Review: Fiat 500C convertible

It may be only a Panda under the skin, but this nippy runabout has cheek and charm to burn, says Matthew Gwyther.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 30 Oct 2015

Few cars are fun these days. Complex electrical hybrids don't do stand-up. MPVs are sad, depressed wagons for those who have given up. Executive saloons aren't much of a laugh - they are costly and often pretentious in their search for gravitas.

So small vehicles are supposed to provide the smiles. Many brands - usually helpless French has-beens and far eastern wannabes - try to persuade us via feelgood, knockabout marketing that their small product is a barrel of laughs But it's rarely actually true. The VW Up is a great small car, the Mini is very sound despite being the drive of choice for Foxtons operatives but even these estimable chariots are a bit lacking in the chortle department.

The Fiat 500 is the exception. It's very small, cute, full of cheek and a clever design, but vitally it actually has a real heritage.

The original Topolino dates back to 1936 and the legendary 'Nuova' Cinquecento to 1957. That model and its variants sold 3,893,294 until production stopped in 1975. Italy has squandered so much of its heritage - Pompeii is falling to bits, the Forum a disgrace - but Fiat has nurtured its IP. And now that is paying off.

The Cinquecento has proved a smash hit for a company that badly needed one. Indeed family-owned Fiat has proved a surprising global success story in recent years. Under its estimable leader, Sergio Marchionne, it took over Chrysler and we were all wowed when he whacked the head of Ferrari last year, consolidating his power still further. He's the Don.

This model is the clever Twinair. In returning to the two- cylinder layout it used in the 1950s, Fiat pushes the heritage thing even further. It's very nippy but the fuel consumption, providing you don't thrash it, is impressive. At motorway speeds it makes a low thrum like the noise you hear when trying to get to sleep on a 747.

I got four kids under 20 inside for a short spell and the soft top helps you spread out vertically. The boot is tiny but one adapts. For roller-coaster fans there's even a G-force indicator.

Small cars traditionally mean small profits and for years Fiat pumped 500s out of its Polish plant on next to no margin. But the brand building means prices have gone up. The on-the-road price of our model is £17,430, which isn't quite so hilarious for something not much bigger than a bumper car. Then there's the oft-repeated solemnity from seasoned car hacks who say the Fiat Panda (on which the 500 is based) is a cheaper and more sorted vehicle. But just look at the sales figures, ragazzi.

Rating: 3/5


Fiat 500C 0.9 Twinair S convertible

Price: £17,430

Engine: 875 cc two cylinders in line, petrol

Transmission: six-speed manual

Fuel consumption: 67.3 mpg (combined cycle)

CO2 Emissions: 99 gm/km

Power: 105 bhp

0-62 mph: 10 seconds

Top Speed: 117 mph.

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