by Roger Biermann
What differentiates the Fiat 500c Abarth from its standard hatchback siblings other than its performance-tuned underpinnings and a sporty appeal is its innovative three-position
power-folding retractable soft top. Under the hood, the Abarth is fitted with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder MultiAir Turbo engine producing 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque with the default five-speed manual transmission, or 157 hp and 183 lb-ft of torque with the available six-speed automatic transmission. Its suspension, brakes, and exhaust system have been performance-tuned to give the 500c Abarth some overture on the track whilst maintaining its irrefutable city-centric appeal. Its compact dimensions make it ideal for city streets, and its nimble nature lends an advantage in traffic and tight parking spots. Unfortunately, those same dimensions mean limited occupant and storage space, and a trunk that's just as constrained. The 500c Abarth faces stiff competition in its segment with the Ford Fiesta ST and Mini Cooper Convertible presenting finer performance propositions and appreciable practicality.
The 500c Abarth enters 2019 predominantly unchanged, keeping the same MSRP of $21,990 as its 2018 predecessor. The Turbo component of the engine has been upgraded with some noteworthy enhancements including an Abarth-designed air intake system with a high-flow air filter with smooth-flow plumbing to maximize power.
1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The 500c Abarth makes its feisty side known with its performance-focused large ventilation grill, performance spoiler, and chrome dual-exhaust tips. A power three-way convertible dual-cloth soft top runs between the roof frames on this C derivative. Other features include bi-function halogen projector headlamps, fog lamps, side sill ground effects, and 16-inch cast aluminum black wheels with red painted brake calipers.
With a total length of only 144.4 inches, the 500c Abarth holds a minuscule wheelbase of 90.6 inches and a width of 64.1 inches. It has a slightly higher running ground clearance than the standard 500 at 4.6 inches and stands marginally taller at 59.2 inches as a result of the convertible soft top. At 2,545-pounds it is also heavier by around 30 pounds than the non-convertible 500 Abarth.
The Abarth's color palette is somewhat limited with no additional colors compared to the previous years' color palette. As such, eight options are offered including Granito Gray, Colosseo Gray clear-coat, Laser Blue, Oliva Green Pearl, Brilliante Red, or if you feel like being lavish, Perla White Tri-coat for an additional $500.
The 500c Abarth is fitted with a 1.4-liter inline-four MultiAir turbocharged engine powering the front wheels with 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque with the five-speed manual transmission equipped. With the six-speed automatic transmission in play the engine produces three fewer horsepower but adds 13 lb-ft of torque to the mix. While the automatic is jerky and robs the driver of a sense of involvement, the torque makes the Abarth feel even more unhinged, aided by a sub-seven second 0-60 mph time. Acceleration from a standstill is energetic, however, the performance adjustments to the turbo engine don't help much to mitigate the turbo-lag experienced in both manual and automatic models, and the over-reliance on a boost-filled midrange rather than smooth power delivery.
The 500 range is naturally suited to the city streets, and now with its performance tune-ups can share some of its capabilities on the track. With the 500c Abarth's minuscule and lightweight dimensions along with its performance-tuned engine and suspension comes first-rate handling dynamics and maneuverability. Steering overall is light and fairly communicative, connecting the driver with the position of the car and providing adequate road-feel and feedback response for confident control. In turns, the 500c Abarth does feel top-heavy, however, and exhibits an inclination towards snap oversteer at the limit, which is exacerbated by the short wheelbase.
Activating the Sport mode boosts performance up a notch with more precise steering and sharpened shift points, and for even further control at the limit the three-mode Electronic Stability Control system can be adjusted, making the 500 Abarth worthy of the track.
But this performance edge means it crashes over broken pavements, yielding less than satisfactory levels of comfort on imperfect city streets.
Considering the small and lightweight dimensions of the 500c Abarth along with its moderately sized engine, it should be relatively frugal. However, performance-tuned underpinnings have rendered the subcompact convertible with unimpressive fuel economy estimates. Equipped with the five-speed manual transmission the Abarth earns EPA mileage estimates of 28/33/30 mpg on city/highway/combined driving cycles. The automatic-equipped variant fares worse still, with 24/32/27 mpg claims. For optimal use of the turbocharged engine its recommended that only premium unleaded gas is used in the 10.5-gallon gas tank, which when full, can reach a max range of 315 miles in mixed driving conditions on manual-equipped models.
The two-door subcompact convertible seats a claimed four occupants in total, with the front cabin presenting high levels of comfort overall, while the confined rear seats would prove more useful as a cargo shelf. The driver and front passenger benefit from ample head and legroom, and are supported by comfortably cushioned high-back sport bucket seats which position the driver effectively behind the steering wheel, although the basic platform still sees the driver perched too high. The rear seats barely house a teenager, let alone a full-sized adult.
By virtue of the convertible soft top, the 500c Abarth presents a minuscule trunk capacity of 5.4 cubic feet, 4.1 cu-ft smaller than the trunk on the hatchback variant, and only enough room for a weekend's worth of groceries. Folding the 50/50-split rear seats expands the trunk but the aperture through to the cabin is small and not particularly helpful. No spare tire is featured with the 500c Abarth due to its gravely limited trunk space.
With the exception of a reasonably spacious glovebox, in-cabin storage is just as limited, with shallow door-side pockets and cramped front and rear floor-mounted cupholders, and ineffectual front-seat back map pockets.
The performance appeal is carried through to the interior of the 500c Abarth, featuring high-back sport bucket seats with seat belt pass-throughs upfront, an Abarth-designed perforated leather-wrapped and sport-like steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, aluminum covered pedals, and a premium Electronic Vehicle Information Center with sport-like turbo gauge. Regular features include air conditioning, power windows, a rear cargo shelf panel, 50/50 rear split fold-down seats, rear park assist system, and a rearview backup camera. Exclusive on the 500 Cabrio model is its power three-way convertible dual-cloth soft top.
Fiat has set the 500c Abarth back by equipping it with an outdated Uconnect three infotainment system and a meager five-inch touchscreen display, not capable of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality. The Fiat system does allow for integrated voice command with Bluetooth connectivity, and audio and speed control buttons are featured on the steering wheel for ergonomic use. For device connectivity and charging, there are two USB ports and an auxiliary input featured in the media hub situated in the center console, and an additional USB port can be found inside the glovebox. The standard Fiat premium audio system can be upgraded with the Beats Audio Package for improved sound quality and a one-year subscription to satellite radio.
Since its inception, the 500c Abarth has received increasingly improved reliability scores, with J.D. Power scoring the 2019 model with three out of five for predicted reliability. No complaints have been recorded by buyers and no recalls have been commissioned by Fiat since the 2016 model. Fiat offers the 500c Abarth with a four-year/50,000-mile basic and powertrain warranty with four-year complimentary roadside assistance.
The IIHS evaluated the virtually identical standard variant of the Fiat 500, of which it scored top results of Good overall with the exception of the driver side small overlap front test in which it scored poorly. The NHTSA evaluated only the frontal crash and rollover resistance of the 500, in which it scored four out of five stars.
The Fiat 500 range has been popular for a long time and for only one reason in particular that sets it apart from its class-rivals, its classic style. Fiat has capitalized on this element with a power three-way dual-cloth soft-top and sport-centric appeal. Outside of its looks, however, the 500c Abarth lacks in modern practicality and functionality, particularly in its limited trunk and cargo capacity and exclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Performance-wise the 500c Abarth isn't relatively accomplished either, thriving on its sporty facade and exhaust note to amplify the feeling of speed rather than presenting genuine capability.
The 500c Abarth would suit those who travel alone or with a single passenger, and who travel lightly and predominantly in the city for short daily commutes. It is no family appeaser, long distance journey maker, or performance spectacle, but possibly the most stylish way to get to work every day or enjoy the weekend. There are, however, subcompact convertibles that offer greater practicality, comfort, and more performance, making it hard to genuinely recommend the 500c Abarth.
In its standard guise and setup, the 500c Abarth carries a starting MSRP of $21,990, excluding tax, registration, licensing, and Fiat's $1,495 destination charge. That sets the 500c Abarth in the same pricing range of most vehicles in its class, and at about $5,000 cheaper than the Mini Cooper Convertible.
The 500c Abarth is featured as the performance-based variant of the 500 range, unique enough in its offering to be presented as a standalone model. It is a one-of-a-kind vehicle that delivers unbridled style and a performance appeal unmatched by the standard 500, and difficult to reach by its rivals. To get the most out the 500c Abarth, we'd recommend the addition of the $895 Popular Equipment Package for more comfort-oriented features, along with the $695 Beats Audio package for the improved audio system.
The Mini Cooper Convertible, while more expensive than most class rivals and about $5,000 more than the 500c Abarth, offers considerable value in its improved functionality, exciting drive experience, and exceptional character. It larger overall which means more interior space than the 500c Abarth, but the trunk is only slightly larger at 5.7 cubic feet. It receives more comfort-oriented features such as automatic climate control as standard and boasts a superior 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen, high-quality soft-touch materials, and a pleasingly modern looking interior. Performance-wise the Mini Cooper Convertible has a less powerful engine but exhibits better handling dynamics and a slightly quicker 6.7-second time from 0 to 60 mph. Along with better gas mileage estimates the Mini also received a perfect predicted reliability rating of five out of five from J.D. Power, making the Mini Cooper Convertible well-worth its higher price and the better choice than the 500c Abarth.
Both the 500c Abarth and Ford Fiesta ST occupy a similar price range and scored similarly in their safety evaluations. The ST does, however, offer more standard safety features and practicality, capable of seating five occupants in total and holding a larger trunk capacity. Along with the four doors, the ST may present more practicality than the Abarth, whereas drive comfort and ride quality remain relatively similar. The ST's bigger 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces more power and torque than the Abarth's, but has a slower 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds to the Abarths 6.9 seconds, as a result of the ST being larger and heavier. The Fiesta ST is a more complete driver's tool than the 500c Abarth, punching above its weight dynamically, but lacks in what the 500c Abarth offers with top-down driving, with no option for an ST convertible variant.