Top Gear's guilty pleasures: the Fiat 500C
It's knowingly flawed as either a Fiat or Abarth, but all the more lovable for it
The term 'guilty pleasure' isn’t one that sits totally flush with me. I feel guilt for very few of the things that make me happy. And the absence of remorse has perhaps been most tangible during the miles I’ve tootled joyously around in an open-top Fiat 500.
It’s hard to feel anything approaching negative emotions inside one of these; be that guilt, embarrassment or even the mildest strain of toxic masculinity. All of that disperses out into the air with the merest hint at the electrically folding canvas roof creeping open.
I like how the 500C doesn’t try to be anything other than sweet. It’s a honeycomb latte of a car, utterly proud to wear its own skin. And I love how Fiat knows you’ve got naff-all rear visibility when the fabric top – which squirms backwards like you’re slowly opening a tin of mackerel – has shimmied all the way to its stopper. There’s quite literally no looking back once you’ve clambered into one of these.
You can stop the roof at just about any point you wish, mind you, allowing yourself a weeny few inches of sunroof, going fully al fresco, or keeping it somewhere in the middle to suitably tan the top of your head while keeping the glass rear screen in place. All of this can be done on the move – handy for if the rain suddenly comes or you’re suddenly surrounded by the fug of double decker buses – and because the car retains its B- and C-pillars, it’s all fairly gale-free inside.
Which is more than can be said for a quite a lot of small, full convertibles. It may look like a half-arsed cabrio but the 500C’s roof is as fit for sunny urban commuting as a Giulia GTA’s roll cage is for pumping your adrenaline into a trackday. If I lived in Milan or Rome, I’d wish for no other car than an ickle soft-top Fiat in the confines of the city. Merrily jinking through gaps and reversing into tight spaces as my forehead soaked up vitamin D would be an utter delight.
I of course must acknowledge the Abarth versions, which are notably more flawed. Remove structural rigidity from a car which appears to have concrete breezeblocks in place of dampers and you end up with the automotive equivalent of operating a potter’s wheel in a minor earthquake.
But then a few years ago I found myself driving an Abarth 695C Rivale, three fellow car journalists squeezed into the other seats, pogoing along an Italian hillside to catch a flight. Roof fully folded, of course. Here was a wobbly convertible hot hatch claiming to pay tribute to Riva speedboats, and doing so with dynamics even more wooden than its dashboard trim.
I’m not sure any of us stopped laughing the entire journey. I remember that drive as vividly as my ten-minute slot around Dunsfold in an SF90 during Speed Week. The 695C wasn’t big or clever, but it was an absolute riot. No guilt attached.
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