Thirty minutes outside the city, we ditch the highway for some back roads along the Hudson River. (We're actually taking a route similar to the one senior editor Joe Lorio traversed in a Mini Cooper convertible a couple years ago.) Whereas the Mini loves blitzing such stretches, its back end nipping and tucking with every lift of the throttle, the 500C has a much more relaxed personality. That's not to say it's not a whole lot of fun. The steering loads up nicely entering corners, and the small footprint - several inches narrower and shorter than a Mini Cooper -- lends itself to shifting about your lane in search of a good line. Push it too hard, and the front end gently washes out. Our only real wish for the 500C while driving on these roads is for thicker seat bolsters and, perhaps, a more intimidating grille, as plodding crossovers seem unfazed when we fill their rearview mirrors. Nevertheless, we reach our destination in good time and slip out before Fiat's geek squad can plug our eco:Drive stick into a computer to see how much time we spent banging off the rev-limiter.
No doubt about it, the 500C offers about as much coolness as you'll be able find for less than $20,000. We can almost hear the sales pitch back in the city's most avant-garde neighborhoods: "Yeah, it's an Italian convertible but not like the Italian convertibles you've heard of. Whatever, I really don't care." But even if the hipsters and fashionistas don't go for it, there's plenty of practicality, comfort, and value here for empty nesters, college students, and other ordinary folk. And although enthusiasts who measure their passion in autocross times will still do better with a Mini Cooper, the 500C serves up plenty of slow-car fun as well.