You don’t expect much with the entry-level 1.2-litre model developing just 69bhp doing the talking and, in this regard, the 500C springs no surprises: its performance is as modest as its 13.2sec 0-60mph time suggests. Away from the test track it’s slower still thanks to Fiat’s decision to fit courageously high gearing. Despite a top speed of just 99mph, this is a car that will comfortably reach over 80mph in just the third of its five gears.
The more entertaining choice is the two-cylinder, 875cc TwinAir engine. What it lacks in power - 84bhp arrives at 5500rpm, torque peaks at 106lb ft at 1900rpm - it makes up for with character. The fizzy, raspy engine loves to rev and it despite a lack of pace - 0-62mph takes 11sec - it's hard not to give the engine death. It loves to be worked hard. But if you want a tad more power to go with this peppy character then ther is the range-topping 103bhp version of the TwinAir unit.
In other cars this paucity of performance might prove irksome but in the 500C it seems adequate for the car’s character. Partly this is down to the engine’s enthusiasm and its consequent ability to make you feel you’re going faster than you are, but in the main the fact is the 500C has not one sporting bone in its body and it’s easier and more pleasant just to cruise along feeling good about what you’re in rather than how fast you’re going.
Besides, the slower you go the more time there is for people to look at you, and judging from the looks we received, you’d need to be in an orange Murcielago to attract much more attention than when pedalling the 500C with the roof down.
No model is so slow that it turns long journeys into hard labour. There’s enough pep from the engine to allow the 500’s slippery shape to more than stay the pace of typical outside lane traffic, the only annoyance being that gentle gradients can see you reaching for the gear lever to maintain momentum: it’s that high gearing again.
The gearbox itself is pleasant and offers up it five forward ratios without hesitation. Less impressive are the brakes which, while perfectly capable of stopping the car in an emergency, feel rather light and spongy underfoot.