Fiat 500C Convertible (2009 - ) Expert review
Read the Fiat 500C convertible (2009 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.
- Open-air motoring
- Easy to drive and manoeuvre
- Cheap to run
- Restricted rear visibility
- Not that great to drive
- Limited rear space
At a glance
Unlike some drop-tops which look ungainly with the roof up, the Fiat 500C is still a car that will be bought for its style. It’s not a convertible in the same way as the Peugeot 207CC or even the Mini Convertible. . With them, you drop the roof and windows and above you, there’s nothing but sky. The Fiat’s assembly, though, is more like a massive sunroof that stretches back to the rear window, which means with the roof up, it retains the overall shape of the hugely popular hatchback. It can, however, look a little ungainly with the roof down, as the whole thing folds up onto the back of the car where you’d expect the parcel shelf to be.
The 500C’s cabin is every bit as style-led as the exterior. It’s all very neat and simple in there, with the odd flash of colour adding even more appeal. The instrument cluster features a rev counter around the outside, with a speedo inside it and the trip computer in the centre. On the move it’s as though the speedo needle is chasing the rev counter. The main dashboard fascia is colour-coded with the bodywork and stretches from door to door, but some of the materials that surround it are a little less appealing. Ergonomically, it’s pretty good, with big, chunky switches placed exactly where you’d expect them to be. The only slight oddity is that the electric window switches are on the centre console rather than the door cards.
The 500C’s fixed roof pillars mean that, roof up, it’s no worse for passengers than the hatchback. Trouble is, the hatch is a little limited for space as well, particularly in the back. Rear headroom is particularly tight, and adults won’t want to stay there for more than a few minutes at a time. Things become more compromised with the roof down. Your rear visibility is severely reduced, and those in the back will feel a fair amount of wind buffeting. At 182 litres, the boot isn’t much smaller than the hatchback’s, but it’s accessed through a much narrower opening that limits its usability.
Ride and handling
The fact that Fiat hasn’t gone for a traditional soft top means that there’s less chassis flex on bumpy roads than you’ll feel in some rivals. However, the fixed-roof 500 is hardly the last word in dynamic prowess, and the same is true here. There’s still a fair amount of body roll in bends and the ride still feels rather clumsy. Some may think that the steering is too light, but it’s great for driving around town, making tight manoeuvres easy. And, there’s a City mode that makes it even lighter at low speeds. The Abarth hot hatch version has much firmer suspension than the mainstream versions, but it’s uncomfortably firm and still allows a disconcerting amount of body movement. The even-more-powerful 595 versions have an uprated Abarth suspension, but we haven’t driven those yet.
Fiat offers mainstream 500Cs with a choice of two petrol engines and one diesel, and our favourite is the most basic, the 1.2-litre petrol unit. Although it’s the slowest on paper, it’s well suited to the urban crawl, offering more low-down power than its 68bhp might suggest. Beyond that, it’s also up to sitting in the outside lane of a motorway for hours on end. There’s no doubt that the 0.9-litre Twinair petrol engine provides useful extra performance, but the lack of refinement as it goes about its business puts us off. The most flexible engine is the 1.3 Multijet diesel, which has bags of pull at low revs and gives strong performance in the real world. However, it’s significantly dearer to buy than the 1.2, and we can’t justify the extra expense. The Abarth hot hatch versions have turbocharged 1.4 petrol engines, giving 133bhp in standard form and 158bhp in the 595 versions. We haven’t driven the 595, but even the standard Abarth is plenty quick enough.
Buyers of the 500C can expect the same strong used values that the standard 500 enjoys, but the convertible does cost a little more to buy. When fitted with the standard manual gearbox, the 1.2 petrol manages 58.9mpg, while CO2 emissions sit at 113g/km. The Twinair petrol returns 70.6mpg and emits 92g/km, which means it qualifies for no-cost road tax. So does the diesel, and it’ll also return an impressive claimed average of 76.3mpg. The Abarth versions will be pricier to run with fuel economy of 43.5mpg. Insurance groups are low (on every model bar the Abarths), and servicing is every two years or 18,000 miles.
The 500C shares many components with the Fiat Panda, the latest incarnation of which has proved to be fairly reliable so far. Figures from Warranty Direct have also shown that the 500 hatchback has performed reasonably well, and customer reviews of our website paint a very favourable picture. However, a couple of the interior panels feel a little bit flimsy in their quality and the three-year warranty looks a little mean compared with the longer arrangements that rival manufacturers provide.
Although the 500C hasn’t been specifically tested by Euro NCAP, the hatchback has, and has achieved the full five-star rating. However, the test was carried out in 2007 and the tests became much harder in 2009, so it’s possible that the car wouldn’t achieve such a high rating were it to be tested now. Standard safety kit includes front, side and curtain airbags, plus another ‘bag to protect the driver’s knees. However, stability control isn’t standard on any version except the Abarth.
The mainstream 500C line-up is comprised of four trim levels: Pop, Colour Therapy, Lounge and S. Pop models get remote central locking, air-con and electric windows and mirrors, but alloy wheels are extra. Colour Therapy models come with a ‘Pool Ball’ gear knob, white door-mirror covers and five bespoke paint colours. Lounge trim adds Bluetooth and USB connectivity, dual-zone climate control, chrome trims, fog lights, alloy wheels, rear parking sensors and leather highlights in the cabin. Top-of-the-range S models get dark-tinted windows, a sporty leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloys and foglights. Then there are the Abarth models, which look even sportier. Mind you, when you’re buying a 500, personalisation is the key, and if you buy one, you’ll be actively encouraged to choose from the extensive range of options and accessories.
If you do most of your driving in the city and are after a style-led alternative to the usual fare, then the 500C makes sense, especially if you want to feel the wind in your hair. However, it’s not great out of town as the ride and handling are disappointing and the engines are thrashy when worked hard. .