Little Fiat 500c holds its own among the big guys

LITTLE LOUNGE: Retract the top of the 2015 Fiat 500c Cabrio and you’ve got an open-air ride with the same profile as when the top is up.
LITTLE LOUNGE: Retract the top of the 2015 Fiat 500c Cabrio and you’ve got an open-air ride with the same profile as when the top is up. –Glenn Gould

The 2015 edition of the New England Motor Press Association’s Crustacean Crawl was over. It had been a long but fun day driving some of the most interesting automobiles produced today. The event took us from Boston to Kennebunkport, Maine, for lobster. Now however, my back was in spasms. Not because of any on-road incident, or too many lobsters, but the flare up of an old injury. Thus, I was now looking for a comfortable car for my two hour drive home. The keeper of the keys responded to my request with the keys to a 2015 Fiat 500c Lounge Cabrio 1957 Edition.

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Yes, that is a long title for a small car, but that’s its name. Truthfully, I was skeptical about that small car thing. Small cars are not known to offer cushy rides, although this one was an automatic and the top went down. Too, it had air-conditioning that was blowing very cold. Life is good.

This particular Fiat 500c Cabrio was the Lounge model. There are two 500c Cabrio models, the Pop and Lounge. The Lounge’s base price is $2,545 more than the Pop. Fiat bills the Lounge model as being upscale casual. However, both cars are mechanically identical, differing only in trim level and features.

For those whose knowledge of the Italian language is limited to menu items, as is mine, cabrio means convertible. In this case, it’s an interesting arrangement where the soft-top covers only the center of the roof. It slides up and down on the side of the roof. Looking at the Cabrio from the side, the car’s profile stays the same top up or down. No need to roll the windows down when lowering or raising the top. Also, the top can be retracted at speeds of up to 60 mph. Try that in your Roll-Royce. The cloth-top is made of a dual-layer material that offers better climate control and quieter top-up ride.

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By clicking the key fob of the Cabrio, I was able to follow the car’s horn through the parking lot to the car, where I stored my gear. I took a moment to acquaint myself with the little convertible. It was cute, and the Verde Chiaro (light green) paint looked pleasingly retro. On opening the door, I was happy to see a comfortable looking upright driver’s seat, the best option for straightening a sore back I had seen all day. It was upholstered in Retro Marrone (brown) leather that contrasted nicely with the Verde Chiaro body color. Also, the 500c Cabrio had the 1957 Edition package, which added another the Retro Ivory color to the interior and exterior. A neat feature of this option were the 16-inch alloy wheels painted the body color. Very cool and very 1957 for sure.

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I slipped the key fob into my pocket and pushed the start button. The motor fired right up and the air started blowing cold. Although it is retro, the 500c is also a thoroughly modern automobile. It pays homage in its styling to its 1957 Fiat 500 ancestor. However, the 2015 is larger and fully capable of tackling today’s driving conditions. The list of standard features is quite lengthy. These include rear park assist, stability control, hill start assist, 50/50 split fold-down rear seats, remote keyless entry system, and auto control climate system.

Moreover, it had a lot of techie stuff to keep me entertained and awake on the drive home. Among these were the Fiat Premium Audio System with AM/FM CD MP3 radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, BLUE&ME streaming audio, and hands free communication system. With these I could check on traffic, news, tap into my phone’s music library, or listen to literally hundreds of Satellite channels. I could also safely make hands free phone calls. I am not sure if this falls under the category of entertainment, but our Lounge model had the seven-inch color cluster display located in the instrument panel. There were plenty of USB and 12-volt ports, too. Also, it had the Chrysler-designed steering wheel with audio controls. It is intuitive, and there is no need to take yours eyes off the road while using it.

COLORFUL: The Cabrio’s Retro Marrone (brown) seats and Retro Ivory dash and steering wheel, complement the Verde Chiaro (green) exterior paint. —Glenn Gould
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My Cabrio had the optional 6-speed automatic transmission; a 5-speed manual is standard. The automatic also has a manual shift mode. The car’s engine was a Muti.Air 16-valve 1.4 liter I4 producing 101 horsepower.

The first few miles were on two lane country roads. Here Cabrio’s ride felt firm, but not overly so. It let you know the road was rough, but without the pain I felt in the sports cars earlier in the day. Although, not a sports car, the Fiat 500c ably kept up with the flow on the highway. The Cabrio felt sporty and handled well. When the sport mode button on the dash was turned on, it offered more precise steering and sharpened transmission shift points.

The little Fiat was amazingly snug and stable at speed. Semis and crosswinds did not bother it. I was surprised at how much fun it was, and my back felt better as each mile flew by. Thank you, “keeper of the keys.’’

2015 Fiat 500c Lounge Cabrio 1957 Edition

THE BASICS

Price: Base price $22,800. As tested: $27,030, including destination. Fuel economy: EPA estimated 27 city/34 highway/30 combined. Engine: Multi.Air 1.4L 16-valve in-line four-cylinder. Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic.

THE SPECIFICS

Horse Power: 101 @ 6,500 rpm. Torque: 97 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm. Wheelbase: 139.6 in. Height: 59.8 in. Width: 64.1 in, Curb weight: 2,511 lbs.

THE GOOD

It’s very cute, different, has a high cool factor, is fun to drive, and has good MPG.

THE BAD

It’s cute, only 101 hp, small trunk, not a Ferrari.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Captures the essence of the 1950s 500 Fiat and offers with latest automotive technology.

ALSO CONSIDER

VW Beetle Convertible, Mini Convertible.

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