Nobody asked me, but . . .
Round about early April of this year I celebrated an intro drive of the Fiat 500 Abarth model with a few chosen words in this pages. My third-grade teacher Mrs. Zumpstein used to chastise attention-deficient eight-year olds with the expression, “I only chew my cabbage once. That was then: a German neighborhood in Queens, New York. And this is now: an Italian car in a Portuguese neighborhood in Mineola, New York. So allow me to revise Mrs. Zumpstein’s words to, “I only drink my vino once,” and suggest you travel back to the not so distant past if you want both recent and ancient history on misc. and sundry Cinquecento models.
Here I will be focusing on the 500C Pop Cabrio, and if you consider my attitude as “putting on airs,” you would be absolutely and positively correcto.
I’m normally not a great fan of convertibles, but if I was buying a 500, I’d want the top-down version. It’s a perfect fit for the 500’s fun, huggable, take-me-home-to-mama demeanor. Pasta anyone?
Pasta? How about real New York pizza? And if the pizza doesn’t fit the car, well, that’s just another excuse for putting the top down! The top fits snugly when up and provides just the right level of wind-in-the face breezes when down. With the push of a button, the top rolls back to semi- and full-open positions. Take your pick.
If your goal in life is to win every stop-light grand prix, this is not the model for you. With horsepower and torque that both hover around the century mark, you will be glad that you chose the manual 5-speed gearbox to accompany the Cabrio’s 1.4-liter 4-cylinder. Like its illustrious predecessor, which had an engine only a third as large as the current Fiat, the 500C is much more attuned to scooting around corners than popping wheelies. And in this day and age when even compact-size cars tip the scales at well over 3000 lb, (A BMW 3 Series convertible weighs 3825 lb.) the lightweight, 2400-lb 500 will put smiles on the face of any driver willing to make full use of the rev band, the five forward speeds, the three pedals provided and the Sport button.
Speaking of which . . . pedals. When I took my 14-year-old nephew, the one in the photo showing two thumbs up, for a ride, his first question was, “What’s the joy stick for?” When asked for a definition of joy stick, he pointed to the gear lever protruding from the tower between the front seats. Turns out this was the first car with a manual transmission he had been in. And you ask what’s wrong with our education system?
No matter how you measure it, the 500C is a very small car. But when it comes to packaging people and luggage, there’s more than meets the eye. When I had scheduled the Fiat for the tail end of my trip, I had forgotten that two extra people and their luggage would be accompanying me to LaGuardia. The 500’s trunk is small, but regularly shaped. Another plus: The rear seatbacks fold flat. So with a bit of forethought I managed to fit three normal-size adults, two rolling carry-on suit cases plus one larger check suit case into the 500 with nary a complaint from the backseat passenger. And we still had room left over for computer bags, other small carry-ons and four frozen Cugini pizzas, two regular pies and two Sicilian-style grandma pies. Mama mia! That’s one spicy Fiat.
For those who immediately equate small with unsafe, be assured that Fiat is looking out for your welfare. You are surrounded by seven airbags, including a knee airbag for the driver. In addition, front seat reactive head restraints and electronic stability control are standard. And for those drivers who, like my nephew, are newbies to dealing with three pedals, Fiat provides Hill Start Assist to prevent the car from rolling backwards when you are stopped on an incline (Think Bill Cosby in a VW Beetle in San Francisco) and need to release the brake pedal to apply throttle. Some of us who grew up before the advent of such technologies became skilled at the art of holding the car at rest by applying the handbrake, thus freeing up the left foot for its throttle duties.
What’s not to like? For me the biggest annoyance is the radio controls. The two round dials at either end of the digital screen look like conventional volume and tuning controls. They aren’t, and I find them distracting versus intuitive.
The 500 Pop Cabrio is priced at $19,500 plus $700 for destination charges. And there’s $2000 sitting on the hood if you purchase a 2012 model. That’s a lot of open-air fun for not much Lira. Fiat has not upped the price for 2013, but it has improved the fuel economy: from 30 city/38 highway mpg (EPA estimates for 2012) to 31/40 for 2013.
So here’s your dilemma: Do you pick the Abarth because you love its roarty performance or the 500C for its open-air attributes? This sounds a lot like two people willing to share a pizza but each wanting his own topping.
Luckily, come next Spring, Fiat will have resolved this issue for you: with the Abarth Cabrio. Unlike a pizza, you won’t have to split the Abarth Cabrio down the middle. It will come standard with two toppings, one up and one down. And in this case you get to enjoy the whole pizza.