I confess-I am an Italian car nut. I still curse the cruel winter blizzard that was so harsh it cracked the engine block of my beloved Alfa Romeo Spyder. Around that time, the idea of someone in North America of average means owning a new Italian car went up in smoke when Alfa left the market here. Fast forward to the present. Fiat comes to save troubled Chrysler, and my prayers were answered when the news arrived the fashionable Fiat 500 would be sold on our shores. Once again, an affordable, fun, stylish car with an Italian accent is available to the masses here in North America. Yes-Fiat left here with a horrible reputation for selling rust-buckets, and being hopelessly unreliable, earning the infamous Fix It Again Tony moniker. But that was three decades ago, and the young, hip, trendy crown Fiat targets could care less.Ã‚Â That said, what’s it like to live with the 500C? Read on….
Cute as a button barely describes the 500C. The car is positively tiny, but seems massive next to the original 500. For a tiny car built to a price, the Fiat 500 packs flair its rivals cannot match.Ã‚Â But like a MINI Cooper, the 500C does not look cheap. This is just a fun car to look at from any angle. I appreciated the fine attention to detail, like the chrome exterior mirrors and other accents that added flair that at once recall the micro-car revolution in 1950’s Europe, yet the 500C never seems hopelessly retro. Our test car, finished in Bianco Perla (in other words, pearl white), and Bordeaux soft top gave the 500C an appearance that seemed to befit South Beach Miami than southern Connecticut. Yet, attending this year’s Fairfield County Concours d’Elegance, I noticed my little Fiat was getting as much attention as the million dollar cars parked on the field.
The interior of the 500C shows that you can offer a lot of style, but not at the expense of being ergonomically friendly. Take note, MINI interior designers. Even so, I did have to consult the owner’s manual to answer some questions about controls. So, if you were expecting Toyota Corolla simplicity, get real. The trade-off is an interior chock-full of character. Sure, the abundance of hard plastics and bargain basement carpet reminds you this is, after all, an economy car. But our car, fitted with Rosso leather seating offers a premium look and feel its rivals cannot match. The gauge binnacle includes concentric speedo and tach gauges, along with all other functions lit in a funky orange glow-all interior controls are displayed and backlit in the same hue. Different? Yes, but easy to get used to.
The 500C was my ride to the annual International Motor Press Association’s Test Days event, this year held for the first time in the Catskill Mountains in New York, hosted by Monticello Motor Club. Was I a little skeptical of the tiny 500C’s ability as a road trip car? For sure. The trunk is a joke, barely holding a soft duffel bag and my suit for a two night stay. But that complaint faded once I hit the button to peel back the roof and hit the road. On a comfortable September evening I carved my way up CT’s Route 25, enjoying the sounds from XM Radio pumped through Bose speakers. Once on Interstate 84 headed for New York, I opted to close the roof, and cruised comfortably and quietly on my way to the Borscht Belt.
Motivation for the 500C comes from a 1.4L four cylinder, good for 101hp. Depending on trim, you can have your 500C with a 5-speed manual (Pop only) or six-speed automatic. We had the top-spec Lounge model, and the automatic is the only tranny available. Despite its, um, anemic power, the 500C manages to get around quite nicely, thank you. Cruising at 80mph was basically effortless, and even when I reached higher elevations, the Fiat was never wheezing or hunting for the right gear. I was disappointed in the lack of steering feel, but otherwise the ride and handling of the 500C was comfortable, but not very sporty. Also, for a car of this size, the fuel economy ratings are a let-down, with 27/32 city/highway MPG are practically shameful when you compare it with four-door Hyundai Accents and Chevy Cruze’s that can get 40mpg on the highway.
The Fiat 500C is available in Pop and Lounge trim levels. Our test car, as mentioned, was the Lounge. Fitted with the optional Bianco Perla paint, 15″ alloys, and Luxury Leather Package (adds leather, heated seats, auto dimming mirror, Rosso red seats and Bordeaux top) for an as delivered MSRP of $26,050USD. Pricey for such a small car? Maybe, but try getting a MINI Cooper convertible equipped the same way at this price, and the Fiat looks like a bargain.
The 500C is a sunny, and delightful car to grace our roads. It’s no sports car, but it simply oozes charisma in a way other cars cannot match. Are there compromises to be had with the 500C? Certainly, but when you’re dealing with such a small, beautiful Italian thing as this car, wouldn’t you be disappointed if that weren’t the case?