2012 Fiat 500c Road Test Review

Jon Rosner - CAP staff
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Should you wear a matching bright red baseball cap while driving a bright red Fiat 500c with the top down? Without a doubt, yes. The shape of the body gives me a sense of the rather extroverted playfulness of design shared with previous generations. Small on the outside, but big on the inside. Fiats just like this one ruled the roads in Europe from the 1950s through the 1970s. A simple formula: room for four people and four big bags of groceries, frugal cost of operations, with personality, flair and style by the shed-load. The seats had to be comfortable. The suspension had to be compliant over the worst potholed roads while handling had to be tenacious. It was a tall order then, and a tall order now.

The 2012 Fiat 500c hits those requirements square on. The wheels stretch out to each corner and the body appears simply draped over the passenger area. Park the 500c next to another car and you realize just how tall it is. It simply towers over your typical sedan. This makes entry and exit easy with zero chance of banging your head on anything. Fact is that you look down - into other cars - in traffic. The downside? The drag coefficient comes in at 0.38, reducing gas mileage some at speed.

The interior is loaded to the gills with hard plastic, but it is cheeky, fashionably modern and fun. With the top up the 500c offers plenty of elbowroom, hip room, headroom and great cozy seats. The rear is tighter, with more vertical seats, but the pressing issue was that the headrests hit everyone who sat there right in the back of the neck and rendered the back seats useless for my prospective rear passengers. Roll the top back and the 500c came into its own. The car simply exuded panache and personality.

Set your seat and mirrors, blip the go-pedal and snick the black 8-ball into gear. The shifter feels a little bit "bwang" rubbery at first, but the throttle response in tasty, smooth and progressive. Holding 30 in a 30 km/h school zone is cake. That off-camber corner with the bump in the middle reveals a bit of predictable body roll and the tenacious grip of the 185/55R15s on cast aluminum wheels. Definite "wheeeee factor!" Ear-to-ear grin plastered on the driver's face.

Dodging between the randomly parked cars at the local post office demonstrated that the 500c has an incredible turning radius of 9.3 metres. AND that it fits into spaces that the guy on the big Harley passed up. At 354 centimetres the Fiat 500c is on average about 30 cm shorter than most of the small cars out there ~ definitely an advantage when parking is at a premium.

The 1.4-litre 16-valve engine is a marvel of technological innovation. It utilizes the same type of hydraulic fluid control to open and close the valves as the Formula 1 racers that can spin to 18,000 rpm. True, the engine only offers 101 horses at 6,500 rpm maxing out at 6,900 rpm, with "only" 98 pound feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. BUT the variable valve system makes most of this power available throughout the engine range. The net yield is that you have enough torque to make this a fun car to drive without having to stir the box excessively to keep it in the power band's "sweet spot."

If you've driven the Mini or any other car that offers "run-flat" tires then you know that potholes and speed bumps can be a jarring experience. At 1,096 kilos with the five-speed manual or 1,127 with the six-speed automatic, the 500c just seems to be able to zing through, over or around any of these with grace, simply gliding. Mind you, the bumps are there, you can still feel them, but kidney belts and Pepto-Bismol are not required. Automotive Journalists are trained to NOT expect a comfortable and stable ride from a short wheelbase (205 cm) vehicle, and when it happens it is quite the revelation. Clearly the 500c thrives on being flung about and enjoys dancing on just about anything that can remotely be called a road.

The 500c proved to be quite the frugal sipper of regular petrol, too. The U.S. EPA says fuel economy equals the metric equivalent of 7.8/6.2-L/100km with the five-speed and 8.7/7.3 with the automatic. We saw a very respectable 7.3 from the 40-litre tank in spite of a bit of enthusiastic thrashing.

This car is the polar opposite of the truly boring Toyota Corolla and the newly banal Honda Civic.

If you go back to back with the Mini equivalents, the lower centre of gravity and stiffer ride will see the Mini outgun the 500 almost every time. But you pay the price for that with a significantly lower level of comfort and ease on the road, as the Minis command your attention where the 500s don't require it.

Saucy, spicy, warm in character, relentlessly upbeat with an utter disdain for taking life too seriously, the Fiat 500c is simply a pleasure to drive.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Convertible, Fiat, 2012, 500C, $10,000 - $19,999, Subcompact,

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