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Discussion Starter · #1 · did a huge Fiat 500 review

what do you guys think about their review?

As fortune would have it, the 2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio came to me for review one year to the day after I handed my vintage Fiat Spider convertible over to its new owner. That's right: I owned a Fiat, for 11 years. That might make me a Fiat expert. Or possibly just a moron.

Upon the hardtop 500's introduction, Kelsey Mays published a full review, which allows me to focus on the Cabrio convertible version and give my first impressions of the modern Fiat. See the two body styles compared.

I have my doubts about the 2012 Fiat 500, but I have no doubt about the Cabrio version: It isn't worth the extra $4,000 you'd pay for it.

Not a True Convertible
First off, the Cabrio isn't a true convertible. All its pillars are fixed, and the powered soft-top slides back along the roof's side rails, fan-folding, leaving the glass rear window raised when in its default open position. As you'd expect, occupants aren't as exposed to the open air as they would be in a full convertible. Pressing the roof button a second time runs the top down between the C-pillars and drops the rear window flat. This opens things up further, but it's best appreciated by backseat passengers.

To provide some background, when I briefly drove a hardtop Fiat 500, I struggled with the seating position. The driver's seat's bottom cushion has an uptilt in the front that I found uncomfortable, and like most cars nowadays there's no means of adjusting its tilt. It was particularly problematic because that car was a manual, and the cushion fought back against my leg when I operated the clutch. I'd hoped the automatic Cabrio test car would be more accommodating.

The 500c's seat was equally oddly pitched and awkward, and the only way I could achieve marginal comfort was by jacking the seat height lever as high as it would go. Even then, I sat with my arms straight out in front of me because the steering wheel doesn't telescope and, though it tilts, it doesn't come down as far as I needed. Having done my best, I then looked up to find the rearview mirror blocking my forward view. Down the seat went, along with whatever concessions the 500 had made for my comfort. I was then sitting with my elbows locked and my arms extended and parallel to the ground. But at least I could see again. Sort of.

Even when the top is raised, the side and rear pillars are quite thick, frustrating attempts to check blind spots over either shoulder. When the roof is lowered to its bottommost position, the folded top sits so high it blocks the rear view, both in the rearview mirror and when looking back directly. Someone of my height (6 feet tall) is arguably in the best position to see over the folded top, but as I explained, I couldn't sit as high as I wanted to without blocking the forward view.

As if the problem couldn't get worse, our test car had an optional navigation system in the form of a portable TomTom, whose cradle mounted into a port atop the dashboard, powering it. I like the idea of portables as factory or dealer options as an alternative to in-dash systems. They're cheaper ($400 in this case, which includes the integration), they can be shared among other cars, and they're easily updated or replaced. (Expensive in-dash systems can receive map updates, but the technology itself ages quickly, and the feature consistently depreciates in the used-car market faster than its host vehicle.)

Having established that … for the love of all that's holy, did I really need another impediment to seeing out of this car? The TomTom is down low and the rearview mirror is up high, and it feels like the A-Team has plated the car with steel in anticipation of a barrage of gunfire, leaving me just a slot to look through. You're better off buying a portable navigation unit separately and positioning it someplace reasonable with a suction-cup mount.

Do I Hate This Car?
Let me interrupt this tirade to express some of the 500c's positive aspects: It's small, and I'm a fan of small. (To emphasize, my discomfort in the 500 isn't about its size; it's about the lack of two features: a seat-cushion adjustment and a telescoping steering wheel. One of our shorter editors had no complaints.) You can turn a tight circle and park in small spaces, and the higher seating position (visibility issues notwithstanding) makes it easier to navigate tight spaces than it is in the Mini Cooper. Speaking of its main competitor, the 500's ride is much softer and more livable than the Cooper's, though I find the Mini's handling superior. The 500's higher center of gravity doesn't give it the Cooper's grounded dynamics. The Cabrio's roof-and-pillar structure provide a rigidity you seldom find in a full convertible, but the 500c's dynamics and limited power make it irrelevant.

Oh, right, I was listing the positive. The optional leather in our test car — the higher trim level, called Lounge — was beautiful, elevating and possibly outclassing the entire interior, with which I had other issues … but right now we're praising.

Many people love the 500's look. Admirers on sidewalks and in other cars expressed their appreciation. I hesitate to draw long-term conclusions based on this, however, because I've witnessed the same phenomenon with lots of cars, and it doesn't always represent staying power.

Cabrio Compromises
Characteristic of convertibles, the Cabrio weighs more than the hardtop, but in this case it's only by 53 pounds — mainly because it's not a full convertible, so less roof hardware and structural reinforcement is required. All the same, our 500c was none too quick. Being the Lounge trim level, it came standard with a six-speed automatic transmission, which is optional on the base trim level, called Pop. The 500c's 1.4-liter four-cylinder has its work cut out for it. While the entry-level 500 is no rocket to begin with, the automatic Cabrio Lounge takes more than 11 seconds to hit 60 mph.

Even worse, the transmission shifts harder than I've come to expect from a modern, electronically controlled automatic. It behaves a bit better in Sport mode, but that's mainly because it shifts less frequently, not less harshly, in comparable driving cycles. The more efficient option is the default Drive mode, which delivers an EPA-estimated 27/32 mpg city/highway, sacrificing 2 mpg highway versus the hardtop 500 automatic. The five-speed manual, available in the Pop trim level, provides the same mileage in either body style: 30/38 mpg.

The Cabrio sacrifices almost no cabin space to the hardtop, with 0.3 inches less front-seat headroom and 0.6 inches less backseat hip room. It even exceeds the hardtop's backseat headroom by more than an inch, but legroom is far from generous. This also affects how the 500 accommodates child-safety seats, as explained in the MotherProof Car Seat Check.

The cargo space doesn't come away unscathed. The Cabrio's trunk is 5.4 cubic feet, and though it has folding rear seats, like the hardtop, it can't compare to the 9.5 cubic feet behind the hatchback's backseat and the usability of a full liftgate.

The Sum of Its Flaws
Sometimes lots of little problems add up to one big red light, and in time the 500 Cabrio had me seeing red. In addition to my earlier complaints, the audio ports are in the glove compartment. That's a reasonable place for a USB/iPod connection, but if you use the analog jack, you have to close the door on the cord because there's no provision for passing it out. The plastic at the center of the steering wheels of both test cars had begun to wear and fog up after too-few months and miles. And I had a heck of a time telling the difference among the three buttons on the keyless remote — not a common problem.

Not 'Feelin' It'
I'm obviously not "feelin' it" with this car, as the kids say. I'm willing to entertain the possibility that I'm suffering an unlikely collection of personal annoyances with the 500 in general, but I don't see the Cabrio version's value for any buyer. It costs $4,000 more than the hardtop for what is essentially a panoramic sunroof. One downside is it doesn't provide the light of a panoramic glass moonroof unless you open it. The Mini Cooper Convertible does the same trick, opening only a couple of feet, but it can also be lowered completely, like a conventional ragtop. It costs $5,450 more than the base Cooper. In Fiat's defense, however, the 500 Cabrio is priced the same as the hardtop 2012 Cooper: $19,500. Minis aren't the affordable runabouts they once were.

As of this writing, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had crash-tested the 500 or 500c. Because it retains its roof rails, unlike a real convertible, the Cabrio has side curtain airbags just like the hardtop. There are seven airbags total, the odd one being a driver's knee airbag. Standard safety features include seven airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Click here for a full list of safety features.

Fiat 500 in the Market
The reviewer's philosophy is, "You like, you buy." We help you decide if a car is right for you, and whether anyone else buys it or not is irrelevant. I hope I've done that. As a onetime owner of a Fiat from the company's earlier run at the U.S. market, I'm compelled to register my skepticism about whether the Italian company will make a significant dent this time around, regardless of its association with a resurgent Chrysler Group. In the current market, the allure is unclear.

International automotive executives get so caught up in romanticizing iconic cars that sometimes they forget icons are geographically specific. The Volkswagen New Beetle owes much of its success to having been an icon in the U.S. Unlike the original Beetle, the Mini Cooper and Fiat Cinquecento (500) were "people's car" icons only overseas. Without nostalgia to lean on, cars have to inspire on their own merit.

The Mini Cooper has done so — first with style and then with a singular drivability. It succeeded in doing what the initially intriguing but terribly flawed Smart ForTwo failed to do: make shoppers into believers during the test drive — shoppers including men who might have seen the Mini as a car for women. Can the Fiat 500 cross that same bridge?

The 500's edge over the Cooper is a base price of $15,500, a realm Mini abandoned years ago. But how about the rest of the market? I believe the demand for small, efficient cars is overestimated. But people who do want small cars can now pay less for a subcompact that provides more space than the 500 and has comparable or better gas mileage. The Hyundai Accent hatchback, for example, starts at $14,595 and gets 30/40 mpg.

What advantages does that leave a car like the Fiat 500? The ability to park in small spaces? The styling statement? Can these attributes carry a car model? Even here, I have my doubts. The Mini Cooper's newness has faded, but I still find it cute, like a bulldog. I thought our "Espresso" brown 500c was about as cute as a potato bug. But that's one man's opinion.

Apart from the never-ending repairs my 1979 Fiat Spider demanded, I'm surprised by how much I miss it. We don't have a read on the 2012 Fiat 500's reliability yet, but it must be better than a Spider's was, even when it was new. That's good. But now that this latter-day Fiat convertible has left my hands, I don't miss it at all.

Vehicle Overview
Ever since June 2009, when Fiat took a controlling stake in Chrysler, it's been all but certain the Italian automaker would bring a version of its 500 to the U.S. It's finally here for 2012, and Chrysler plans to sell it at Fiat displays inside 130 participating Chrysler dealerships. Closer in length to the Mini Cooper than the Scion iQ or Smart ForTwo, the four-seat 500 competes with all three minicars.

Transmissions include a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Fiat calls the base trim Pop, with the Sport and Lounge serving as uplevel models. A cabrio version, dubbed 500c, comes in Pop and Lounge editions.

At 139.6 inches long, the two-door 500 hatchback measures 7 inches shorter than a Cooper. Although it's considerably longer than the iQ or ForTwo, the car's stubby profile looks more like them than the low-slung Mini. Up front, decorative strakes connect Fiat's all-caps logo with a pair of beady headlights, each one etched with the car's numeric "500" inside the bezel. In back, the 500's vertical taillights recall a London cab.

The Pop comes with 15-inch steel wheels, body-colored side moldings and chrome door handles. The Lounge and Sport have fog lights and alloy wheels — 15s on the Lounge and 16s on the Sport. The Sport also has unique bumpers and a larger grille. Its brakes have red-painted calipers, though their hardware remains the same.

Inside, there's an upright dash with a speedometer and information display inside a circular pod ahead of the steering wheel. A large trim panel ps the dash; it matches the car's exterior color. Levels of customization should be myriad: Fiat says shoppers will be able to choose from more than a dozen combinations of cabin colors, plus an array of interior accessories from Chrysler's Mopar customization division.

Standard features on the Pop include power windows and locks, remote entry, a CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, air conditioning and cruise control. Sport and Lounge models add a Bose stereo with USB input, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and upgraded seating fabric. The Lounge has automatic climate control and a fixed glass roof; heated leather seats and a retracting moonroof are optional. Many features standard on higher trims are optional on lower ones.

Under the Hood
The front-wheel-drive 500's 1.4-liter four-cylinder uses Fiat's MultiAir technology, which varies intake-valve lift, not just the valve timing. It's similar to BMW's Valvetronic and Nissan's VVEL. It offers 10 percent greater fuel efficiency and power, Fiat says. The engine makes 101 horsepower and 98 pounds-feet of torque and works through a five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional on the Pop and Sport; it's standard on the Lounge.

The 500 Sport has sport-tuned front and rear shocks; all three trims use an independent front and semi-independent rear suspension. The manual transmission has optimized gear ratios for American consumers, Fiat says, while the automatic is all-new for the 500. Premium fuel is recommended.

Seven airbags, including two-row side curtains and a driver's knee airbag, are standard. So are active head restraints, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.


The 500c sports a cloth top with various retraction settings, from a sunroof-like ceiling opening to a completely stowed accordion

perched over the trunk. The roof retracts with the touch of a button at speeds up to 60 mph, but unlike in most convertibles, it doesn't take the roof structure with it. That makes for more of a panoramic moonroof effect than a true open-air experience from the A-pillars back.

Thanks in part to the remaining ceiling structure, there is 70 percent less cowl shake in the 500c than in competing droptops like the Mini Cooper convertible, Fiat says. The 500c adds extra reinforcements above the windshield to make up some of the rigidity lost to a convertible top, and the windshield itself is slightly longer to conceal things. The hardtop 500's hatch has been replaced by a pop-up trunk compartment in the 500c, with luggage volume behind the rear seats reduced to just 5.4 cubic feet. The hardtop has 9.5 cubic feet.

Drivetrains remain identical. A five-speed manual is standard with the 500c Pop, while a six-speed automatic is optional on the Pop and standard on the Lounge.


It was inevitable that once Fiat assumed control of Chrysler, we'd see Fiat products back in the U.S. market sooner or later.

It turned out to be sooner, as the tiny Fiat 500 showed up early this year not at Chrysler dealers, but at dedicated Fiat dealers -- some of which also happen to sell Chryslers. To get a Fiat franchise, dealers had to agree to open a separate showroom for the Fiat, with a dedicated sales staff. Most Fiat dealers are doing that now, and the others must eventually. (By the way, Fiat dealerships are called "studios," which seems a bit precious.)

Fiat was requiring dealers to make a substantial investment not so much for the opportunity to sell the 500, but to sell future Fiat products that will arrive in the next decade or so. Fiat turned away far more dealers than it accepted, so even in a down economy, there was plenty of interest.

That Fiat is back at all may seem mildly remarkable to those old enough to remember the last time Fiat was here, selling always-interesting but problematic sporty cars in the 1970s and early 1980s. Rust, electrical problems and traditionally complicated Italian mechanicals earned Fiat the unfortunate "Fix It Again, Tony" nickname. What would Fiat stand for this time around?

Judging from the 500, it could be something much more complimentary. The original 500 debuted in 1957, and like the British Mini Cooper, the 500 developed a loyal and vocal fan club. Essentially following in the Mini's footsteps in the U.S., Fiat is hoping the 500 will capture younger buyers looking for something fun and frugal.

And now, Fiat sweetens the pot with the 500c, with "c" standing for cabriolet, or convertible. But rather than make the 500c a traditional convertible, Fiat retained a narrow portion of the roof above both doors, and the cloth top slides back at the touch of a button, folding just above the rear hatch like an accordion. Consequently it doesn't offer the entire, traditional top-down experience, but having the roof rails in place adds to safety and frame rigidity. And Fiat even beefed up the body to add even more stiffness. It all works very well.

Sliding the top back can be done in three stages – just enough so the opening is like a sunroof; or a little more, so the back seat is also in the sun, or all the way, which means the accordion-fold entirely obscures the rear-view mirror, which is unnerving. When the top is all the way down it also prevents you from opening the small rear hatch, a problem Fiat solved by making the exterior access switch for the rear hatch also activate the top, which automatically moves up enough to let you open the hatch lid. Unfortunately, once you do, there's only 5.4 cubic feet of room back there. At least you can use the rear seat for cargo, because odds are no actual normal-sized human can fit back there.

The 500c comes in two models: The Pop, which starts at $19,500, and the Lounge, which offers a lot more standard equipment such as a six-speed automatic transmission, fog lights, a Bose sound system with Sirius satellite radio and an alarm for the starting price of $23,500. The test car was a Lounge, which was priced at $26,050 after the addition of leather uphostery, heated seats and a couple of other options.

The 500c is a great-looking car inside and out, and we received a startling number of positive comments at gas stations, toll booths and grocery stores, just as we did when the Mini was first re-introduced. But the more expensive Mini is a better car, and much more fun to drive. The Fiat has a tiny 1.4-liter, 101-horsepower four-cylinder engine, which is adequate but not much more, despite the hard-working automatic transmission's efforts to maximize the power that's there. Handling is a little stiff, the ride is choppy – this car is, after all, seven inches shorter than a Mini Cooper convertible – but it is never intolerable. Overall quality seems quite good. The 500c is built in the same Mexican plant that used to crank out Chrysler PT Cruisers, and the engine comes from a Chrysler plant in Michigan.

At under $20,000, the base 500c is the cheapest convertible on the market with four seats, and is well worth the money. Optioned out at over $26,000, our 500c is outclassed by the Mini convertible, which starts at about $25,500. That said, Fiat should sell a lot of its 500 and 500c models to customers looking for something a little different – it's little, alright, and it's certainly different.

2012 Fiat 500C

Base price: $19,500

Price as tested: $26,050

EPA rating: 27 miles per gallon city driving, 32 mpg highway

Engine: 1.4-liter, 101-horsepower four-cylinder

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Length: 139.6 inches

Wheelbase: 90.6 inches

In a nutshell: Lots of fun to look at, less fun to drive


NEW YORK — Surprisingly few people noticed the flock of Fiat 500 Cabriolets buzzing through Manhattan's SoHo district during the car's media introduction this month. Blame it on the car-averse, seen-it-all nature of most New Yorkers. But take the cute 500 to any other American town and it'll stick out like a fire hydrant in the middle of the Antarctic. It's way out of its element, but you might end up wanting one.

Fiat thinks the 500 can lure a new generation of singles and young couples who lapped up Volkswagen New Beetles and Mini Coopers. After a 27-year absence, Fiat has barely carved a name here — the first of four Massachusetts dealers opened in March — but this stubby car has a good chance. While mammoth crossovers and SUVs pack our roads, Americans have always found a soft spot for European hatchbacks with mildly zany personalities, no matter the price of gas.

And before anyone gets smart on me, know that Fiat isn't repeating the American failure of the ForTwo microcar. Despite being less than 12 feet long and as wide as my arm p, the 500 sports another cylinder, two more seatbelts, and the actual semblance of an automobile.

The 500 Cabriolet is identical to the new hardtop, save for a spiffy, folding curtain that slides along the side rails like the original 1957 "Cinquecento." This design keeps the pillars and roof structure intact so the body doesn't flex and rattle. With the top back and the windows lowered, the Fiat looks like a slim handbag with big grab handles. So it's a safe idea not to bring the 500C within 500 feet of Fenway Park, or else you'll find a bunch of drunks pitching it off the curb.

The electric top has preset stop points; two easy buttons above the rear view mirror let the driver open the roof as much or as little as desired. Where Porsche Boxster drivers panic and pull over for dark clouds, Fiat owners can seal the roof in seconds at up to 60 mph. Through the foggy, rain-soaked Taconic Parkway north of the city — and the patchy, unpredictable storms hitting the Northeast all May — this proved to be an incredible advantage no other convertible can match.

A folding deflector screen on the edge of the windshield — like the fancy metal flap on the Mercedes E Cabriolet — minimizes buffeting at higher speeds, and the thick, lined fabric quiets the interior without exposing any of the top's bars and hinges. The only hard time you'll have is seeing out back with the roof fully retracted, since the glass rear window has to fold accordion-style behind the seats.

That Fiat has nearly perfected this power top speaks volumes about the car's value for its $20,000 base price. Bluetooth, rear parking sensors, trip computer, power windows, heated mirrors, and locks come standard. My Pop trim was fitted with 15-inch alloy wheels, red checkered body graphics, and a Bose audio system with satellite radio for $22,149 with destination. Sure, it's a big price for a small car, but if that's your game, I've got an ugly Nissan Versa hatch with your name on it.

While one of the lightest new vehicles on sale, the 500 packs the weight where it counts. Pillars are thick and doors slam with a reassuring "thump." A driver's knee airbag, as well as side curtain airbags, come standard. All the switchgear — and the five-speed manual shifter — feels substantial. Unfortunately, the fuel-efficient manual (rated at 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway) isn't available on the more expensive Lounge trim, which comes with a six-speed automatic and a draining 27/32 EPA rating.

The two-tone seats, with their circular headrests, are less fun to sit in than to look at. Even with a height adjustment for the driver, the seating position is too tall, and there is little side bolstering and no lumbar support. Hard plastics and the placement of window switches on the dash mar the attractive interior, and while some drivers may get confused with the concentric gauges (the tach is placed within the speedometer), it's a far more livable style than the Mini's Salvador Dali-inspired cockpit.

But the 500 is also unlike the Mini where it really counts: performance. There's only 101 horsepower and 98 lb.-ft. under the Fiat's belt, and while this is acceptable around the city, it's a gear-changing prayer on the highway and on winding back roads. Any incline, no matter how slight, strains this 1.4-liter motor, so quite often it's best to run in fourth gear and forget fuel economy. The skinny tires and slow steering don't match the Fiat's dart-like profile, either. A sportier Abarth version with about 170 horsepower is due next year. But all the 500 needs to feel safer on faster roads is about 30 more ponies.

Look for the 500 Cabriolet — and more Fiat dealers — to arrive in June.

1,007 Posts
He's in the distinct minority.

824 Posts
Ok, the guy's bitchin' about having a problem with the key fob. Seriously? There's nit-picking, then there's let-me-find-every-last-thing-I-can-trash-about-this-car. That's like complaining that power window button is too hard to push or the glass isn't glassy enough. Geez.

Reviews like that tell me that the person reviewing it either has an ax to grind or they're, well, an idiot. With the tone of the review, right from the start ("it's not a true convertible"), I'm guessing a mix of about 60% ax grinder and 40% idiot.
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