First drive: Fiat 500C
For anyone who thinks the standard 500 is not stylish enough, here is the convertible version.
If this car was any cuter, it would be a small, furry pet – probably with a ribbon around its head. Only you can say if cute is your thing, but you have to hand it to Fiat: it's squeezing every last drop out of the public's love affair with its little car.
In truth, the 500C is not truly a convertible, as the outer edges of the roof remain in place. However, the halfway house of being more than a sunroof and less than a full convertible makes a lot of sense. Keeping some of the roof makes the car more rigid and also helps the looks: if there was a full convertible roof to store in such a small car, it would end up looking like a pram as soon as the roof came down.
With the roof up, there are very few compromises required, so long as you don't need the hatchback boot of the normal model. There is no detectable difference in rigidity and the ride and handling are unchanged over the hardtop. The good news is that they are improved over early versions of the new 500 so it now jiggles about less on rough roads to the benefit of both ride and handling.
In truth though, nobody buys a Fiat 500 for its handling. The dynamics are good enough not to disappoint, which is all that's required. The willing 1.2-litre petrol engine is relatively smooth and the chassis has some of the eagerness that made small Fiats of the past such good fun to drive. We can't really see the point of the "City" mode that makes the steering so light you could be driving on ice.
But these factors are incidentals. Inspiration in this car comes from the way it looks and the way it make you feel. Buzzing around town with the roof electrically rolled fully back, the car feels pretty well perfect. You could spend far more on a car, but would you feel much better driving it?
The 500C is safe, easy to park (although you need to rely on the wing mirrors if reversing with the roof down) and, best of all, generates goodwill. An expensive convertible can cause resentment, but few people will take offence at a Fiat 500 – after all, few people admit to hating kittens, and this is about as cute.
Fiat used to advertise the Panda with the line, "Darling, it is so much more practical than Daddy's Dino". Update the reference to the Ferrari Dino, and you have the 500C summed up.