We won't soon forget our 2009 Smart ForTwo road test in California last year, in part because we found the little car serviceable even over the mountain passes between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.

That memory came flooding back when we had the chance to drive the 2012 Fiat 500C at altitudes up to 14,000 feet.

The question in the Rockies: Could the little car cut it at high altitude?

Our car, a silver Pop model with a red soft top, came with the five-speed manual transmission. As we learned during our first drive of the 2012 Fiat 500C cabrio, its 1.4-liter engine yearns to be revved—especially if you need any power out of it.

2012 Fiat 500C at the Buffalo in Idaho Springs, Colorado

2012 Fiat 500C at the Buffalo in Idaho Springs, Colorado

Knowing that led to the question: Is a Fiat 500 drivable in the Rocky Mountains and other places that require major elevation changes? The only way to find out was to take it on a loop that started at 5,280 feet and crested 14,000 feet.

The result was surprising, even to someone who spent way too much time in a Smart ForTwo. With 101 horsepower, the Fiat's 1.4-liter engine is no rocket, but even on the high-speed route back to Denver, the little Fiat was able to maintain the speed limit of 65 mph, and then some.

This wasn’t without work from the driver—we often had to shift down not one but two gears, from fifth to third. The good news is that the engine has a high redline and fairly tall gears in the lower range. What’s more, we were able to keep up with traffic and feel comfortable on the highway even with the air conditioning on.

Our conclusion: While the Fiat 500 and 500C aren’t mountain road rockets, they do provide a driving experience worthy of the Fiat name.

In the case of the Fiat 500C Pop, you can have all that and the wind in your hair, starting at a base price of $19,500 (plus the $500 destination fee). 


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