Convertible Fiat 500 is a throwback in all the right ways
The Fiat 500 has arrived at an interesting juncture: A tribute to the 1957 Nuova 500, it was introduced to much acclaim way back in 2007. That was the better part of a decade ago — so how do you keep an unabashedly retro set of lines from feeling dated?
If you’re Fiat, you double down, turning once more to the company archives to develop the so-called 1957 Edition trim. It’s a risky play, but it works. The available pastel colors look good, the aluminum wheels with polished metal hubcaps are great and the throwback “FIAT” badges plastered all over the car are a nice finishing touch.
Look past the cute exterior, the rich-looking brown leather interior and the rest of the 1957 Edition flash, though, and you’re left with a Fiat 500. And at $27,030 — for the convertible version, mind you — it’s not the kind of thing you’ll stumble into. To end up with a Fiat 500, you have to want a Fiat 500, and that’s doubly true of the pricey cabriolet. This a car you’ll either like from the get-go, in which case you’ll find excuses for its faults, or you’ll find irredeemably dorky, in which case it will be able to do no right.
If there’s one thing both camps can condemn, it’s the six-speed automatic transmission. True, it doesn’t have a lot of motor to work with — the naturally aspirated 1.4-liter is only good for 101 hp — but it was utterly incapable of handling that miniscule output with anything resembling grace. The engine often buzzed for ages before settling, reluctantly, into a gear. Expressway passes are a noisy, foot-to-the-floor affair.
The Fiat 500c features the 1.4-liter MultiAir engine.
To add insult to injury, you’re expected to pay $1,350 over the six-speed manual for this mess; stick with the stick here — it’s right in line with the car’s vintage character. There’s a 135-hp turbo motor available, too, but you can’t pair it with the 1957 Edition trim. Sadly.
The 500 is happiest in the city, but for a car of its size, it’s surprisingly composed at speed (once you get it there); I’m glad the firm-ish Euro suspension didn’t get lost on the way to the
Besides, if you don’t take yourself too seriously, the 500 is simply more fun to be in, to arrive in, to look at. For what it’s worth, I did my best to drive the retro aluminum wheels off the 500 while I had the keys, spending a good chunk of my weekend as a manic pistachio blur hurtling down the expressway at truly and objectively terrifying speeds (hey, I had places to be, it’s an Italian car and, let’s be honest, nobody suspects the Fiat). It was slow-car-fast driving at its slowest/fastest.
I’m sure I looked ridiculous; I didn’t care. And if fall hadn’t arrived in full force, I would have happily done it all with the top down.
Attention to detail is evident on the Fiat 500c Lounge.
“The retro interior styling is a little … different; I’m assuming those plastic pieces were metal back in the day, which may have made this car feel more substantial. As of now, it just feels like a toy.” – Jake Lingeman, road test editor
“The two downsides to the Fiat 500 (not counting the fact that this doesn’t need to be a cabriolet at all) are the lack of rear interior space and the price. I understand it’s kind of a segment problem, but the rear seats should really be called a package tray considering there isn’t a whole lot of space for someone’s legs. The price just seems incredibly expensive, given the fact that you can buy a Honda Fit for 10 grand less.” – Wesley Wren, associate editor
“The 500 can be fun to drive, as we’ve seen with the Abarth, or sad like the Gucci edition. This is really the version that comes closest to capturing the charm of the real-deal 500. Had Fiat had these available at launch, 500 sales would have been more brisk overall. I could take or leave the convertible top and upgraded interior. I would be perfectly happy if I never laid a hand on that automatic transmission again. But base 500s should come with optional body-color steelies or these adorable color-keyed, mono-block alloys. I can’t think of another instance in which a set of wheels has improved the appearance of a car more dramatically. Overall, in this guise, the 500 seems like an alternative to the Mini instead of just a cheap first car.” – Rory Carroll, content director
The Fiat 500c Lounge shows off an available leather-trim interior.
Options: Customer preferred package 22F including 1957 edition with retro wheels, retro leather seats, leather steering wheel, retro badging and trim, driver and passenger front seatback pockets, white exterior mirrors ($1,900); six-speed auto, leather-wrapped shift knob ($1,350)