The mouse that roared

So, the Fiat 500C arrived and – between the inevitable showers – it has been the preferred vehicle of choice over recent days.  Last Autumn I reviewed the 500 Multijet 1.3 diesel and enjoyed it immensely.  The thing is, Fiat hasn’t stopped developing this car; the model before me now has the Twin Air engine, a clever little two cylinder 875cc petrol unit – plus a folding roof.

At first, two cylinders sounds – well, two cylinders short of a full engine.  Certainly, the original 1950s Fiat 500 had just two pistons but the latest model weighs a tonne – literally.  However, with the aid of a turbocharger, Fiat’s MultiAir electrohydraulic variable valve-gear and a balancer shaft to smooth out some of the vibration, this engine manages 85 hp and an impressive CO2 figure of just 95 g/km.  That’s market-leading for a petrol engine.  Add to that stop-start technology plus an Eco function to reduce the oomph and the economy’s pretty good too.

So it sounds interesting on paper but this car has always been about putting a smile on everyone’s faces.  What is it actually like, then?  It didn’t take long to discover it is quite remarkable.

First there’s the sound – more motorbike ‘twin’ than car – delightfully pure.  The power’s there, too; aligned to that fabulous noise, it’s impossible not to want to press on.  The fixtures and fittings are all very pleasing to the eye and while not up to the build quality of Japanese or Germanic rivals, it’s not bad.  This one is painted a lovely sky blue with dashboard to match – and it really does make people smile.

Is it all magical?  There’s a little vibration as the revs climb but this is preferable to the diesel’s chatter.  Also, the wonderful efficiency figures claiming 60-odd mpg are not attainable without using the Eco mode; this isn’t really practical climbing the 1-in-6 Peak District hills – or open A-roads if you have any desire to get a move on.  Real world consumption is in fact just shy of 40mpg.  Otherwise, the Eco mode is fine for slow commutes and the stop-start technology is very effective and unobtrusive.

It does shift, pulling from comfortably under 1,500 rpm.  It revs freely right up to the rev limiter but that’s well short of the 6,000 rpm red line.  Unfortunately the motor just seems to be finding its stride at this point.  Certainly, there is no dip in power when changing up but the engine’s tone encourages the driver to work it hard; keeping a keen eye on the rev counter is essential.

So it’s fun, then – and it has a magic button to satisfy the eco credentials (allowing TfL’s congestion charge to be waived).  The little 500C is very at home on the country lanes or in town traffic, less so on the motorway but still very competent.  It isn’t as well composed as the MINI but then it doesn’t take life quite so seriously.

And finally the roof.  Due to John Walker’s sad death almost as soon as I took the keys, “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” has been a regular radio choice – and very fitting too.  April’s super weather has given way to a series of storms.  Thankfully the little roof raises and lowers while still on the move so a drenching has been avoided so far.  Rather than being a whole pram roof, it sits between standard doors and rear quarters so wigs and toupées are likely to be retained even at motorway speeds.

As someone who has never had any particular desire for a convertible car, I must confess it really transforms the little Fiat.  That one cannot read any of the digital information on the dash when the roof is open because of reflections hardly seems to matter when bowling along ‘neath the open sky.

So on cheeriness it’s right up there.  And to prevent my manliness being called into question (“YMCA” just wouldn’t do) a carefully chosen play list on the iPod is definitely the safest way to go.

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