Duke’s Drive is all about my experiences with driving new vehicles. It truly is a privilege to be able to drive a brand new vehicle for a week and share my thoughts with you. It is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly, or for granted. I know the pains of wanting to test-drive a vehicle you’re interested in buying, and it’s not an enjoyable experience. These are the stories of my experiences.
Dodge Charger SRT 392. Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. The brand new Ford Mustang GT. All machines that have prolific amounts of power, can generate burnouts on demand and hit 0-60 in “what just happened” times. What do they have in common with my latest Duke’s Drive? Absolutely nothing. Which, curiously, makes it one of the most unique cars I have yet driven. Signore e signori, welcome to the Fiat 500C Lounge Cabrio.
For this car review, we need to start by talking about coffee. For a while there has been what I refer to as the ‘Starbucks effect’. In essence, when the sheer branding and essence of a product is strong enough to create demand. What does Starbucks sell? Coffee. Who sells it for substantially less? Everybody. But thanks to ingenious marketing, spending $4 or more for a cup of joe is now par for the course. The same works for Apple products, especially the MacBook. It’s certainly comparable to Microsoft products, but has substantially more cache. Which brings us back to the Fiat 500C.
You can’t think of this as a car. It’s a rolling Starbucks. Power? To be kind, let’s say we aren’t exactly talking about a HEMI. All 135 horsepower move the “I’m not a VW Beetle” from 0-60 in 8.1 seconds and a top speed of 127 mph. Know how people say small cars with 200 hp have no power but they can feel surprisingly quick? Well this one feels exactly like it has 135 ponies. Here’s the thing though: it couldn’t matter less.
Much like you don’t visit a Starbucks for the cheapest coffee possible, you don’t drive a Fiat 500 for speed. It’s all about the atmosphere and feeling it delivers. Whatever it lacks in oomph, this tiny 500C more than makes up for in sheer character. To begin with, take one look at that 50’s-chic light blue with tan interior. Had a Ferrari 458 been behind me, I’m honestly not sure which Italian would have turned more heads. This convertible grabbed attention absolutely everywhere I drove it.
In part, that’s thanks to the $1,900 22F Preferred Package. Non-descript name aside, this option adds 1957 edition 16″ body-colored wheels, classic brown interior trim, vintage Fiat badges, white exterior mirrors and more. Beyond looking super cute, the seats were surprisingly comfortable. Having said that, there are a few issues worth mentioning. Most importantly: much like a Starbucks menu, the 500C’s interior isn’t exactly intuitive. Without a touchscreen, the controls for handsfree calls, Sirius-XM and general audio streaming are unusually difficult to master. Also worth noting is that while the headrests are fine for adults, they’re not ideal for small children. My nine-year old daughter was not shy about letting me know.
The only other significant issue, size, is an obvious one. This is a small, small car. Think the new Mini Cooper is a bit little? Comparatively it’s the latest Suburban next to the 500C. Case-in-point: forget a small trunk, I couldn’t even find a place for my smartphone. Speaking of the trunk, there is a cool feature that caught me by surprise. When the top is completely down, the trunk hesitates for a moment before opening. That’s due to it automatically closing the top just enough to allow for the hatch to open. It’s a minor but smart feature, which makes it impossible to smash the top and trunk together.
So it’s tiny, lacking in power, has virtually no storage space and isn’t exactly intuitive. Why own one? Because it’s irresistibly charming. On a warm California day, with the top down, great music on and blue sky above, the 500C comes into a class of its own. Few cars on Earth can elicit smiles as easily as this little Fiat. True, the $27,030 sticker on my tester is pushing it price-wise. But leave off a few options and it’s easy to keep the numbers close to the pretty reasonable $22,800 base.
Even I, an admitted horsepower junkie, enjoyed this one enough to include in the latest Motorz episode. Overall, if you’re looking for a small, fun city car, is the Fiat 500C Lounge Cabrio worth a look? Molto, molto sì.