Extended drive: 2012 Fiat 500 CabrioPosted on March 28th, 2012
Open-air fun for four
By Nina Russin
The Fiat 500 Cabriolet is the yin to the Fiat 500 Abarth’s yang. Whereas the Abarth is all-business performance, the open-air version of the Cinquecento focuses on enjoying the moment. Pricing for the upscale lounge model starts at $23,500.
Power comes from a 1.4-liter engine rated at 101 horsepower and six-speed automatic transmission. Because of its high compression ratio, Fiat recommends the use of 91 octane gasoline, although 87 is acceptable.
The multi-air engine uses solenoids to open and shut the engine intake valves rather than camshaft lobes. The technology makes the engine faster at adjusting to air/fuel mixture needs.
Manual gear selection enables the driver to change gears using the center console-mounted shift lever. A sport mode alters the throttle map and holds onto gears longer for more aggressive performance.
EPA estimated fuel economy is 29 miles-per-gallon for city and highway driving. Fuel economy for my 100-mile test drive was just over 32 miles-per-gallon.
There are four options on the test car: pearl white paint ($500), leather upholstery with heated front seats ($1250), TomTom navigation ($400) and 15-inch alloy wheels ($300). Adding the $500 delivery charge, MSRP as tested is $26,450.
Top deploys at speeds up to 50 miles-per-hour
The soft top deploys at the push of a button. It will retract to the rear lip spoiler at speeds up to 60 miles-per-hour, and to the boot at 50 miles-per-hour. When the top is all the way down, visibility out the back is severely limited. Since the first position keeps the rear glass in place, I used it for the bulk of my test drive.
I drove the 500 Cabrio on surface streets and highways east of Phoenix, through Scottsdale and Tempe. For the first half of the drive I kept the car in fully automatic mode. Then I switched over to sport mode to see how it would affect power, especially on the low end.
In base mode, the car feels somewhat underpowered. It’s especially noticeable on highway entrance ramps, where I had to merge behind faster cars. The sport mode makes a significant difference by holding onto the gears longer. I found that I had to dig into the throttle less, making for a smoother, more pleasant driving experience.
Response from the electric power steering system is also on the soft side, especially at lower speeds. On the flip side, I had no problems moving through a cloverleaf freeway ramps at a good clip. A stabilizer bar on the front axle gets the job done.
Designers made the windshield for the cabriolet taller than for the hatchback, which enhances visibility out the front. The car’s thick front and rear pillars create some rather large blind spots. Fortunately, the driver’s side mirror has a convex insert which helps the driver see around blind spots to the left. It makes a tremendous difference in monitoring traffic on the highway. Over-the-shoulder visibility to the right is pretty good, and the standard sideview mirror helps to minimize blind spots to the back.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm linear fashion on wet or dry roads.
There’s a fair amount of road and engine noise at speed, which is not surprising for a convertible. Since the size of the 500 dictates that it will typically hold two rather than four passengers, I don’t see that as a huge problem. With the top retracted to the rear spoiler, air movement through the interior is quite pleasant.
Italian styling inside and out
Part of the Cinqucento’s appeal is its styling, based on the original 1957 model. It’s hard to deny that the whisker grille and round headlamps give the Fiat 500c an abundance of personality. The white pearl paint and scarlet soft top is eye-catching without being garish.
The interior is equally appealing, with a well-configured instrument panel and simplified gauge cluster. An information display in the gauge cluster gives the driver odometer and trip meter readings, real-time and average fuel economy, and range. The center stack screen displays audio channel settings. Sirius satellite radio with a one-year complimentary subscription is standard on the lounge model.
Manual seat adjustments are easy to use. The seats had adequate lower lumbar support for my two-hour test drive. A tilt steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view. Steering wheel audio, cruise controls and Bluetooth interface minimize driver distraction. The lounge model comes with a USB port and 12-volt power outlet for recharging cell phones and plugging in an iPod.
Both front and rear passengers have access to cupholders, in the center console and on the floor behind the center console. A large glovebox provides closed storage inside the passenger compartment. The front doors also have small map pockets.
Getting into the back seats is not difficult, since the front seats slide forward and seatbacks also tilt forward. There’s enough legroom in back for small adults on short trips. Headroom is about the same as in front, due to the car’s flat roofline.
With the rear seats in place, the trunk has enough room for a small rollerboard or duffle bag. The rear seats fold flat in a 50/50 pattern to extend the cargo floor for larger items.
The Fiat 500 Cabrio comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, hill start assist, rear park assist, tire pressure monitoring, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. Fiat’s factory warranty includes three years of complimentary maintenance (up to 36,000 miles), and four years of roadside assistance.
Fiat builds the 500 Cabrio at its Toluca, Mexico assembly plant.
Likes: A fun, affordable convertible with appealing styling and excellent gas mileage.
Dislikes: Acceleration is on the soft side unless the driver engages the sport mode. When the top is fully retracted, visibility out the back is severely limited.
Base price: $23,500
As tested: $26,450
Horsepower: 101 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 98 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 27/32 mpg city/highway.
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