Fiat 500c: First Drive
The Italians are known for their excellent treatment of bambinos. I experienced the national fascination with babies when I traveled with my then 6 month old to Italy two years ago. I also drove a Fiat on that trip, and gained an appreciation for it’s city-slicker attributes in mama mia land– the ability to squeeze and weave anywhere. Then presto — Fiat invests in Chrysler, and next thing you know, I’m driving the newest incubation of the Fiat/Chrysler fusion in Manhattan.
When I reflect on my brief experience driving the Fiat 500c on Friday, I think hot in the city. The sprite-like cabrio, Italian for convertible if you must, made it’s press debut in New York City last week. The spunky design brightened up the drab streets, weighed down by a solid week of May showers. The compact curves fit perfectly in Soho surroundings, where the rumbly streets remind me of Genoa and other Italian urban scapes. Design is a product of form and function, but also of culture, and this is the 500c’s greatest strength.
In fact, stormy weather boded well for the 500c’s finer qualities — what I like to think of as the cup holder half full. With a push of the button, at speeds of up 50 mph, the top reclines to half mast. This mean two women can leave their hair down with minor ruffles. (Men, this is an important point to remember, the next time you pick up a hot date and destroy her blow out as you punch the gas.) This means, the windows can stay down, and you can actually have a conversation. This means that you can take your chances with a few sprinkles without having to pull over on a busy street to frantically get the top up. This means your Fiat 500c looks good on the avenue. Ciao, bella!
To experience, the full-on cabrio effect, keep pushing that button, while in motion or at a stand still, and you’re out in the open in 15 seconds. When the weather clears and New Yorkers are on the streets, you get to interact with the surroundings, which makes for the best kind of city driving experience. I enjoyed the ride into cute towns along the drive north on the Hudson in my metaphorically cute Fiat. And when that rain comes, the Fiat 500c is still made up of substance, with interior noise at a low. Nice engineering here, Chrysler.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the attributes of Italian design lately, like this recent piece here. The hallmarks of bright color patterns and styling on the interior of the Fiat 500c carry over. The dash looks modern, as if it jumped out an Alessi catalog. The Fiat comes in a wide color palette to fit in with the current rage of car customization, with literally thousands of combos to choose from in your menu.
However, I must caution if you’re looking for power and handling prowess, you get what you pay for in this department with a 101-HP 1.4-liter infused engine. Priced under $20,000, it’s a lower sticker than the Mini, but it’s also not quite as sophisticated in longer hauls, particularly in seat comfort and steering. Twisties are a bit of a challenge, and full throttle doesn’t get you to warp speed necessary for passing yellow cabs on the West Side Highway. What it does get you is mileage even with a few extra pounds — 30 mpg city/38 highway for the manual, and 27/32 for the automatic — holla! Just like Italy, you also can squeeze the cabrio virtually anywhere.
As usual in New York life, what I was short on was time. I hopped on a train in Rhinecliff and bought my ticket to make it back in time for pre-school pickup in Brooklyn. Searching for a spot to park a Grand Cherokee, I wished I was still driving the 500c, a fun way to save money, and the essential commodity — time.
The unfortunate aspect of my early departure meant that I missed out on driving the manual transmission, and so for more expansive take on the 500c ride and handling, read what these guys have to say about the Fiat 500c:
Ray Wert braved the elements for Jalopnik
and David Zenlea for Automobile Magazine.