It’s February. Storm Dennis has flooded half of Britain. Our garden even has a covering of snow. What have sitting on my drive? A Fiat 500 convertible.
Am I the eternal optimist or just stupid? Neither actually, I wanted to drive the 500 and this was the only model the Fiat press office had available for this particular week.
As it happens driving a convertible in the rain really is no problem, as long as the roof is closed of course. Modern day soft tops are all year round cars, robust and soundproofed to the enth degree as is the case with the little Fiat.
Not that the 500 is a true convertible. The canvass roof folds back, but not all the way down to boot level, mainly because there is not enough boot space to store it. Think of it as taking the lid of a can of baked beans. But with the roof back passengers are still exposed to the elements and the whole opening operation (powered) can be done at any speed. There is a fair bit of buffeting which can be reduced by fitting a wind brake but I couldn’t be bothered given the small amount of time I was able to enjoy driving al fresco.
Of the limited number of retro cars the 500 is the most authentic, unlike the modern day Mini, whose dimensions have changed so much it looks more like an oversized adult than the puny child we all loved. On the other hand the 500 could nearly pass for a 1957 original.
That is the way Fiat wanted it. The car that was revived in 2007 was a little bigger, obviously more modern, but still had the look of the Italian diva about it.
Since my week of Fiat 500 nostalgia we have had news of a third generation 500 which will be all electric. The chances of getting hold of one this year are slim with each country getting 500 luxury examples and it is first come first served.
Bold move given that 500 sales have been strong since the launch of the 2007 model and provide a huge chunk of the company’s income. Fiat is predicting a range of 199 miles from the electric motor which will have a five minute fast charge option that will be good for 30 miles.
Anyway, back to the current petrol powered model. I never got to drive an original 500 but doubt there was much oomph in its little engine, something it has in common with the modern day version. You get a choice of two: the turbocharged Twinair, which is quite perky, or a straightforward 1.2 which was powering my test car. It can lull you into thinking it is moderately nippy because it buzzes along and bobbles around a bit on the short wheelbase. In truth the suspension falls short of the quality found in the modern day city car.
I see from the bumph the new model is a bit longer, but more significantly has a wider track which improves stability so it should drive a whole lot better. And the electric motor gets you to sixty in well under 10 seconds which is a good bit quicker than the 1.2 petrol.
The current 500 had an upgrade a few years ago. Visually it amounted to tweaks to the front and rear light design but most of it was under the skin so the car is fairly well off on the tech front. It has a seven inch touch screen for radio and navigation etc and my convertible came with cruise control, air conditioning, powered windows so there is nothing basic about it.
What it really needs is heated front seats, surely an absolute essential for any convertible.
I do like the 500s roof set up. Apart from being able to operate it at any speed it can be opened to any position, it is just like a giant sunroof and there will be a convertible model on the new electric car, and it will have heated seats.
Normally the arrival of a new model means there are lots of good deals as garages try to shift old stock. As the new model is a slow release it could be a while before the bargains start to pop but a chat with a Fiat dealer might not be a bad idea.
There are lots of city cars out there which have more space and
drive better than the 500 but none of them have the same charm as the baby Italian.
1.2 litre; 69bhp
0-62mph 12.9secs; 101mph
108g/km. 1st year tax £120
Insurance group 10