by Roger Biermann
Design and style have always been the Fiat 500's greatest advantage over its rivaling subcompact alternatives, so why not add even more flair and feature the range with an available convertible soft-top. Introducing the Fiat 500 Cabrio, or the 500C, which features the classic 500 with an innovative three-position power-sliding retractable soft top, adding $1,495 to the base MSRP of each trim from the standard 500 range. Under the hood, the entire 500 range, except for the Abarth, keeps its 1.4-liter four-cylinder MultiAir turbocharged engine from last year, generating 135 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all trims with a six-speed automatic available. Will compounding on the Fiat's iconic retro-Italian styling keep the microcar on par with its rivals, or will its appeal slowly falter with its lack of practicality and performance?
This year the 500 range has been elevated with 16-inch wheels over the previous edition's standard 15-inch wheels and has received some light body-color front and rear fascia restyling along with a handful of new interior and exterior color options. To complement the exhaust system and performance brakes, the suspension has been sport-tuned to enhance maneuverability and handling on the FWD micro-hatch within city streets. An updated variation of the 1975 Retro Edition is also available for the MY19 line-up, the Cabrio getting a black soft-top and unique interior and exterior styling cues. The 500 Cabrio models all come standard with rear park assist systems to mitigate the visibility issues presented with the soft-top.
The retractable power-folding soft-top is designed with a dual-layer cloth that runs between the roofing frames of the 500C, and is available in three colors, Bordeaux, Beige and Nero (Black). The body has been given a more aggressive lower front and rear fascia design, and front fog lamps.
Maintaining its minuscule stature the 500C spans only 139.6 inches in length and a mere 64.1 inches in overall body width. It stands at 59.8 in. in height with a wheelbase of 90.6 in. and a running ground clearance of 4.6 in. The Cabrio-styled 500 models are slightly heavier than the hatchback models, with the manual transmission models weighing 2,424 pounds and the automatic variations at 2,511 lbs.
The Pop and Lounge trims receive a color palette comprising of 11 options including Bianco White Ice, Brillante Red, Celeste Blu, Colosseo Gray, Luminosa Orange, Mezzanotte Blue Pearl, Oliva Green Pearl, Perla White Tri-Coat, and Vesuvio Black Pearl. The 1957 Retro Edition trim has three specific color options of Celeste Blu, Verde Chiaro, and Bianco White Ice.
A 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, producing 135 hp and 150 lb-ft torque, arrives standard on all the 500C trims, favored for its passing power and acceleration. All trims are also stock front-wheel-drive with a five-speed manual gearbox and an optional six-speed automatic gearbox. The Fiat 500's new turbocharged engine is best suited to the manual transmission which helps mitigate the minor bouts of turbo lag experienced under throttle application and doesn't exhibit the listless shift changes of the automatic. Its high levels of torque make the 500C a great city slicker, but its lack of power renders it inefficient at highway speeds.
Fiat has improved the 500C from last year with enhanced handling systems including the sport-tuned suspension and performance brakes. Combined with its small nature the 500 is highly maneuverable, easy to park, and excels at handling within the city environment. That considered, the suspension and short wheelbase make for an uncomfortable ride, barely absorbing even minor abrasions and uneven road surfaces, only getting worse at higher speeds. The Cabrio is noisy and feels tall and top-heavy, making for slow turns and the need for cautious driving.
The turbocharged engine has improved passing power and acceleration but exhibits bouts of turbo lag off-the-line and demands a lot of revs for sufficient power. In terms of steering, road-feel is non-communicative, but, along with the clutch, is light and responsive. All-in-all the 500C should be treated as a stylish luxury-mobile, best suited to terse city streets and for short commutes.
Considering the Fiat 500C's minuscule dimensions and small engine, fuel efficiency is relatively disappointing, especially when compared to its rivals. The better performing five-speed manual transmission earns EPA estimates of 28/33/30 mpg in city/highway/combined driving cycles respectively with the six-speed automatic earning 24/32/27 mpg respectively. With a fuel tank capacity of 10.5 gallons, the 500C can get up to 315 miles of range in mixed driving conditions with the five-speed manual transmission and 283.5 miles with the six-speed automatic, using only premium fuel to suit the turbocharged engine. Its closest rivals sharing similar specifications and falling into the same price range prove superior in fuel economy, with the Honda Fit XL earning 33/40/36 mpg with the CVT-transmission and the 2019 Mini Cooper Hardtop earning 28/38/32 mpg with the six-speed manual.
Seating capacity is limited to four persons, space up front is ample but seating in the rear is minimal. The convertible soft-top provides more headroom for rear passengers but legroom remains inadequate for adults, rendering the rear seats suitable only as an expansion to the trunk for additional storage space or for seating small children. Steering and seating adjustability are limited, minimizing comfort and suitable positioning behind the wheel and pedals.
The Cabrio's trunk is extremely limited and barely useable, measuring a measly 5.4 cubic feet, half that of the hatchback variation, providing space equivalent to that of a duffel bag, and only accessible by a tiny, low-mounted hatch. The rear seats are 50/50-split foldable expanding trunk space to an extent, possibly travel luggage space for two. Due to the limited trunk space, the 500C doesn't receive a spare tire.
Not much more is offered in terms of cargo space, with only a reasonably spacious glovebox. Other compartments are however minimal, comprising of shallow door panel pockets, tiny cupholders, and seat-back map pockets behind the front seats.
Standard features with the 500C include keyless locking and unlocking, power windows and door locks, height adjustable driver and passenger seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-adjustable steering wheel with radio controls, hill-start assist, cruise control, air conditioning, a rearview backup camera, and most notably, rear parking sensors as standard. Moving up from the Pop trim to the Lounge and 1957 Retro Edition, standard features are supplemented with an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic climate control, heated front seats, and leather upholstery. The 500 Cabrio's power-operated convertible soft-top features three opening positions from closed to slightly open to fully dropped, greatly limiting rearward visibility in the latter position.
The infotainment system in the 500C is nothing to brag about, featuring basic connectivity and limited tech functionality. The five-inch touchscreen features the outdated Uconnect three infotainment interface hooked up to a six-speaker Alpine audio system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality are not supported by the system, which is disappointing considering the fun and youthful appeal of the car, but includes a one-year trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. Integrated voice command and Bluetooth are supported and the media hub features an auxiliary port and two USB ports that enable device integration and charging. Optional infotainment packages include a navigation and satellite group and a Beats premium audio system group with seven speakers including an eight-inch subwoofer.
For 2019 there have been no complaints recorded and no recalls for the Fiat 500C, with the 2016 derivatives being the latest subjected to recalls. J.D. Power has estimated a class average score of three out of five in predicted reliability for the 2019 500C, making it fairly more reliable than its older models. Fiat has included a four-year/50,000-mile basic and powertrain warranty along with four years roadside assistance with the purchase of the 500C.
With only limited crash tests performed by the NHTSA, no overall rating has been determined for the 500C. The frontal crash and rollover resistance evaluations were concluded, in which the 500C earned four stars in both. The IIHS awarded the 500C with the highest score of Good in most metrics, other than in the small front overlap test in which it scored Poor.
If unrivaled style is the number one priority on your list, then the Fiat 500C's iconic retro-Italian design now topped off with a classy convertible soft-top is going to be your best option in the subcompact offering. That is, however, all of what the 500C has to offer, falling short in both performance and practicality compared to its rivals. It is the 500C's small size and light weight dimensions that make it such an excellent city vehicle, granting it exemplary handling dynamics and maneuverability, but at the same time starving it of comfort and practicality in its limited space. With the same size and handling advantages as the 500C, the two-door Mini Cooper Convertible delivers more power than the Fiat and offers far superior interior quality and features. The 500C is not the best vehicle in its class, but its endearing character will make occupants feel that it is.
Equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission the base 500 Cabrio is available at a starting MSRP of $17,740, with both the Lounge and 1957 Retro Edition carrying a starting MSRP of $21,240. Prices have increased slightly from last year as a result of the new turbocharged engine. For an additional $995 the 500C can be outfitted with a six-speed automatic transmission. All prices are excluding tax, registration, licensing, and a destination charge of $1,495.
Taking into account the general discomfort offered by the 500C, opting for the Lounge or 1957 Retro Edition with the additional comfort features makes sense. These comfort features include leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, and air conditioning with automatic temperature controls. The Lounge and 1957 Retro Edition differ only cosmetically to one another so either trim can be selected based on subjective appreciation. With the styling and design focus of the 1957 Retro Edition though, selection based on looks make it a winner. That being said, opting for the higher level trims does come at a higher price, and considering the very basic advancement in features from the base trim and equivalent performance specs throughout, you wouldn't be missing much settling for the 500C Pop. Standard features at the base-level include 16-inch aluminum wheels and bi-function halogen projector headlamps, while on the inside the Pop offers cloth seats, air conditioning, cruise control, and a five-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
What makes the 2019 Mini Cooper Convertible such a considerable rival to the 500C is, next to its also miniature size and retro-European styling, it's one of the only alternative microcar convertibles available. The more expensive Mini does, however, offer a lot more than the 500C, holding appreciable features such as Apple CarPlay, a bigger 8.8-inch touchscreen, wireless device charging, and a higher-quality 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. Its premium quality cabin is set up with high-end materials, and it's driving dynamics are far sportier and superior to that of the 500C. Though also limited in passenger and storage space the Mini Cooper Convertible is only marginally more expensive and offers better fuel efficiency and reliability scores than the 500C, making it the better choice of the two.
If practicality is higher on your list than style, then the less-likable MPV-ish styling of the Honda Fit won't be a concern with its class-leading comfort and interior space. The Honda features far more storage capacity with its larger trunk and magic back seats that offer a range of configurations geared towards practicality and storage. The Fiat does hold slightly more power than the Honda's 130 horsepower engine but is again beaten in terms of fuel economy with the Honda also leading in its class. The Honda Fit is not available as a convertible, however, only receiving a moonroof in its upper-level trims. The 500C may offer more fun and style, but the Honda Fit delivers superior benefits overall, particularly in practicality and efficiency.