Since its introduction, the Fiat 500 has had an uncanny ability to appeal to shoppers from all socioeconomic classes. It’s a bit classless, in the way it’ll fit right in whether it’s parked in a high-end valet lot, or the parking lot of the value club. The 500C droptop version ratchets up that appeal even further, with the Abarth adding a bit of cheeky high-performance flair to the equation. So how does the mightiest-mite 500C Abarth measure up as a driver’s car?
From a purely sporting standpoint, first impressions are a bit mixed. Starting off with the cockpit, you’re perched very high in your seat, and without a telescoping steering wheel, tall drivers like myself end up sitting a bit bow-legged and arms-out in that storied Italian tradition. Drivers from Europe’s boot must be especially long-armed and short-legged. Otherwise, cabin space up front is actually quite decent and materials, while never approaching the touchy-feely quality of something like a Golf GTI, do at least seem to be hard-wearing.
A few ergonomic foibles aside, like the vision-obstructing placement of the (optional) TomTom navigation system and a trip computer button that took a visit to the owner’s manual to find, the 500 Abarth’s cabin is generally an upbeat and pleasant place to reside, eschewing the black coalbin nature of some of its competitors for more colorful bits of “flair”.
Outside, our tester certainly looks the part, with black mirror caps, body side stripes and pretty, forged 17” gunmetal wheels amping up the 500’s egg-like looks with a suitably Mille Miglia bravado. It could be labelled “cute” and “scappy” in equal measure, and a guy who’s comfortable enough in his own skin (and doesn’t take himself too seriously) could drive one as proudly as any girl – in fact, he’ll probably get plenty of compliments from the ladies, if my week in the car was any indication.
Once on the move, the 500C Abarth bears that “scrappy” descriptor front and center; the suspension is firm, reactions quick and exhaust note booming. Around town, the Fiat draws constant attention, buoyed by that retractable cloth roof, which peels open the cabin like a sardine can lid to anyone willing to look. That top can be motored into any of three positions, including a shortened “sunroof”-like setting that lets in the sky only above the front two occupants’ heads, and proves remarkably draft-free even at highway speeds. The second position opens the roof fully but keeps the backlight and rear spoiler in place and the final “fully open” position folds the whole shebang into a sort of rumpled-up sack. The top can be closed at speeds up to 60, so sudden rainstorms (a now-daily occurrence in my neck of the woods) aren’t a worry.
It’s not a highway cruiser, the 500 – the abbreviated wheelbase and firm springs make it readily apparent that the Fiat’s place is in town. And there, it’s in its element – the turbocharged engine and smooth, springy 5-speed shifter make quick work of acceleration runs, but the open exhaust makes the Abarth feel and sound quicker than it is. No worry, though – the Abarth is all about character, and there’s no shortage of that on offer.
2014 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio
Base price: $26,995
Price as tested: $30,595
Options on test car: Comfort/Convenience Group ($900), Black trimmed lights ($250), Black mirror caps and body stripes ($450), TomTom Navigation ($600), 17x7” forged wheels ($1,400)
Powertrain: 1.4-liter turbocharged and intercooled four cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive – 160 horsepower, 170 lb-ft torque
-observed fuel economy: 25.0 mpg
Fiat provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.