COULD summer be any better? I’ve been driving one of the most popular cars in the world, powered by an engine with the lowest CO2 emissions of any petrol car engine on the globe.
Talk about have your cake and eat it. The car in question, of course, is the impossibly cute Fiat 500C TwinAir, which has revolutionised cabriolet travel and style and added a whole new element of fun that is simply irresistible.
And believe me, nothing can quite match the joy of taking a spin through the country lanes with the top off the 500C, sun on your back, a gentle breeze rustling around your shoulders, village children pointing, waving and smiling.
It’s the sort of reaction the 500 has sparked ever since it burst on the scene with the most brilliantly conceived idea of reinventing the car that, even now, is revered throughout Europe and become a style icon.
The fact that Fiat has pulled it off and conquered Europe all over again is living proof that the company is still king when it comes making small cars.
And the new 500’s timeless look, versatility and ‘greenest of the green’ halo is likely to see it multiplying on our roads for decades to come – just like the last 500 did.
The most desirable model is, undoubtedly, the convertible, which I have been testing. It comes with a sturdy and beautifully constructed hood and still looks fantastic wit it in place, unlike some other rag-tops I could mention, like the MINI and VW Golf, popular though they are.
The convertible’s party trick is its special electric folding system which can be opened in three different positions and its speed of operation, which is very rapid.
The fact that you can still talk to a passenger easily and hear the radio clearly with the top down is proof that Fiat has got the aerodynamics right – it’s a light, breezy experience rather than a howling gale.
And without doubt, the Twin Air engine is the star of the show in the range.
Incredibly, it is powered by a two-cylinder, 875cc 8v petrol engine which not only sounds rorty and sporty but turns in a decent level of performance while recording peerless economy and low emissions.
The secret lies in the turbocharging system, which gives the engine that necessary extra zip, flexibility and responsiveness.
It sees the 500C to 62mph in a respectable 11 seconds and a healthy top speed of 108mph, yet the mighty mouse can still return an astonishing 70.6mpg in the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions of just 92 g/km.
The beauty of the 500, of course, is in the detail. My test model came in a fantastic summery pale blue as jolly as a beach hut, with fawn hood, chrome trimmed front and colour-coded door mirrors.
But, like the MINI, there is such a vast array of colours and extras from which to choose that every 500 can be customised to such an extent that it could almost be unique to every customer.
From key fob colour to stripes and stickers and badges to wheel design, there is a bewildering brochure of options just made to test your willpower and your wallet.
Which brings me to price – and none of the 500C comes cheap. The base model 1.2 Pop starts at £12,900 and the most expensive is the 1.3 16v MultiJet Lounge at £16,700, which makes the 0.9 TwinAir look relatively affordable at £14,300, but still fairly costly in terms of pounds per inch.
Despite its diminutive size, the 500C manages to make the most of its interior space and it’s a surprise that the cockpit never really feels cramped, although rear legroom and luggage space is compromised. The cream coloured dashboard and steering wheel are both instantly endearing and ergonomics are very good, with stylish detailing thrown in for good measure.
On the road the little convertible hustles and bustles with great charm and belies its size by sitting down hard and flat through the corners and providing an engaging driving experience, with sharp steering and a punchy, fast throw five-speed manual gearbox.
With other attributes such as a subtle and effective stop-start system and surprisingly good ride quality for a small car, the 500 is the of the moment for so many reasons. And the convertible is a glorious celebration of life at its best.