2012 Fiat 500C Cabrio, SoHo district, New York CityEnlarge Photo
When a guy in a glossy black twin-cab diesel pickup truck leans out the passenger window with a camera to take your picture--and you're driving a tiny avocado green 2012 Fiat 500C Cabrio with the roof rolled down--you know this is an unusual car.
Not since the introduction of the 2002 Mini Cooper has such a small car made this big an impact on the U.S. market.
We're still not sure if it was just the fact that the car was a 2012 Fiat 500, or the Cabrio model specifically, that drew attention from our new pickup-truck friends. They may not, in fact, have noticed the clever cloth roll-back roof that opens the top of the car while keeping the structure largely intact.
The 500C Cabrio is less distinctively a convertible than either of the two cars Fiat identified as competitors: the Mini Cooper Convertible and the Volkswagen Beetle Cabrio (just about to be replaced with an all-new model).
Those cars have only cloth above the beltline; the Fiat has sheetmetal. Looking at it from the side, you might not notice the roll-back roof.
Like the hatchback, but cooler
We enjoyed our time in the convertible Fiat 500 and, frankly, struggled to find huge differences between it and the standard Fiat 500 hatchback--beyond the obvious, of course, which is that the multi-layered power cloth roof slides back to drop into a stacked pile on top of the decklid, opening the panel between the header rails to the sky.
In the end, the remarkable thing about the convertible Fiat 500 was that it corresponded perfectly to our assessment of the hardtop.
We liked the expressive sheetmetal, unique and distinctive interior styling, the high-revving little 1.4-liter engine, and the steering feel.
On the downside, it's not quick, it's small inside, and the gas mileage is decent but hardly stellar for something a full car class smaller than, say, a 2011 Hyundai Elantra compact.
Three colors of cloth roof
As noted, the 2012 Fiat 500C Cabrio is less distinct from its standard hardtop cousin than either the Mini or the VW Beetle. Its doors are are fully framed, there's a substantial metal rail above them, and even the body-side pressings are shared with the hatchback.