You'd think automakers would realize by now that you can't make a cheap car appealing just by parking it in a cool place. Did anyone, for instance, ever go home from a Toronto Blue Jays game and decide to buy a Pontiac G5 just because GM had stuck one in the outfield wall? But as we crowd onto a sidewalk in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, we have to admit the Fiat 500 cabrio might just pull it off. Its teensy-cute Italian styling and cheap-chic pillared canvas top looks perfectly at home among the area's trendy, expensive art galleries (one of which Fiat is presently renting). It even comes standard with ironic hipster facial hair in the form of Fiat's classic "whiskers" grille openings. But is the 500C merely a European fashion accessory to be admired from afar, or is it a car we'd actually recommend owning in the US of A? That's what we're here to find out.
Cut it open again, Tony
The 500C, of course, pays tribute -- more than tribute we might say -- to the original 500. When the Italian runabout debuted in 1957, it featured a canvas top that rolled all the way back but left the door pillars in place. And it's the same on this car, which looks identical in profile to the hardtop (it actually has a slightly taller windshield) but provides most of the open-air thrills of a softtop. Although the European 500C, which debuted two years ago, is available with a variety of gasoline and diesel engines, the Mexican-built North American version, like the hardtop, comes only with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder paired with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Buyers will still have plenty of other choices to make, however, with fourteen exterior colors and twelve different interior color combinations. Like the hardtop, our 500C features a revised interior and improved passive safety, with seven standard airbags.