What is it?
This is a Fiat 500 with a very large, electrically operated fabric sunroof and a sizeable £3000 mark-up over the standard car, though you do get more kit for your cash.
Curiously, it was this body style that the 1957 Nuova 500 was launched with, its full-length roof and rear window furling to a point just above the rear engine lid. Apart from its nostalgic qualities, this arrangement has made today’s conversion from closed to open 500 a little easier for the body engineers, much of the shell’s strength preserved by the fact that the roof rails and pillars are left uncut.
Assorted strategic strengthenings, including to the structure at the top of a deeper front screen, ensure that this seven airbag-equipped Fiat achieves the full NCAP five stars.
Much effort has gone into minimising buffet with the roof furled, the rear seats fold as they do for the hatch and the boot loses only three litres of space to the standard car. The basic Pop version gets air-conditioning and improved trim over the standard 500, beside the fully timed electric roof.
What’s it like?
This car is impressively civilised for a budget convertible. It feels very well made, its powertrain is subdued, wind noise is very well suppressed and the level of buffeting with the roof fully folded is just right for cooling you on a hot day.
The roof is very simple to operate, requiring a single digit to stab a pair of buttons above the rear-view mirror – though you must press three times, for safety reasons, to have the lid open fully – and it’s fully trimmed inside when closed. It can be opened, or shut, at speeds up to 37mph, too.
The 500C also feels pleasingly robust roof down, its mild loss of rigidity betrayed only by the odd shimmy over bumpier roads. And that’s as much caused by the occasional inadequacies of the 500’s suspension, as it is by any deficiencies in its structure. That said, one of the most striking aspects of this latest version is that its better to drive than the early cars. Why? Because the electric power steering now has a far less synthetic feel to its swivellings, and because the ride has improved as a result of the addition of an anti-roll bar taken from the 500 Abarth which, bizarrely, is also claimed to improve the integrity of the body as a whole.
The 1.2 is not the speediest device on the planet, and the standard fit air-conditioning knocks it back noticeably, but rev it past 4000rpm and it pulls with unexpected verve and enthusiasm. For the light-duty pottering that most 500Cs are likely to be put to, its fine.
Faults? With the roof fully furled, the rear-view mirror is semi-obscured, to make reversing an exercise in guestimation (parking sensors are optional) and the electronic display in the middle of the instrument pack is unreadable in bright light.
Should I buy one?
This extension of the 500 range is as impressive as the Abarths are for their effectiveness. It loses little in refinement and convenience over the standard hatch, its roof is well-designed and easy to use – it even part-closes when you open the boot to allow its lid to open – and the 500 is now a better car to drive than it was when first launched.
While £3000 is a substantial hike over the closed car, you do get air-conditioning. And it’s reasonably priced against its rivals, being usefully less than the Mini convertible, and only slightly more than the miserable-looking Mitsubishi Colt CC. The Citroen C3 Pluriel, which is perhaps conceptually closest to the 500C, is completely outclassed. All of which makes for an excellent buy.