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  • 2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio Lounge

    Posted on May 22nd, 2011 ninarussin

    Subcompact gets an open-air variant

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio

    What’s not to love about an Italian car? This year, Fiat returns to North America with two versions of its classic Cinquecento. A hatchback came first, followed by a cabriolet currently rolling into dealerships. Fiat unveiled the new convertible at the New York Auto Show in April.

    The new open-air Fiat comes 55 years after the original Cinquecento rolled out in Italy. A power two-layer cloth top on the 2012 car replaces a removable canvas panel on the 1957 Nuova Cinquecento.

    Despite its retro appearance inside and out, the new Fiat 500 Cabrio is more versatile than the original version, with a spacious high-tech interior and power top which deploys in two positions. The first retracts the top to the roof-mounted rear spoiler; the second to the boot. 

    There are two trim levels, as opposed to three for the hatchback. Base price for the entry-level Pop is $19,500, not including a $500 destination charge. Power comes from a 1.4-liter engine rated at 101 horsepower, and a five-speed manual transmission. Standard comfort features include the power top, air conditioning, MP3 compatible audio system, Bluetooth, a USB port, rear park assist and 15-inch wheels.

    The upscale Lounge grade gets a six-speed automatic transmission in lieu of the five-speed manual, a Bose premium audio system, security alarm and extra chrome trim. Base price is $23,500.

    New small car strategy for Chrysler

    2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio

    While Chrysler is not a company known for small cars, the company experienced considerable success with compacts such as the Neon and PT Cruiser. Like the Cruiser, the new Fiat is produced at Chrysler’s Toluca, Mexico assembly plant.

    The new partnership gives “imported from Detroit” a distinctly international flavor, with opportunities to expand the scope of Chrysler’s small car offerings, and to entice European car enthusiasts who might not have previously considered buying an American brand. Fiat’s return to America after a lengthy hiatus gives the Italian automaker an inroad to a whole new generation of tech and style-savvy drivers.

    Early feedback from Fiat dealerships indicates that the strategy is a success. Buyers who already own premium models such as Porsche, BMW, Audi and Saab are purchasing the value-priced Fiat as daily commuter. The car’s small footprint and excellent fuel economy make it ideal for daily use in crowded urban areas. Manual transmission models average 33 miles-per-gallon according to EPA estimates.

    Eco-Drive extends gas mileage

    2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio

    An eco-Drive application which comes standard on all models trains drivers to extend their fuel economy. The owner downloads software from Fiat’s web site and transfers it onto a thumb drive which plugs into the car’s USB port.

    The thumb drive captures real-time gas mileage and carbon dioxide emissions information, which the driver can review his PC. That way, he can see the immediate impact of changes in shift points, cruising speeds and acceleration.

    Test drive in New York

    I recently drove the new Fiat Cabrio at a media event in New York. Our drive route included a short segment through Manhattan before heading upstate to Rhinebeck.

    The test car is the upscale Lounge. Options include leather seats, heated front seats, and premium 15-inch wheels to dress up the exterior, bringing the price as tested to $25,500.

    Its retro styling makes the new Fiat almost irresistible. Stylists made some subtle changes to the cabriolet as compared to the hatchback. They extended the windshield to improve the forward view, and enlarged the wheel arches. Both features also conceal extra structure to improve the open-air car’s torsional rigidity. Despite the reinforcements, the cabriolet is only 53 pounds heavier than the Fiat 500 hatchback.

    A “whiskers and logo” front end connects the new car with previous models, as do the vertical tail lamps.

    The driver can choose between two driving modes, normal and sport, depending on his needs. The sport mode changes throttle, steering weight and shift points for more aggressive performance.

    The 1.4 liter engine seemed a bit underpowered, even for a 2500-pound car. Performance was fine around town, but the engine strained on some of the steeper uphill stretches as we drove along hilly roads in upstate New York. Manual gear selection on the six-speed automatic transmission enhances power, though at the expense of some gas mileage.

    An independent front and torsion beam rear suspension is compliant enough to handle the potholes and uneven road surfaces common in urban areas. With the top in place, the interior is pleasantly quiet.

    An electric power steering pump replaces a traditional hydraulic system. Electric power steering systems are lighter and more compact than their hydraulic counterparts, but in this case, steering feels slightly disconnected from the wheels. A thirty foot turning radius makes U-turns easy under almost any circumstance.

    Four-wheel disc brakes stop the cabrio in a firm, linear fashion.

    I also drove the car with the top retracted to the first stop, at the roof-mounted spoiler. This leaves the rear window in place which it is not with the top deployed to the boot, improving rear visibility. Visibility around the rest of the perimeter is good. A convex mirror insert on the driver’s side eliminates some blind spots towards the back.

    Spacious interior

    Fiat Cabrio Interior

    The Fiat’s interior is surprisingly spacious considering its small footprint. The rear seats can hold small adults, assuming that small-to-average size adults are seated in front. The trunk is large enough to hold a carry-on suitcase. The rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor for larger items.

    Designers did an excellent job of keeping both the dashboard and center stack uncluttered. Both the gauges and digital displays in the center stack are easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions.

    By positioning the gate shifter at the base of the center stack, designers opened up the space between the driver and front passenger. A high hip point enhances access and egress to the front row. Manual seat controls on the front captain’s chairs are easy to use, and offer a moderate amount of lower back support.

    Both rows of passengers have access to cupholders on floor-mounted consoles. Overhead lights up front illuminate the cabriolet’s interior at night.

    Standard safety

    The Fiat 500 convertible comes with front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, active front head restraints. Fiat’s four year/50,000 mile warranty includes free roadside assistance and complimentary maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles.

    500,000 ways to customize

    Cabriolet buyers can choose from 14 exterior colors, 12 interior colors and three soft top colors, as well as a variety of graphics packages. Together, they comprise up to 500,000 appearance variants. The new open-air Fiat is currently rolling into dealerships.

    Likes: A city-friendly car with European styling and a high level of comfort and convenience features. The standard eco-Drive software helps owners save money by extending fuel economy and also reduce the Fiat’s carbon footprint. The cabriolet’s sub $20,000 base price is rare for an open-air car.

    Dislikes: Lack of engine power and poor steering response.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Fiat
    Model: 500 Cabrio Lounge
    Year: 2012
    Base price: $23,500
    As tested: $25,550
    Horsepower: 101 Hp @ 6500 rpm
    Torque: 98 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 27/32 mpg city/highway

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