Stock photos courtesy of Chrysler Group Media Relations

Back in January, we brought you a first drive of the 2012 Fiat 500, which we found to be a respectable cute-commuter entry in the subcompact market. Since then, Fiat’s studios (their word for dealerships) have been popping up left and right, and to further augment their product lineup after a 27-year hiatus in the United States, they’ve brought out their first Cinquecento variant, the Cabrio–or in Fiat’s own shorthand, the 500c.

Chrysler nomenclature allusions aside, the 500c arrives pretty much as expected. It’s still cute, it’s still tiny, and it’s still a little pokey when compared to your average commuter car. But when placed in its natural environment, in this case an urban or developed suburban area with reliable sunshine, it works.

So, what’s different? Not much, as it turns out. Unlike most coupes that have been converted to a soft top, the 500c retains almost everything we already knew and liked about the base car. The most important exception is the trim structure. For the time being, the Cabrio is only available in Fiat’s “Pop” and “Lounge” trims, which if you remember from earlier reviews, are the comfort and convenience models. Only the “Pop” offers a 5-Speed manual option, and neither offer’s the “Sport” model’s performance-tuned suspension or tire/wheel package. If you’re looking for a drop-top alternative to the sporty drive of the base Mini Cooper, you’re out of luck here.

On the good news front though, Fiat has done two things that set the 500c apart from most other convertibles. First off, they haven’t ruined the roofline. In profile, you’d have to look closely to tell the 500 and 500c apart. That’s because the ragtop is integrated into the roof rails. The benefits are threefold. First, this is a nod to nostalgia; the classic Cinquecento Cabriolet was executed the same way. Second, it promotes greater natural chassis rigidity than a traditional chopped roof, meaning the 500c gained very little weight in chassis bracing compared to the base car. And third, this makes the recessed, low-profile roof far more versatile and easy to live with than most conventional designs.

Not convinced? Let me put it this way: How many convertibles do you know of that feature a soft-top roof that can be retracted at any speed up to 50 miles per hour? How many can you list with acoustic properties that rival their fixed-roof equivalents without significant weight gains?  How many seamlessly integrate a hatchback design with a soft top and a usable trunk area without sacrificing rear headroom?

And how many cars on your list start under $20k? Feel free to leave your homework in the comments.

All in all, the 500c does exactly what we expected of it. And while the lack of a “Sport” model is disappointing, it’s clear that the Cabrio is not intended for the corner carvers among us. That’s fine. We still have the Abarth to look forward to.

The 500c was provided by Fiat as part of a press association event which the author attended.

               

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Byron Hurd

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