2012 Fiat 500C Cabriolet Lounge review: Fun, with balloons

2012 Fiat 500C Cabbriolet Lounge

2012 Fiat 500C Cabbriolet Lounge

“Fun to drive,” as we’ve noted before, is one of the most overused—and often ill-used—phrase in the automotive media relations lexicon. Auto writers have been told that everything this side of a hearse is fun to drive, and that’s likely only because we seldom test drive hearses. But in the 2012 Fiat 500C Cabriolet, they are indubitively correct.

That doesn’t mean that the Fiat Cabriolet is sports car fun or a performance car fun, or even a fun car to be seen in—although it perhaps is the latter, depending on who you (think) you are—but rather fun to drive in a top-rolled-back, balloons-flying, flouncy dress Fifties car advertisement kind of way. That “C” in the car’s name might as well stand for “carefree” as much as Cabriolet.

The 2012 Fiat 500C Cabriolet isn’t a convertible in the conventional sense, an automobile with its superstructure lopped off at shoulder level and a top that folds all the way down. Rather the 500C Cabriolet stays true to its Continental economy car origins, saving the roof’s side rails with track for a canvas top to accordion back until it winds up stacked at the rear.

The doors, one per side, keep their window frames and the whole assembly, with the buttresses where a full convertible has air, is more rigid and stronger, which makes it less prone to shake and makes the car safer in a collision, both in terms of body rigidity and that it requires no relocation of seatbelt attachment point.

The Fiat 500C’s convertible top, then, is really an overachieving fabric sunroof. In fact, when opening the top—it’s power operated via a pair of buttons on the windshield header, one of up the other for down—the top stops automatically halfway in what Fiat call the “spoiler” position. On the rear edge of the roof there is actually a small lip spoiler that also hold the center high-mounted stop light. The rear window—glass with defogger—is still positioned normally and allows full rearward visibility.

Another push of the button puts the top down as far as it goes. It doesn’t, however, lower it to where it isn’t blocking the rear view. Depending on how tall the driver, only about the roof of a following car will be visible in the inside rearview mirror. Outside rearview mirrors must be set to see behind the car rather than off to the side, leaving a bigger blind spot than if the mirrors could be turned further out.

2012 Fiat 500C Cabriolet Lounge interior

“Rosso”–red–is one color option with the leather interior package of the 2012 Fiat 500C Cabriolet Lounge.

Touching the other button brings the top up, first to the spoiler position and then fully closed…or anywhere along the way. An advantage over the conventional convertible/cabriolet is that the top can be raised or lowered at speed, between the windshield to spoiler position at up to 60 mph, and between spoiler and all the way open at speeds up to 50 mph.

Don’t expect any more performance than the standard steel-roofed Fiat 500. In fact, the Fiat 500C is not available in the Sport trim level with its larger 16-inch wheels and sport-tuned suspension which give that model an edge in cornering over the base Pop trim level and the fancier Lounge model we tested.

The 2012 Fiat 500C Lounge adds to the Pop’s equipment a standard Bose Premium Audio Package which includes a security alarm, Sirius satellite radio and Bose Energy Efficiency Series audio system with six premium speakers and a subwoofer. Also standard on the Lounge is Fiat’s “BLUE&ME” handsfree voice-activated communication system with Bluetooth, eco:Drive, USB port with iPod control and leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise control.