Mini Cooper Convertible 2016 review
Craig Jamieson road tests and reviews the new Mini Convertible with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.
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Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new 2016 Fiat 500C Lounge manual with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Here's some homework for you. Go and find me a four-seater, turbocharged European convertible for under $28,000. Go on. I can wait. All week if necessary.
For those of you who couldn’t do it, shame on you. For those of you who found Fiat's 500C, well done. You've passed the test and win a million internet points to spend on whatever they're good for.
Fiat's 500 has been something of a hit (relatively speaking) in Australia (it’s a barn stormer in its home country as well, but then Italians appreciate small and frugal cars) and despite jacking up prices a year or so ago, they keep selling. The volumes aren't massive, but they’re enough for the local operation to sell four variants (not including Abarth versions), two of which are convertibles.
Fiat offers two spec levels in both hatch and cabrio forms of the 500; the Pop and the Lounge. Our bright red Lounge manual starts at $25,000, with the Dualogic automatic (a far less enjoyable choice) a further $1500 up the range. The Pop, with less gear and a smaller 1.2-litre four cylinder, starts at just $22,000. For a convertible, particularly one with this much style, that’s a bargain.
Fiat is honest that this isn't a proper convertible - the canvas roof slides back in two sections and scrunches itself up behind the rear passengers' heads, like an old school pram cover. Still, the sun comes in over your head and that's enough for some.
You'll be lounging about (sorry) on 15-inch alloy wheels, listening to a six-speaker stereo and enjoying comforts such as air-conditioning, remote central locking, rear parking sensors, digital dashboard, sat nav, power windows, power roof and tyre-pressure sensors.
The stereo is run from Fiat's UConnect and it's not bad. The interface is super-simple (there are a number of different version of the system) and the only dodgy bit is the slow TomTom nav.
The five-inch screen is small and dim (convertibles need bright screens), the targets are small but it does have DAB and decent app integration.
You can add a few options - the $2500 Perfezionaire pack wraps some interior bits in leather, adds an inch to the alloys and replaces the halogen headlights with Xenons. Pastel or metallic paint (all but one colour) adds between $500 and $1000. You can also specify the colour of the soft top, with red, black or beige ("ivory") and there are a number of interior cloth and leather options.
It's a tiny car so space is at a premium. Front-seat passengers get a reasonable deal and even with the roof closed there's plenty of space for them, with the exception of shoulder room, which is adequate. Rear-seat passengers will be less than delighted, although once the circulation has been cut off from their legs after about 10 minutes, they'll probably stop complaining and just faint.
There are two cupholders up front and another pair between the front seats to take the total to four, neatly matching the passenger count. There's a little slot for a phone ahead of the front cupholders and a springy-netted pocket on the driver's side of the console, again not a bad spot for a phone.
The boot will hold 182 litres and has a small opening, so only small suitcases will fit. Larger ones can be fed through the open roof, though. Looking at this car, you don’t expect it’s going to be a load-hauler.
The 500 is definitely a style-first machine, just like its Anglo-German rival the Mini. From a styling and size perspective, it's much closer to the original 500 than the Mini is to its forebears, albeit with far less peril. There's actually some meat around you - as opposed to the paper-thin, skin-hugging original, and the engine is up front rather than hanging out the back.
The new 500 is approaching a decade on sale and has now reached what Fiat calls Series IV. There have been a few subtle changes, but Nuovo Cinquecento still looks pretty good (and is fun to say), given its age. Timeless design does that.
The interior has been steadily improved over the years, too, but still looks bare bones without actually being bare bones. Sure, none of the tech is particularly mind-blowing (or well-integrated) but the colour matching dash panel and the 1950s retro feel fit the car well. There's a distinct whiff of Bakelite in the shapes of the big buttons and switches, but it never feels Fisher Price.
There are a number of cool options in the interior, all quite retro, although some are bordering on tasteless.
The Lounge is powered by Fiat's excellent turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder, producing 74kW and 131Nm. Power finds the road via the six-speed manual we had, or the optional Dualogic we would avoid. Despite hauling just 992kg (tare...bank on an extra 20kg for kerb weight), it's no rocket.
Our time pottering around the burbs and heading to the beach for photos saw the 500C consume premium unleaded at a rate of 7.4L/100km. You've really got to work that 1.4 and there's no stop-start to cut its thirst. Fiat claims 6.1L/100km on the combined cycle, so we're not a million miles away. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's achievable, as long as you attempt to achieve it very slowly.
The cabrio isn't as fun to drive as the hatch (or the Abarth), but it's aiming for a completely different audience. The clutch and gearbox are light and easy to use but the steering requires a bit more twirling than I like in my small hatches. It's not as though the tyres support sharp turn-in, so the slow steering is slightly at-odds with the zip-zip nature of the rest of the car.
The MultiAir engine - which, when released, was roundly praised and rightly so - is still competitive but could be better. The state of tune in this version is a bit low and just doesn't have the pep it does in other cars like, say, the Alfa Giulietta. It's a bit noisy when you're getting going but settles when you get up and cruise.
It's a good, and fun, town car, though. You do need to work the engine to get the turbo spinning, but the long-throw gearbox is a bit of a laugh and sits really close to the wheel. You can imagine Romans hunched over the dash, bouncing over the cobblestones and ducking between slow-moving pedestrians as they toot and parp away.
Out on the freeway it's commendably quiet, the lined roof doing a pretty decent job of pretending to be a hardtop. The glass rear screen helps, too - it might be small but you can see through it, unlike nasty, milky plastic screens of days gone by.
Roof down, it's obviously noisy in traffic, but once you're away from the hubbub, it's good fun. The wind won't ruffle your head, you can hold a conversation with only slightly raised voices and it's so small that sound doesn't have to travel far to wherever your passengers are seated. The roof crams itself down behind the rear passengers’ heads and cuts your rear visibility in half, making the 500C more difficult to park with it down. The rear sensors help and the fact that there's barely any car behind that accordion-style roof.
There's not a lot to really complain about, but the mirror glass in the wing mirrors jiggling about is distracting when you're driving.
Seven airbags (including knee), ABS, stability and traction controls and lap sash belts for all.
The 500 was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating in, er, March 2008.
Fiat provides a three-year/150,000km warranty along with roadside assist for three years. Free servicing is offered as part of promotions but capped-price servicing isn't offered.
Cars don't come a lot more easygoing than the 500 and the 500C ups the relaxation factor even more. It's not a proper convertible, really, but what it loses in complete open-air feel it more than makes up for with a bit of extra liveability, a boot that takes, you know, some things, and two (very) occasional seats in the back.
You can't fault the value for money, mostly because there isn't a cheaper convertible on the market. There aren't any really big differences between the Pop and the Lounge, so if you're happy to go even slower, the Pop is probably for you.
|Lounge||0.9L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$17,600 – 22,220||2016 Fiat 500 2016 Lounge Pricing and Specs|
|Pop||1.2L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$13,970 – 18,370||2016 Fiat 500 2016 Pop Pricing and Specs|
|S||1.4L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$16,280 – 20,900||2016 Fiat 500 2016 S Pricing and Specs|
|Lounge||0.9L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$16,170 – 20,790||2016 Fiat 500 2016 Lounge Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data