Fiat 500 c 1.2 Pop

Price: £11,300
Top speed: 99 mph 0-60mph 12.9 seconds
Consumption: 55.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 119g/km
Best for: Mini owners who fancy a change
Also worth considering? BMW Mini convertible, Citroen C3 Pluriel, Peugeot 207 cc

Fiat is on a bit of a roll at the moment. At the corporate level, the company is helping shape the future of the industry, picking at the carcass of Chrysler in the US after making a serious run at the European operations of a clapped-out General Motors. The Italians' new confidence is underpinned by a product range that could scarcely be better matched to the financial and environmental concerns of the moment; Fiat has chosen to play to its traditional strengths in designing and making small cars at just the right time.

And the jewel in Fiat's range is the 500, a deft reinterpretation of the Fifties original, which, in pure styling terms, probably works better than the other two other retro small-car designs of recent years, BMW's Mini and Volkswagen's Beetle. The 500 has helped to change perceptions of Fiat as well, drawing in customers who wouldn't normally consider buying Italian; in fact, getting on for 80 per cent of 500 sales have been to customers who previously owned other brands of car.

Anyway, even though it can scarcely make enough of the standard hatchback to keep up with demand, Fiat has decided to ratchet the 500's desirability rating up another notch with the introduction of this new open-topped version. The 500 C isn't a full convertible; instead it has an elongated fabric roof that slides back to the top of the boot opening, a feature inspired by the roll-back roof of the 1957 original. This design works well – the fixed side windows keep roof-down buffeting to an absolute minimum while still letting in a lot of fresh air and sunshine (where available). Of course, the 500 C's beautifully engineered cloth roof is vastly superior to the flapping rag-tops of old – it even incorporates a small roof spoiler and high-level brake light.

One drawback is that the C costs a stiff £3,000 more than the standard 500, although it's still much cheaper than its rivals. The £11,300 entry model with its sweet little 1.2 litre petrol engine is likely to satisfy most needs – there's something about this car that makes you want to just tootle around, rather than rush everywhere as quickly as possible – but if you want to go a bit faster, the impressive 1.3 litre Multijet diesel engine is worth a look too.

So what next for the 500? The smart money is on a 'Giardiniera' estate model to take the fight to the Mini Clubman (if they can find space on the production line).

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