The Fiat 500 Cabrio isn't just cute; it knows it's cute. In true Italian fashion, this little car doesn't stand by the curb being adorable and feigning surprise when someone notices. No, the Fiat 500 Cabrio jumps out at you, steps into your field of vision with its retro sheet metal covered in a wide range of designer hues, and says, "Look at me. I am adorable, and you cannot resist."
And why would you want to? The Italian manufacturer, making a return to the U.S. market after almost three decades, is hitting the streets of North America with a subcompact that combines the style of a classic Euro-commuter with modern fuel efficiency and safety, one of the quietest rides in its class, and a funky-cool canvas soft-top.
Speaking of that top, does it make this a true convertible, or is it just an unusually large canvas sunroof? Whatever it is, it's faithful to the original Fiat 500, first introduced in 1957. That car's large sliding canvas roof helped make it it the darling of Italy, allowing buyers to enjoy the sun on a budget. That's the new 500 Cabrio's mission in life as well. The styling is so acutely derivative of the original car (though the new 500 is much larger) even the most car-illiterate observer will be able to tell at a glance one begat the other. The 500 Cabrio shares the 500 hatchback's bubble-bodied design, round headlights and cute "whiskers" grille, as well as its dimensions. Seriously, this car isn't that much bigger than a smart fortwo. The 500 Cabrio's interior features hints of chrome, a large panel painted to match the body, and elegant upholstery. If you like the sensibly-fashionable style of a Vespa, the 500 Cabrio will be right up your alley, thanks to a cheerful color palette, three top color choices and a host of factory graphics packages.
The two-stage top can be closed in approximately fifteen seconds in case of a downpour. Unlike many soft-tops, it can be raised or lowered while the car is in motion, at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Top-down, the 500 Cabrio allows the sun to shine in without the side buffeting common to many convertibles, though visibility to the rear is somewhat compromised by the top stack and rear headrests. The 500 Cabrio's smallish trunk will hold 5.4 cubic feet of cargo, and the rear seats fold down to expand that out to 23.4 cubic feet.
If you're expecting the go-kart handling of a MINI Cooper, you'll want to downgrade those expectations just a bit. That's not a bad thing though--while the 500 Cabrio's plusher ride is entertaining and nimble, it's also more comfortable than a MINI when the road is less than smooth. On the freeway it's a different story though; the ultra-short wheelbase results in a lot of chop and head toss at higher speeds.
Power is modest, in keeping with the 500 Cabrio's frugal mission in life. A 1.4-liter engine with 101 horsepower offers enough grunt to keep up with traffic, and it sounds happy while doing it. A choice of five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions is offered. Fiat uses a solenoid-powered hydraulic system to actuate the intake valves instead of a traditional camshaft, providing instant-response variable valve timing. Hypermilers will enjoy the fun eco:Drive application, which allows the driver to download vehicle performance information onto a memory stick and then analyzes it to offer tips on driving more efficiently. When driven properly, the 500 Cabrio is good for up to 38mpg on the freeway.
Pricing for the 2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio starts at $19,500.