Vehicle Comparisons

Fiat 500 C

Fiat 500 C

The open-topped Fiat 500C has done well for Fiat, but time rolls on and this car now faces tougher competition from some more affordable rivals. Hence the need for the package of revisions we're going to look at here which has brought the Italian brand's convertible bambino bang up to date.

Neither the engine range or the driving experience have really changed with this updated model. Drive dynamics though, are a virtual irrelevance to lots of Fiat 500C buyers. They'll have already fallen in love with the car in a brochure, on a TV ad or upon seeing one in the street. Nevertheless, the car promises to be fairly adept on the road with the same basic set-up as the hard-topped 500, a chassis that's also shared with the Fiat Panda and Ford Ka. The petrol-only engine range opens with a 69bhp 1.2-litre petrol but those seeking a little more thrust will step up to the 85bhp TwinAir or the pokier version of this unit which has 105bhp. The 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol Abarth sporting models also continue. A choice of transmissions is available, with the 500C getting a five-speed manual gearbox as standard while presenting customers with the option of upgrading to the Dualogic robotised gearbox. Fiat's fuel saving Start&Stop technology is also included.

Fiat has kept exterior styling tweaks to the minimum with this improved model. Up front, there's a sleeker chrome grille that sits below revised headlights and is positioned at more of an angle than before. Between these two elements are smarter daytime running lights, with a shape that echoes the zeros of the '500' logo. Rounding the front off are updated chrome trims and a ribbed bonnet that that looks a little more stylish. At the rear, there are smarter tail lights that incorporate a body-coloured panel in the centre. This has meant the reversing and fog lights have moved from the clusters to the lower rear bumper. Your Fiat dealer will also offer you a more fashionable choice of wheels, graphic packages and paint colours to round off the updates.

As before, this convertible model pays homage to the original 500 cabriolet of 1957. It's better to think of the roof arrangement as a huge canvas sunroof rather than a full folding canopy. At the touch of a button, the entire centre section of the roof retracts into a concertinaed bundle just above the boot. It's not the most elegant piece of engineering but the sight of car with its roof retracted adds to the retro appeal and with the roof-up, it's tough to tell a convertible 500 from a hard-top one. The roof itself features a glass rear window and is available in a choice of colours, so buyers can personalise their car.

The simple roof arrangement also means that there's a decent amount of room in the rear seats of the 500C. There are some convertible cars twice the size of the little Fiat that are stingier with the legroom they lay on for passengers in the back. Delicious design details drip from the 500's interior. It's like a tiny pearl, especially when the ivory finish is specified. There's a very well-judged blend of retro chic and ruthlessly modern contemporary design inside, with circular head restraints and neat 500C badging on the Panda-sourced dashboard. Chrome-ringed vents and a fascia that can be specified in the same colour as the body are other highlights. As part of the updates, buyers now get a clever 7-inch TFT 'Uconnect' information screen in the centre of the dash.

In summary, the 500C can't offer the most affordable route to open-topped motoring in your citycar, but it's still a package than many buyers in ths segment will find hard to resist. The latest changes haven't really changed this car's essential appeal, but the extra customisable options will be welcome and the styling updates give the car a slightly fresher look, inside and out.

Here's a carefree car that's free, sunny and open in its outlook - and very difficult to dislike, with a sheer joie de vivre that's central to its charming appeal, turning even the most mundane of commutes into something far more attractive: a journey to be savoured, rather than endured.

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BMW 2 Series Convertible

BMW 2 Series Convertible

BMW has a strong track record when it comes to desirable drop tops and this 2 Series Convertible has kept that streak going. With an economical diesel and punchy petrol powerplants that are also strong on efficiency, this drop-top looks good and poses a challenge its rivals have found very hard to level with. Now, it's been lightly updated, inside and out.

The engines available in the Convertible are a direct carry over from the coupe range and this, as anyone who's ever driven the two-door tin top will tell you, is a very good thing. Drive is directed to the back wheels and you get to choose between a six-speed manual gearbox or the quite brilliant eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Petrol proceedings open with the 1.5-litre 136bhp three-cylinder petrol powerplant used in the 218i variant. This version will record 8.8 seconds for the sprint to 62mph and hit 130mph. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is offered with 184bhp in the 220i and 252bhp in the 230i. Diesel options include the 150bhp 218d, the 190bhp 220d and the 224bhp 225d. The 220d diesel offers a good combination of virtues, delivering a tall stack of torque, with 400Nm available from just 1,750rpm.

If you're of the belief that a BMW sounds best with six cylinders, you'll probably gravitate to the M240i Convertible. With 340bhp, this one has some senior performance credentials. If you specify it with the eight-speed automatic transmission, it'll get to 62mph in a mere 5.0 seconds. Press the Sport button and the steering weight up and the throttle response sharpen. Press the button once more and you'll find Sport+, which partially disengages the stability control and offers an even spikier throttle pedal.

As before, the electrically operated folding soft top lowers or raises in just 20 seconds at the touch of a button and can be carried out at speeds of just over 30mph. Once folded, the soft top disappears fully into the boot and luggage capacity is rated at a fairly generous 335-litres, making it the largest boot in its class. A through-loading system is optionally available to increase versatility.

Exterior updates to this revised version include piercing LED headlights that come as standard, complete with hallmark four corona ring LED daytime running lights. All models gain enlarged kidney grilles with a more prominent chrome surround. In addition, all standard range variants get LED front fog lights as standard and offer a re-designed front bumper with a smarter air-intake design. At the rear, smarter LED tail lights with redesigned LED light bars now feature, while 'Sport' models get a re-styled bumper with sculpted design and high-gloss black trim. As for the interior updates, well, there's a re-designed instrument panel, plus a smarter centre console with a sliding cup holder cover and pearl chrome accents. On M Sport and M240i models, the instrument cluster features a Black Optic display with 3D effect dials - an option with other variants in the line-up.

BMW's much-improved iDrive system features in the cabin and delivers the latest-generation iDrive software on the standard BMW Navigation and BMW Professional Navigation set-ups. The large 8.8-inch screen on the latter navigation system is also equipped with BMW Touch Control for the first time, offering drivers the choice of iDrive with Touch pad, voice control and touchscreen to interact with the system.

BMW couldn't really have delivered much more when briefed with turning 2 Series Coupe into a Convertible. Clearly there's only so much sleekness you can build into a four-seater drop-top that's only a few millimetres longer than a Ford Focus but the stylists have done a good job giving the car a coupe-like silhouette with the roof up. Roof-down, BMW's designers have given the car a clean deck and flanks that hold enough shape to prevent car looking dull and blocky.

What else? Well the small styling updates are welcome; the engine selection draws no complaints from us and the pricing looks to be fair. The class benchmark? That looks as if it may well be the case.

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Audi A3 Cabriolet

Audi A3 Cabriolet

Audi has revitalised its second generation A3 Cabriolet. There's a more advanced 2.0-litre petrol engine on offer, plus innovations like the Audi Smartphone interface and the clever 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument layout. All of this embellishing a classy, stylish and pretty practical basic package. You'd like one.

Engine-wise, many will want to avoid the entry-level unit (a 110PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel) in favour of the two powerplants that make up the heart of the range. The most obvious choice is the one most buyers will probably make, the 150PS 2.0-litre TDI diesel. And, sure enough, it's a very impressive engine, with eager pulling power delivering the rest to 62mph sprint in 8.9s en route to a 139mph maximum that ought to be enough for anyone. Personally though, if we were buying this car, we'd take the other mainstream option, a 150PS version of the 1.5 TFSI petrol unit with clever CoD, or 'Cylinder on Demand' technology. It's almost as efficient as the diesel, significantly quieter (especially of course with the roof down) and just as quick (62mph from rest takes 8.9s en route to 137mph).

We're not sure we'd really want to go much faster than that in this car, but Audi centres are ready and willing to oblige those with a further need for speed. Diesel folk prepared to special quattro 4WD and tronic auto transmission get a pokier 184PS version of the 2.0 TDI unit. While those preferring petrol have the further option of an all-new 190PS 2.0-litre TFSI powerplant, the engine you have to have if you're looking for a mainstream petrol-powered A3 Cabriolet with the option of quattro 4WD. This variant also gets a slicker 7-speed S tronic auto transmission set-up than diesel drivers can have and with this fitted, 62mph is just 7.3s away en route to 155mph. The same system is also an option on the ritziest version of this car you can buy, the potent S3 flagship model, which mates quattro 4WD to an uprated 310PS 2.0-litre TFSI turbo engine able to power you to 62mph in a fraction over 5s. Toupees will very definitely need to be firmly tied down.

Built on a modified version of the A3 Saloon's chassis, the A3 Cabriolet lost its somewhat dumpy, pram-like styling when re-launched in second generation form. Exterior changes to this revised version are slight but the front looks a little more purposeful, courtesy of sharper lines for the familiar and now broader Single frame grille. The headlights are flatter, with distinctive outer contours and can now be ordered in Matrix LED form, so they are significantly brighter and constantly adapt themselves to avoid dazzling other road users, plus of course they never need to be dipped. Equally subtle changes at the rear aim to accentuate the width of this car - with the horizontal illuminated graphics of the rear lights and the separation edge above the redesigned diffuser.

Inside, the 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument display used in the TT and other pricier Audis is now available in this one as an option. This displays the most important driving-relevant information in high resolution on a 12.3-inch diagonal TFT screen. The driver can switch between two views by pressing the "View" button on the multifunction steering wheel. In addition, the menu structure that works the centre dash MMI infotainment screen has been redesigned and is now more intuitive.

As before, the soft fabric roof is stretched over a magnesium-steel 'skeleton'. The opens or closes electro-hydraulically in less than 18 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph. When retracted, the top - folded into three layers - rests in a tray that barely affects luggage capacity, which is 287-litres (10.14 cubic ft). There's a proper glass rear window and the roof can be specified in black, grey and brown - while the inner liner is available in black or lunar silver.

This A3 Cabriolet remains an elegant thing and a strong ownership proposition. Of course, it's always possible to spoil things. Adding big wheels and firmer suspension options that spoil the ride quality. Doing without the excellent acoustic roof that makes this car so refined. Loading the car with pricey extras that won't pay for themselves come resale time. But all of these things are in your hands. Audi's job was to provide the market's most desirable compact convertible and it's a task that's been completed with consummate skill.

Provided you don't enter the purchasing process with unrealistic expectations that this model will be mainstream brand-affordable - or some sort of sportscar - it's hard to see how you could be disappointed by what's on offer here. The A3 Cabriolet has matured - got a little more Vorsprung durch Technik. And the compact convertible class has a strong benchmark.

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