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Friday, May 27, 2011

2012 Fiat 500c Review

Last week I had the opportunity to drive the new Fiat 500c.

Fiat laid out a route that took us through the cobblestone streets of old New York City then up through the beautiful Hudson Valley.

The streets of NYC are a test for any car's suspension. Cobblestones, potholes, chuckholes and washboard road surfaces would intimidate any car manufacturer's press department. At first I wondered why would we be there, but once I put my thinking cap on I realized it was the perfect venue, the Fiat 500c is the premier city car but also the perfect weekender.

Fiat was fully confident in the 500c ability to handle all conditions. And it was a test for, besides the rough NY roads, there was the rough NY weather, which had turned rainy all week.

The event I was invited to was a ride and drive, where you and a partner take turns driving and navigating, there is a stop off, or two to take it all in and the obligatory over the top lunch.

I teamed up with a well known road tester from a big time car magazine. I truly should say lucked out, because later when it was his turn to drive, I had a front seat to a first class performance of outstanding vehicle control.

The event began with a briefing by Laura Soave, Head of the Fiat Brand in North America and Fabio DiMuro, chief engineer on the North American Fiat 500 project. We then picked out a car and took off on our route. I was first up, as my partner was still suffering the effects of mixed up travel plans and a bottle of wine. About 20 seconds into the drive, we both figured out that we're test driving a convertible with the top up, and it was currently not raining, so that was quickly dealt with. The electric top on the 500c goes back in stages you can slide it back to the rear spoiler traveling up to 60mph, then completely fold it back down at speeds up to 50mph.

I should mention now that the Fiat 500c doesn't have a full folding convertible top, but a huge sliding dual layer, canvas top much in keeping with the original 1957 Fiat 500. While some may lament not having a fully open experience, structural integrity, quietness and driving dynamics are the winner in this solution. The 500c is exceptionally rigid and has all the safety features of the 500 hatchback.

The cobblestone streets and washboard road surfaces were the first test of the 500c. Normally when you cut off a car's roof, you lose an enormous amount of strength, however, careful engineering and a reinforcement behind the rear seat parcel shelf have given the 500c 70 percent less cowl shake than its key competitor. Indeed, on the brutal NYC roads cowl shake was non- existent.

The ride on the 500c was exceedingly comfortable and compliant. Impact harshness from hitting gigantic potholes was dealt without drama and was particularly impressive. This is one of the areas the North American Fiat 500 excels over the European 500. A stiffer chassis, upgraded upper-strut mounts, and re-tuned control-arm bushings deal better with the rougher roads we have here in this country.

Once out of NYC, we were able to enjoy the 500c cruising capabilities. While on the Palisades and Taconic State Parkways, we routinely hit speeds of 80 mph. Folks familiar with this area know that these picturesque roads are windy and filled with long grades. The 500c handled them with aplomb, only when accelerating up the longest grades at less than 2500rpm do you feel the need to downshift.

Sound levels while cruising at these speeds with the top back are also impressive. There is a wind deflector that eliminates all the buffeting associated with top down driving. This is an area where the 500c really shines. Twenty minutes in a conventional convertible at high speed with your hair being beaten around will have you reaching for the top up button. This doesn't happen in the 500c, in fact, the car was so comfortable that, during our several hour long drive up from the city to the village of Rhinecliff on the Hudson River, we had the top back all the way, only closing it twice when the rain got heavy.

Sound levels inside the car with the roof up were unusually quiet. The dual layered top, insulation and strong chassis contribute to the F1at 500c having the quietest interior (at 45mph, 70mph and lowest powertrain noise) when compared with its main competitor (spelled MINI).

With the roof up, there is also more headroom front and back than the 500 hatchback, plus the roof is finished particularly nicely. When it is down, the top fills the rearview mirror, but Fiat includes rear sonar park assists as standard equipment on all models.

You may think all this talk of comfort would mean the handling is willowy and soggy, but that was pleasantly not the case. The suspension is well damped, especially on rebound, and at 80mph, the car was remarkably stable, and undulations produced no sign of float.

After a snack stop, we switched off; I became navigator and my co-driver took the wheel. That gave me time to soak in the 500c experience in between my navigation duties. I got so caught up enjoying the ride and talking about cars, I sent us south for a few miles before continuing our northern direction. Oh well, don't tell anyone.

I have to say it was a quite a treat sitting in the passenger seat while my co-driver, an experienced road tester, took on the twisty back roads Fiat mapped out for us. These roads consisted of many tight, down hill, off camber turns and switch backs, plus the normal upstate NY road patches, ridges and bumps.

After the first few "we're still accelerating, and there is a blind turn coming up" moments, I just held on and enjoyed the show. The pace was fast as he tested the car's agility, pushing it near the limits of what one can do sanely on the streets. The corners would come up in quick succession: left - right - left- and were never the same, the apex usually marked with a bump.

One memorable corner combination we charged into was a tight 90 degree, off camber right turn, just over a crest, followed by a quick left. Turns like this can cause lesser cars a lot of trouble as the rear end goes light, but the 500c and my friend, handled it with no drama. My inner dialog failed, and I exclaimed "that was awesome!", and he commented the car felt planted and it would take a lot to catch it off balance.

The entertainment lasted until our lunch stop in Rhinecliff, where we relaxed and mingled with Fiat engineers and top brass. Fiat had been monitoring our drive with eco:Drive, the program that analyzes and scores your driving habits and gives you hints on saving fuel and reducing your carbon footprint. The team with the highest (and the most eco-friendly) score won a prize. My partner and I had the lowest score of the 27 attendees!

Summed up, the Fiat 500c is a charismatic car full of Italian style. Comfortable, practical and fun, It is a great way to spend a sunny (or rainy) day!

Below are the specifications for the 2012 Fiat 500c

New 2012 Fiat 500C
Dimensions are in inches (millimeters) unless otherwise noted.

Body Style A-segment convertible
Assembly Plant Toluca, Mexico
EPA Vehicle Class Subcompact
Introduction Date Spring 2011 as a 2012 model

Availability Standard — Fiat 500C Pop and Lounge
Type and Description Inline four-cylinder, liquid-cooled
Displacement 83.48 cu. in. (1368 cu. cm)
Bore x Stroke 2.83 x 3.31 in. (72.0 x 84.0 mm)
Valve System Belt-driven, MultiAir®, SOHC,16-valves, hydraulic end-pivot roller rockers
Fuel Injection Sequential, multi-port, electronic, returnless
Construction Cast iron block with aluminum-alloy heads and aluminum-alloy bedplate
Compression Ratio 10.8:1
Power (SAE net) 101 bhp (75 kW) @ 6,500 rpm (73.8 bhp/L)
Torque (SAE net) 98 lb.-ft. (133 N•m) @ 4,000 rpm
Max. Engine Speed 6,900 rpm (electronically limited)
Fuel Requirement 87 octane (R+M)/2 acceptable
91 octane recommended
Oil Capacity 4.0 qt. (3.8L) with dry filter
Coolant Capacity 4.6 qt. (14.4L)
Emission Controls Dual three-way catalytic converters, heated oxygen sensors
and internal engine features(a)
Max. Gross Trailer Weight Not rated for trailer tow
Estimated EPA Fuel Economy mpg (City/Hwy) 30/38 (5-speed manual)
27/32 (6-speed automatic)
Engine Assembly Plant GEMA Engine Plant, Dundee, Mich.
(a) Meets Federal Tier 2 Bin 5 emission requirements and ULEV II requirements in California, Massachusetts, New York, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

Availability Standard on 500C Lounge
Optional on 500C Pop
Description Auto Stick driver-interactive manual control and electronically modulated torque converter clutch
Gear Ratios
1st 4.044
2nd 2.371
3rd 1.556
4th 1.159
5th 0.852
6th 0.672
Reverse 3.193
Final Drive Ratio 4.103
Overall Top Gear 6.01

Availability Standard on 500C Pop
Description 1st, 2nd gear: Double Cone 3rd, 4th, 5th, gear: Single Cone
Gear Ratios
1st 3.909
2nd 2.158
3rd 1.345
4th 0.974
5th 0.766
Reverse 3.818
Final-drive Ratio 3.733

Alternator 105-amp — Standard all
Battery 500 CCA, maintenance free

Wheelbase 90.6 (2,300)
Track, Front 55.4 (1,406)
Track, Rear 55.0 (1,397)
Overall Length 139.6 (3,546)
Overall Width 64.1 (1,627)
Overall Width (with side mirrors) 73.5 (1866)
Overall Height 59.8 (1,519)
Ground Clearance 4.6 (118.0)
Drag Coefficient (Cd) 0.38
Curb Weight, lb. (kg) 2,416 (1,098) — 5-MTX
2,486 (1,130) — 6-ATX
Weight Distribution, percent F/R 62/38 — 5-MTX
63/37 — 6-ATX
Fuel Tank Capacity, gal. (L) 10.5 (40)
(d) All dimensions measured at curb weight with standard tires.

Seating Capacity, F/R 2/2
Front Seat
Head room 38.6 (979.9)
Legroom 40.7 (1,034)
Shoulder room 49.4 (1,254)
Hip room 47.9 (1,215)
Total seat travel Driver — 8.2 (210)
Passenger — 8.2 (210)
EPA front row interior volume, cu. ft. (cu. m) 44.9 (1.27)
Rear Seat
Head room 36.8 (933.9)
Legroom 31.7 (805)
Shoulder room 46.4 (1,177)
Hip room 42.0 (1083.1)
EPA second row interior volume, cu. ft. (cu. m) 31.3 (0.886)
Total Interior Volume, cu. ft. (cu. m) 81.6 (2.31)
EPA Luggage Compartment Volume, cu. ft. (cu. m) 5.4 (0.152)
EPA Interior Volume Index, cu. ft. (cu. m) 76.2 (2.157)
Trunk Liftover Height 27.7 (703)

Layout Transverse-mounted front engine, front-wheel drive
Construction Unitized steel body

Front MacPherson suspension, coil spring with twin-tube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar
Rear Rear twist-beam axle with coil springs and twin-tube shock absorbers

Type Power rack and pinion with electric power steering (EPS) column
Overall Ratio 16.3:1
Turning Diameter (curb-to-curb) 30.6 ft. (9.32 m)
Steering Turns (lock-to-lock) 3.0

Availability Standard on 500C Pop and 500C Lounge
Size and type 185/55R15 BSW all-season
Mfr. and model Continental ContiProContact or Firestone Firehawk GTH or Pirelli Cinturato P7 A/S
Revs per mile (km) 906 (563)

Availability Standard on 500C Pop
Type and material Steel wheels with tech silver painted wheel covers
Size 15 x 6.0

Availability Optional on 500C Pop
Type and material Cast-aluminum, five oval spoke design, fully painted tech silver
Size 15 x 6.0

Availability Standard on 500C Lounge
Type and material Cast-aluminum, seven split-spoke design, fully painted tech silver
Size 15 x 6.0

Availability Optional on 500C Lounge
Type and material Cast-aluminum premium finish, radial design, fully painted premium silver
Size 15 x 6.0
With Thanks to Chrysler Media


Jim Romano said...

Chris, I'm very glad you had the chance to participate in such a unique event. You've put a lot of work into the FIAT program and deserve the perks whenever they come along. If the event gets a write-up in your co-pilots magazine, please let us know. I'll be anxious to give it a read.

Ramstone said...

What fun, and essentially the first route I took with my Prima. You quickly learn to accelerate into the upslopes to avoid downshifting.

James Bong said...

Hi Chris,
I just thought I'd mention that the poll of the week at Autoweek is "If you had to drive a small car, which one would you choose?" Currently, the Fiat 500 is in third behind "Ford Focus" and "Something Else." You should get the word out to the fiat 500 fanatics to vote it up!
The poll is in the right hand column near the bottom.

Kiran Gordhan said...

I never ever thought I would pass on my 78 Alfa Spider, but I'm only more weary of the Spica pump and she's an old lady. Chris, I think you just sold a 500c with this post. Well played, sir, well played.

Thanks for the excellence!

Anonymous said...

Olive Green with Beige Convertable top..Has folk talking to me at stop lights. Putting on the Italian Flag logos the company has dosen't hurt. I am very happy with the Car. Marie

JKSeattle said...

I have a 500c in Verde Oliva (olive green) with the tan folding top and not a day goes by where I don't get a smile, thumbs-up or a complimentary comment from someone about my car. It is the most fun and stylish car I've ever owned! And I've owned quite a few, from Hondas to Mercedes to Saabs.

The car is remarkably well-composed on the roughest of roads. The suspension and damping is far superior to other cars I've owned, many costing tens of thousands of dollars more. And I have yet to hear a rattle or any cowl shake, common in other drop-tops.

Build quality, Bluetooth connectivity, seat comfort, visibility, reliability and dealer (studio) after-sale care have all been strong points...again, much better than some other European luxury brand cars I've previously owned.

FIAT has completely smashed and dispelled the antiquated "Fix It Again Tony" reputation with its current cars being sold in North America. Anyone not including FIAT in their new car shopping search is doing themself a disservice!