2012 Fiat 500c: Up Close

Given that the Fiat 500c’s retracting canvas roof doesn’t take the door frames or B- and C-pillars with it, the resulting experience feels more like a panoramic moonroof than an open-air convertible. That stays true to the layout of the original 500 cabrio, which went on sale in summer 1957, but the “cabrio” designation suggests more.

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The roof operates with a couple of buttons in the headliner, at speeds up to 60 mph. Press the Open button once, and it retracts just over the C-pillars. Press it again, and the rear window folds down while the canvas portion accordions over the whole thing. Piled high atop the trunk, the folded roof obscures most of the view out back — hence, Fiat gave the 500c standard sonar parking assist, marketing manager Stephan Cloutier told me.

Like in most convertibles, the 500c has a small rear window with the top up. The view out back is workable, but it’s not as good as in the 500 hardtop, which I hopped into for comparison at Fiat’s display. The cabrio’s C-pillars aren’t much larger than the hardtop’s, so blind spot visibility isn’t bad.

Trunk volume in the 500c is just 5.4 cubic feet (versus 9.5 cubic feet in the hardtop), but it’s a rectangular area with a decent-sized opening, not a submerged compartment with onerous access, as so many convertibles incur. If the canvas top is retracted all the way and you want to access the cargo area, you’ll need to wait a few seconds while the top returns to a partially closed position over the C-pillars. That’s because the top partially obstructs the trunk hinges, Cloutier said. Whether the top is up or down, trunk room doesn’t suffer, so putting the top down won’t crunch your groceries.

Weight differences between the hardtop and 500c amount to about 100 pounds, Cloutier said, but a lot of that could be up top, given reinforcements to areas like the windshield frame. A higher center of gravity can’t bode well for any car’s fun-to-drive potential, and the 500 hardtop leans a bit in corners already. Still, that may matter little. The 500c will appeal more to the style-conscious than to performance enthusiasts, and modest handling may play little into that mission.

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