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The all-electric New Fiat 500 Convertible adds soft top appeal to an EV that re-invents and re-defines what this iconic model line should be. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
'Al fresco' motoring has always been a significant option in creating the full Fiat 500 experience. Indeed, it only took a year from the launch of the original 'Nuova 500' in 1957 for an open-topped '500N' version to be introduced. This wasn't a full convertible - and it didn't need to be. Instead, a vast fabric sunroof provided open air enjoyment without the need for significant extra cost or weight. Just as it does in this modern-era open-topped 500 model, the fully electric 500 cabriolet. What's officially called the 'New 500 cabriolet' is, for the time being, sold alongside the old 500C, which continues on with a conventional mild hybrid 1.0-litre petrol engine. This latest car is fractionally bigger than that old second generation model, but uses much the same kind of fabric folding top. Unlike some stylised direct EV segment rivals, there's a proper driving range of nearly 200 miles with the volume 42kWh version.
Unlike the fixed-top model, the cabriolet body style doesn't get the smaller 23.8kWh battery that features with tin-top Fiat 500 EV 'Action'-spec models. But you won't really want that unless you're very urban-based as it restricts you to a WLTP-rated driving range of just 115 miles. The far preferable 42kWh battery pack you have to have here is mated to an 87kW (118hp) motor and is fitted across the rest of the 500 cabriolet range. This is good for 186-199 miles and this variant takes around 9 seconds to get from rest to 62mph, so it'll easily keep up with the traffic flow. Like all EVs, this one feels even quicker off the mark than that figure suggests (30mph can be reached from rest in just 3.1s), though Fiat has tried to make power delivery quite linear so that you don't use up all your battery charge at once. Maximum speed is restricted though (to just 93mph). Various types of automated driving technology are available, including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and intelligent speed limit assist. Various drive modes are available that will enable you to maximise your driving range. There are three settings - 'Normal', 'Range' and the curiously named 'Sherpa', with the last of these being focused on getting the maximum from the battery, including a navigation program that will limit maximum speed to 50mph and restrict acceleration. The 'Range' mode maximises brake regeneration, meaning that you'll normally only have to drive with one pedal, so great will be the deceleration when you lift off the throttle. But most of the time, you'll be leaving in this car in its 'Normal' setting, in which form it won't require too much acclimatisation over any other small car.
As with the old 500C, there's no proper convertible top; just what amounts to a fabric folding sunroof, though it electrically retracts right back to give a decent wind-in-the-hair feel. The rest of the car is, of course, exactly like the fixed-top version. Don't be deceived by the familiar looks; everything is new here - including the fresh architecture that this car sits upon. That's allowed for a subtle increase in size, this cabriolet version (like its fixed-top counterpart) being 3.36m long and 1.69m wide, an increase of 6cm in both length and width over the old 500C. The 1.53m height means it's 4cm taller too. Fiat has deliberately made exterior look an evolution of this car's predecessor - specifically in the light and bumper designs. Look more closely though and you'll spot sharper lines and flush door handles, plus the adoption of full-LED headlights. For existing 500C owners, much less will be recognisable inside, where the dashboard is much wider and now topped by a big 10.25-inch touchscreen housing the brand's latest U connect 5 media system. This can deliver navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and Apple CarPlay. Out back, the 2cm wheelbase increase means that things aren't quite as cramped as before: indeed, Fiat markets this drop-top version as 'the world's first 4-seat convertible EV'. The company also reckons that the floor-mounted battery pack won't reduce luggage capacity. It's 185-litres.
As usual with EVs, we'll quote prices after deduction of the usual government Plug-in car Grant (£1,500). The Convertible range commands a premium of around £2,700 over the fixed-up version, but the starting price is quite a lot higher because this soft top can't be had with base 'Action' trim and the smaller battery. That means prices start at just under £30,000 for base 'Icon' trim, rising to just under £32,500 for the top 'La Prima' derivative. One nice little touch across the line-up is that the legally required low-speed acoustic warning sound that warns pedestrians of your approach in town is taken from the musician Nina Rota's score for the film 'Amacord'. Fiat wanted this acoustic warning sound to play like a melody, like the ring tones of your phone. Across the range, you get the brand's latest 'U connect 5' 10.25-inch centre-dash infotainment screen, which is fully connected and based on the Android operating system. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring. The 'La Prima' launch-spec model comes with full-LED headlights, 17-inch diamond-cut wheels and chrome-plated side panel inserts. It will be offered with three exclusive paint shades. Inside, there's eco-leather upholstery for the dashboard and the seats. Safety kit includes big car-style features like autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and a 360-degree parking assist system. As an option, Fiat is offering an intelligent adaptive cruise control system, which combines automatic lane keeping and a feature that will keep you a predefined distance from the vehicle ahead.
In this 42kWh form, the new 500 cabriolet features an 85kW rapid charging system that can recharge the battery from empty to 80% capacity in just 35 minutes and can provide the car with 31 miles of driving range in just 5 minutes. Buyers can also get a Fiat-branded wall charging box that offers 3kW charging and apparently doesn't need to be professionally installed. This wallbox can be upgraded to allow for 7.4kW charging at home. That 7.4kW wall box allows you to fully charge this electric 500 in just over 6 hours. The car also comes with a mode 3 cable for charging at up to 11kW from a public charging point. It can be charged via AC or DC power points. The important driving range figure for the 42kWh model is quoted at 186-199 miles on the WLTP cycle - which is close to the 211 mile EV driving figure you'll get from an EV supermini in the next class up, like a Peugeot e-208 or a Vauxhall Corsa-e. As usual with a Fiat, this car is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty and there's 36 months of breakdown cover included as well. Should you have a problem on a journey, you can use the 'Uconnect' infotainment system to contact roadside assistance and the same set-up can also be used to book routine services too.
We're used to the idea of paying through the nose for items deemed to be on the cutting edge of fashion but Fiat's New 500 Convertible, though hardly inexpensive, to some extent provides a welcome break from all that. Though the premium this soft-top model demands over its hatchback counterpart seems high, the overall package still represents one of the most affordable routes into soft-top motoring for EV customers. And the car that comes with it remains one of the trendiest on the road, just as liable to turn heads whether you've plumped for the entry-level version or shelled out for something much plusher. And in summary? Well in one of these, even the most mundane of commutes can be turned into a journey you might actually look forward to making. Here's an open-topped citycar that's very difficult to dislike, a carefree cabrio that's free, sunny and open in its outlook, with a sheer joie de vivre that's central to its charming appeal. Choosing a 'fashionable' little runabout can often be a risk. Here though, is one you can enjoy without a worry.