The drop-top Fiat 500C offers cute styling, drivability and low running costs to rival the MINI Convertible

Glance at the Fiat 500C, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it looks identical to its hatchback sibling. But look a little closer and you’ll spot the addition of a fabric roof. Like the fifties original, the newcomer isn’t a conventional convertible, but instead uses a full-length canvas sunroof that stretches from the top of the windscreen to the tailgate. Familiar trim levels Pop and luxurious Lounge make up the heart of the range, and there’s a range of costly special editions to choose from. As usual, you car can be specified with a wide-range of graphics too.

Our pick: 875cc TwinAir Lounge

Styling

With so few modifications to the exterior, the Fiat 500C shares the same cute retro-inspired looks as the standard 500. You can choose from black, red or ivory fabric for the electrically retracting roof. Add that to a wide range of paint choices and the huge spectrum of custom decals and graphics and that means there’s thousands of ways you can personalise this little cabriolet. The cabin is identical to the standard car and features the same wide choice of trim colours and options. The only downside to the 500C’s look is that with the hood back the fabric sits stacked above the boot lid, which looks a little ungainly.

Driving and Performance

With the roof in place, the 500C driving experience is identical to that of the hatchback. With so much of the original bodywork left in place, the Italian barely suffers from scuttle shake, even over rough surfaces. The steering is direct and the car’s small dimensions result in great agility, particularly around town. While it’s not as fun to drive as a MINI Convertible, the Fiat will still bring a smile to your face, particularly when the roof is stowed and the sun is shining. There’s the same choice of 875cc TwinAir, 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines, plus the smooth 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel.

MPG and running costs

The Fiat 500C gets the same engine line-up as the standard 500 and all cars get stop-start as standard. The award-winning turbocharged 875cc TwinAir offers spirited performance and emits just 95g/km, so it qualifies for a free tax disc and is exempt from the London Congestion Charge. However, if you drive it hard you won’t get close to the claimed economy figures. With effortless torque the MultiJet diesel has a combined economy of 72.4mpg and emits just 104g/km. The 500C is around £3,000 more than the equivalent hatchback model, so there’s a premium to pay for that fresh air, but the 500C is still cheaper than a MINI Convertible.

Practicality

Unlike lots of small cabriolets, the 500C is a genuine four-seater, and despite its tight dimensions you get a decent amount of space – although taller adults will find conditions in the back a little cramped. Noise insulation is excellent with the hood up, while the roof can be lowered at speeds of up to 37mph. But rear visibility is poor whether the soft top is up or down. At least luggage capacity is reasonable at 185 litres, which is identical to the hatchback. You can also fold the rear seats and slot long loads under the stacked roof fabric.

Safety and reliability

Like the hatchback, the Fiat 500C gets no fewer than eight airbags and includes a knee airbag. Electronic stability control isn’t standard across all models, but you do get anti-submarining front seats, ISOFIX and inertia reel rear seat belts. The rear window is glass and is heated, while Xenon lights feature on the options list. Given the poor rear visibility, it’s a shame parking sensors are only optional on lower trims. All cars get a space saver spare wheel. Fiat finished a poor 32nd out of 35 in our 2011 Driver Power survey.

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