feel and feedback. Ride is decent for such a small vehicle. It seems to gloss over surface imperfections and tackle ridges with aplomb.
Although it has no sporting pretensions, the 500C handles in an entertaining manner. It should. After all, the Fiat 500C is an entertaining lifestyle vehicle which is all about fun and freedom. So if the well-heeled are contemplating a lovely birthday present for a lively 21-year-old lady, there would be many worse ways to spend $105,900. It’s not cheap, but for most young girls about town, it sure beats designer jewellery!
Fiat 500C 1.4 (A)
Type Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged
Bore x stroke 72mm x 84mm
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Max power 100bhp at 6000rpm
Max torque 131Nm at 4250rpm
Power to weight 102bhp per tonne
Gearbox 6-speed automated manual
Driven wheels Front
0-100km/h 11 seconds
Top speed 182km/h
Front MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear Torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Front / Rear Ventilated discs / Discs
Type Michelin Energy E3A
Size 185/55 R15
Traction aids ABS, ASR
Kerb weight 980kg
Turning circle 10.6m
Price $105,900 incl. COE
Warranty 3 years/60,000km
+ Cute and cuddly design, quality interior and fittings, quick targa canvas roof
– Very high price, tiny and fiddly glove box, over-elevated footrest