As we found in our road test, there are certainly more practical cars out there than the Fiat 500 convertible. Many have roomier rear seats, back doors to access them, and get about the same fuel economy as the tiny Cinqucento for little, if any more, money. But I've found few of those cars to be as fun to drive.
I recently spent three days and more than 500 miles in our Fiat 500 convertible, and it took me by surprise. I had spent a fair amount of time driving our previous brown Fiat 500 Sport. I remember it being fun and surprisingly useful for a little car. Adding the 500C's unorthodox folding top to the mix made this latest example compelling. I'm not alone in fancying the Fiat, although I recognize other staffers have a differing opinion. In our tests, the 500C scores too low to meet the minimum requirement for a Consumer Reports recommendation, but Fiat does sell a passel of them and I can see why.
Its main competitors in the small-coupes-to-reminisce-in category are the Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen Beetle. But for me, the 500 strikes a better compromise than either. The Beetle is much more functional than the last, but it is dull to drive and still requires some sacrifices compared with, say, a VW Golf. The Mini is even more entertaining than the Fiat, but the controls are a continual frustration and back seat passengers are presumed to be amputated at the knees.
With its taller form, the 500 offers a decent view forward in traffic (although admittedly other directions are problematic.) The convertible top quickly folds the cloth center portion of the roof, and it can perform this feat at up to 40 mph. Best of all, those fixed window frames and discrete pop-up windscreen mean my daughter was happy to have us leave the top down while she rode in back without being assaulted by turbulence.
In our 500C's pearl-white paint and red seats, the car looks happy and inviting waiting in its parking space. Jump in, and it's got all the modern features you'd expect--minus at least one cup holder.
On a long, 200-mile round trip, I was surprised how tolerable the little car was. Though the engine revs high and has little acceleration left to give, it wasn't objectionably noisy, bumps weren't harsh, and the little engine remained a distant hum. Out there at 75 mph with the big rigs, the little car achieved 43 mpg on my drive.
Our road test chronicles this retro runabout's numerous shortcomings, but to me, the charms outweigh the negatives.