Although parts of the U.S. are still seeing snowfall, Fiat is getting ready for summer. In anticipation of the warmer weather, the Italian automaker has introduced the 2012 500c, a cabrio version of its subcompact hatchback.
The cute-as-a-button design from the hard-top 500 is carried over, swapping out the roof panel for an electrically folding soft top. The new roof is not a traditional convertible, though -- the A-, B-, and C-pillars remain intact along with the roof rails. What that means is that even with the top lowered, passengers will not get a full open-air experience; a good or a bad thing depending on how much you value your hairdo.
The roof is inspired by the canvas roof that was available when the original Fiat Cinquecento premiered in 1957. While the old car's roof only rolled back to the end of the roof panel and was powered by elbow grease, the 2012 500c's top is electrically actuated and can fold all the way back to rest behind the rear headrests. Driver's can drop the top to its fully open position at up to 50 mph, or fold the roof back to the integrated spoiler to create an open sunroof at up to 60 mph. Opening the rear trunk will cause the roof to lift up, allowing unobstructed access to the diminutive, 5.4-cubic-foot luggage compartment.
The look of the 500c is almost identical to that of the hatchback; however, Fiat has extended the windshield to help reduce wind buffeting with the top down and to give rear passengers better forward visibility with the top up. Hidden in the new windshield is a reinforced upper cross member to help maintain structural rigidity once the roads get twisty.
Color options for the 500c are plentiful, offering the same 14 exterior hues as the hardtop, as well as the choice between ivory or black interior dash and gauge trim. The seats are available in 12 different combinations, with the lower part of the buckets wearing either fabric or leather and the headrests matching the dashboard trim. Buyers will have three choices for soft top colors: nero (black), beige, and bordeaux (red).
The same 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder from the 500 will be available in the 500c. It uses Fiat's MultiAir technology that replaces a traditional overhead cam with four, hydraulically actuated, electronic solenoids, which can instantaneously adjust for the optimum fuel-to-air ratio within the engine. Power figures for the four-banger come in at 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. The Environmental Protection Agency has rated the 500 hatchback at 30/38 city/highway mpg with the five-speed manual, and the automaker expects the convertible version to achieve the same numbers. Two transmissions are offered on both the hatch and the cabrio: standard in the base Pop trim level will be a five-speed manual, with a six-speed automatic with sport mode as optional. The higher Lounge trim will come with the automatic as standard.
Fiat has equipped the entire 500c lineup with its Blue & Me telematics system. Blue & Me integrates Bluetooth handsfree, USB device playback, and the optional TomTom navigation system with the car's trip computer in the gauge cluster. Blue & Me will also track your driving habits and can transfer data onto a USB drive to let you know how eco-conscious your driving habits have been.
The convertible will forgo the sharper Sport trim level, leaving only two variants for the 500c. Standard on the 500c Pop are 15-inch steel wheels with chrome-accented wheel covers, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio with auxiliary input, the Blue & Me system, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Options include a smoker's package with ashtray and lighter, and a Bose audio package with Bose sound system, satellite radio, and security system.
Stepping up to the Lounge trim will net chrome exterior trim and fog lamps, the automatic transmission, premium cloth seats, automatic climate control, and the Bose audio package. Available option packages include a convenience group with heated front seats and an auto-dimmer rear-view mirror, and a luxury leather package that adds leather to the convenience group.
Pricing has not been announced yet for the 500c. The 500 hatchback starts at $16,000 (including the $500 destination fee) for a manual transmission-equipped 500 Pop, and $20,000, with the $500 delivery charge, for a 500 Lounge. Expect to see the 2012 500c in Fiat dealers later this spring.