by John Tallodi
The 500c Abarth is Fiats sporty little subcompact convertible and underneath that retro-inspired exterior is a sporty chassis and turbocharged engine that offer a lot of driving fun in the right conditions.
1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The 500c has been around for a few years now and 2017 sees it gain some additional standard equipment and along with its hardtop sibling is now the only 500 available with the turbo engine.
The tiny exterior proportions mean that the interior will be a tight fit for larger adults up front and the miniscule rear seats are more for additional storage space than for transporting people. Children may enjoy the novelty of clambering in the back a few times but even they will have trouble with the non-existent leg and knee room.
The trunk is thankfully not that much smaller in the convertible as the fabric roof folds into an organized mess above the rear hatch although it remains tiny and this car really is not intended for longer holiday trips or shopping expeditions.
None of this should trouble the shopper interested in a 500c as these cars are all about short weekend trips and quick blasts down a winding road, the retro-inspired interior, Abarth detailing and available leather upholstery imbue the car with a special feeling that is very rare in this class.
The folding fabric roof section leaves the B and C pillars in place allowing for semi-alfresco motoring. Even with the roof up the cabin can get a bit noisy in highway driving with wind noise and the buzzy engine adding to the tire roar on less than ideal pavement surfaces.
The tiny wheelbase and sporty suspension settings of the 500c provide it with a surefooted and neutral feel around corners although the ride suffers as a result.
The responsive engine and light but direct controls make it a great car to hoon about in, though the turbo lag from the little motor can be frustrating if you pick the wrong gear exiting a tight bend. The automatic transmission does alleviate the issue although you lose some of the immersiveness that the manual shifter provides.
Pushing hard into corners sees the front run wide and being aggressive with the throttle exiting a corner will have the wheels scrabbling for grip, so not the best in class then when it comes to handling but it is sure to put a smile on your face after a spirited drive.
The 500c Abarth is equipped with a 1.4-liter turbocharged motor, when chosen with the standard 5-speed manual transmission it makes 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft, or 157 hp and 183 lb-ft when the available 6-speed automatic is specified.
The front-wheel drive Abarth provides decent if not exactly class-leading acceleration off the line, 60 mph arrives in a little over 7-seconds. The short gearing, sporty exhaust note and light chassis do make it feel quicker than it really is.
EPA figures of 28/33 mpg for city/highway driving are average for the class and utilizing the available power will make them hard to achieve.
The 500c Abarth is available in one trim level with a range of available options. Standard items include fog lamps, Abarth aero exterior detailing, bucket seats, leather steering-wheel and shift knob, rear park assist, driver selectable electronic stability control and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Abarth specific items include front-wheel torque transfer control, high-inflow intake system, sports suspension and upgraded brakes.
The Beats Audio Package adds an upgraded audio system and SiriusXM radio service while the Popular Equipment package also includes the Sirius XM service and adds heated front seats and climate control. 17-inch wheels and a navigation system as well as numerous paint schemes are available as individual upgrades.
Viewed as a logical purchase the 500c Abarth comes short in a number of areas, but this is not what this pint-sized performer is about.
The feel-good factor it offers is not a quantifiably measurable thing and while it may not offer the best ride or performance in its class, the cheeky little 500c remains the one you will most likely want more than any of its more practical competitors.