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2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio Lounge (Bob English)
2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio Lounge (Bob English)

Fiat 500 Cabrio

Attention-getting Fiat Cabrio is just so cute and cuddly Add to ...

Fiat’s 500 Cabrio, looking as sweet as a cherry-flavored hard candy in its deeply glossy Rosso Brillante paint and with its soft-top ratcheted back in a series of Shar Pei-like wrinkles exposing its flamboyantly red and ivory leather trimmed interior is just so damned cute you want to…?

Depending on your personal level of attention-seeking, either raise a hand through the roof opening to give a happy wave to those smiling at you as you pass by. Or stand on the gas to remove yourself from their immediate vicinity as rapidly as possible while you look for a spot to hide, maybe in an underground parking garage.

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If you’re of the latter personality type, don’t bother reading any further, this little look-at-me Italian runabout is decidedly not for you, particularly as with a mini-motor that makes 101 hp, that feel more like 101 Dalmatians, your exit from the positive-vibe exposure zone won’t likely be fast enough to suit.

But if you don’t mind the attention, there’s no doubt the 500C definitely out-cutes most open-top alternatives in its ($25,940 as tested) price range, the Smart fortwo Cabrio, Chrysler 200 Convertible, Mazda MX-5 and Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder won’t draw anywhere near the attention it does, although the Mini Cooper convertible and new Mini Roadster might.

And, as a city car, it makes way more sense than the Smart and Scion iQ, although there are pros and cons when you compare it to other micro-sized rides such as the Chevy Sonic, Fiesta Hatchback, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio, Mazda2 or Nissan Versa. But the only sky you’ll see while driving them is through an optional sunroof.

The 500C arrived as a 2012 model in the latter part of last year as an addition to the newly launched Fiat 500 range, the modern take on the classic “Cinquecento” introduced in the late 1950s that captured a place in the hearts of Italians who bought them by the thousands and drove them “con brio.”

There was some early speculation that the little 500 – singlehandedly reintroducing the Fiat brand to Canada after some three decades – wasn’t being too well received. But at year-end, sales of 5,392 put it a mid-field ninth, at the tail end of the leading pack of subcompacts. In the first quarter of this year, sales of 2,061 through the 69 Fiat “Studios” moved it up to sixth place, ahead of the Mazda2 and the new Chevrolet Sonic.

The 500C and the even-newer hot-rod Abarth edition will add to the 500’s market reach, which will be extended further by the arrival of an electric version later this year and the five-passenger 500L in 2013.

The MSRP on the entry-level 500 hard-top Pop is $15,995, and the Pop version of the 500C $19,995, with the Lounge edition we’ll look at here starting at $22,995. The test model came with an extra $500 worth of red paint, TomTom navigation for $495, a $200 compact spare tire and $250 alloy wheels which, with destination charges, brought the price to $25,940.

As the Cabrio name suggests, it isn’t a full convertible, but has a cloth top that electrically retracts to below roof-line level at the rear. With the windows down, that delivers just about as open-air experience as you can get without the complexity of a convertible top.

Some of the full convertible issues still pertain though. I’d spare a thought to longevity of the material and mechanism and keeping it looking good will require effort. It also contributes to higher interior noise levels; although as this is most noticeable at highway speeds, it won’t be an issue for most owners, who won’t buy one with long-distance travel in mind anyway.

The 500C’s top also cuts into the available cargo space. Although “cargo” isn’t perhaps the appropriate word to describe what you’ll be able fit into the 153 litres of room available in the trunk (about half that of the non-cabrio versions), although a 50/50-split-and-fold seatback extends your options a bit. No golf clubs in other words, unless you stand your bag upright in the back seat with the top down.

The interior of this two-door and nominally-four-seater (size will definitely matter in choosing potential rear-seat passengers) is as over-the-top-adorable with its Tessuto Rosso and Avorio colour scheme, a sparkly red plastic dash panel with ivory panels for audio and HVAC controls and matching ivory wheel and red leather seats.

A little better panel fit might be nice and outside mirrors that vibrate at vision-blurring intensity at speed are a bit of a nuisance but – did I mention it looks cool?

And despite my crack about Dalmatian puppy-power, its 1.4-litre engine makes it nippy enough around town. It features some clever MultiAir cylinder head technology that helps it produces 101 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque, delivered in this car through a five-speed manual gearbox. Revving it to its 6,900 rpm redline between shifts, it takes 12 seconds or so to get to 100 km/h. It does cute really well, but sporty, not so much.

It is frugal, though, with fuel economy ratings of 6.7 litres/100 km city and 5.1 highway on regular fuel, although premium is recommended.

And it’s agile, as you’d expect something this small and light to be, but also stable enough when flicked through test track cones and on the highway. Stopping distances are among the best in the little-car-class, too.

The Fiat 500 Cabrio may not be the sportiest or most practical small car available, but it easily “out-funs” the rest.

Tech specs: 2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio Lounge

Type: Subcompact cabriolet

Base Price: $22,995; as tested, $25,940

Engine: 1.4-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 101 hp, 98 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.7 city/5.1 highway; premium recommended

Alternatives: Mini Cooper Convertible, Mini Roadster, Smart fortwo Cabrio, Chrysler 200 Convertible, Mazda MX-5, Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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