by Roger Biermann
The 2018 Fiat 500C Abarth is a two-door, subcompact convertible, unique in its performance-tuned mechanics and sporty cosmetic facade. It is endowed with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder MultiAir turbocharged engine producing 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque with the default five-speed manual transmission, and 157 hp/183 lb-ft of torque with the available six-speed automatic transmission. The city-centric capabilities offered by the iconic Fiat 500 are enhanced by a performance-tuned suspension, sport brakes, and exhaust system, which take those same capabilities to the track with the addition of the Abarth badge. Its scant dimensions and nimble physique present a host of advantages with handling dynamics and maneuverability in city traffic or on the track. These same dimensions are what add its major flaws too, however, trading off interior space as well as trunk and storage capacity. With so many rivals in the class, the 500C Abarth has a lot to match up to, particularly when the segment also comprises the Mini Cooper Convertible.
The 500C Abarth comes into 2018 with only a few enhancements and adjusted customization capabilities. Most notably the Cabrio receives a performance-tuned 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, which along with the sport-tuned suspension and exhaust system, has been enhanced to deliver track-ready durability and overall sportier driving dynamics. A "Turbo” badge is featured on the upper rear fascia and a now mandatory ParkView backup camera is standard.
The iconic retro-Italian exterior of the 500C Abarth is amalgamated with more aggressive styling cues as well as with a convertible soft top. It features body-color front and rear fascias, side sill ground effects, and front fog lamps, along with standard 16-inch Hyper-black aluminum wheels, red brake calipers, dual chrome exhaust tips, a sport-like spoiler, and a "Turbo” badge on the upper rear fascia, all styled to exude Abarth character.
At only 144.4 inches in length, the 500C Abarth has a wheelbase of 90.6 in and has a total width of 64.1 inches. It is heavier than the hatchback variant by around 30 pounds, with a curb weight of 2,545 pounds, and has a slightly higher running ground clearance of 4.6 inches, standing marginally taller at 59.2 inches as a result of the convertible soft top.
The color palette remains identical to the previous year’s selection, comprising exterior options of Vesuvio Black, Granito Gray, Colosseo Gray clear-coat, Pompei Silver, Laser Blue, Oliva Green Pearl, and Brilliante Red, all of which are included in the standard price. Available for an additional $500, Perla White Tri-coat can be selected to add an extra dimension to the 500C Abarth’s exterior.
A dialed up version of the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine is utilized in the Abarth, powering the front-wheel-drive powertrain with 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque when equipped with the default five-speed manual transmission. With the optional six-speed automatic transmission, the engine produces three less hp but 13 more lb-ft (157 hp and 183 lb-ft). With either the manual or automatic transmission the car performs adequately with energetic acceleration from a standstill, satisfactory passing power, compelling gear shifts and acceleration throughout the drive. The performance tune-ups to the turbo engine, however, haven't mitigated the turbo-lag experienced in both manual and automatic models, as well as the peaky turbo-torque followed by a solid dead-spot at the top of the rev-range.
The 500C Abarth’s superlative handling dynamics and maneuverability are by virtue of its compact and lightweight dimensions combined with its performance-tuned engine and suspension. The light steering adequately communicates road-feel, and the positioning of the tires provides the driver with control and confidence. Although the 500C Abarth responds quickly through the turns, the Cabrio exhibits an inclination towards snap oversteer at the limit, while under heavy throttle loads there’s a fair amount of torquesteer as the front wheels scrabble for grip.
The 500C Abarth features a Sport Mode, boosting overall performance by firming up the steering and sharpening shift points for quicker response. The three-mode electronic stability control system can also be adjusted for further control at the limit, transferring the qualities the 500C Abarth displays on the streets to the track.
The 500C Abarth earns EPA mileage estimates of 28/33/30 mpg in city/highway/combined driving cycles respectively when equipped with the five-speed manual transmission. For the turbo engine to function most efficiently, only premium unleaded gas is recommended in the 10.5-gallon gas tank. When the tank is full the Abarth can reach a total range of 315 miles with mixed driving scenarios. The automatic-equipped variant sacrifices economy with estimates of 24/32/27 mpg, and with no tangible improvement to the driving experience.
The 500C Abarth is available as a two-door subcompact convertible seating four occupants. Space in the front of the cabin is decent, with adequate head and legroom and comfortably cushioned high-back sport bucket seats that perch the driver a bit high but with optimal forward visibility. The rear seats, on the other hand, would be better utilized as a rear cargo hold, as legroom is innately minimal, and due to the convertible soft top, so is headroom. The rear seats do, however, fold-down 50/50-split to extend the trunk’s storage capacity.
As a result of the 500C Abarth’s tiny dimensions and the convertible soft top, trunk capacity and cargo space are minimal. It holds a contemptible trunk capacity of 5.4 cubic feet, accessible through a small, awkwardly low-mounted hatch, which is only barely enough room for a few day’s worth of groceries. Folding down the 50/50-split rear seats expands the trunk but the soft-top limited access substantially. Due to the incredibly limited trunk space, there is no spare tire in the 500C Abarth.
The only spacious storage found in the interior cabin is the glovebox, with the door-side pockets too shallow, and the front and rear floor-mounted cupholders too cramped for use. The front-seat back map pockets are dismally ineffectual.
The 500C Abarth features a host of appreciable lineaments, such as air conditioning, power windows, and door locks, a rear cargo shelf panel, driver and front-passenger-seat memory, 50/50 rear split fold-down seats, rear park assist system, and a rearview backup camera. It embraces the sport-centric Abarth appeal with 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 a sporty turbo gauge. This 500 Cabrio model also features a power three-way convertible dual-cloth soft top.
The 500C Abarth features a very basic Uconnect three infotainment system, comprising a five-inch touchscreen display tethered to the standard six-speaker Alpine sound system. The Fiat system is capable of integrated voice commands with Bluetooth connectivity but does not support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality. The media hub is in the center console and consists of two USB ports and an auxiliary input for device connectivity and charging, and an additional USB port is in the glovebox. There are audio and speed controls on the steering for improved ergonomics while driving. The Beats Audio Package is recommended to upgrade the standard audio system for high definition sound and a one-year subscription to satellite radio.
Since the 2016 Fiat 500 model, no new complaints have been recorded by Fiat drivers and no recalls have been commissioned by Fiat. The 2018 500C Abarth arrives at dealerships with a four-year/50,000-mile basic and powertrain warranty and four-years of complimentary roadside assistance.
The virtually identical base variant of the Fiat 500 has been evaluated by the IIHS, which scored the Abarth top results of Good overall, with the exception of the driver side small overlap front test, in which it scored poorly. With only the frontal crash and rollover resistance tests of the 500 being evaluated, scoring four out of five stars by the NHTSA, no overall result has been given.
The 500C Abarth is no class leader by any stretch, but if the retro-Italian flair along with the minimalistic design and an Abarth badge and everything that comes with it appeals to you, then the 500C Abarth is one of a kind. It's tough matching up to what the 500C Abarth has to offer visually, but it's beaten in just about every other evaluation by nearly every one of its rivals. Its practicality is set back by its almost unusable trunk and cabin storage capacity and cramped rear seats. For such a small car it would be expected to be far more fuel efficient, and for a performance-based model, a little faster too. So what does make the Fiat 500C Abarth even vaguely considerable over its rivals? Its strengths as a city-centric minicar, of course. It’s maneuverable in traffic and easy to park almost anywhere. It offers driver’s fun with top-down driving in absolute style along with track-day exhilaration at the limit, two capabilities not offered by many in the segment. It’s a left-field choice, but one that will see you smiling every time the throaty exhaust crackles and pops, even if you never have any rear passengers.
The 500C Abarth holds a starting MSRP of $21,990 at its base condition, excluding tax, registration, licensing, and Fiat’s $1,495 destination charge. The pricing is reasonably level in the subcompact segment pricing range, a lot more expensive than the base Honda Fit LX but a lot cheaper than the Mini Cooper Convertible, which is the only other subcompact convertible vehicle in the same segment.
There are no trim options for the 500C Abarth as it is in its own right a standalone performance variant of the Fiat 500 range. Along with the Abarth badging, this model has a performance-tuned version of the 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine as well as performance-tuned suspension, brakes, and exhaust system. These factors combined take the benefits the 500C Abarth exhibits in the city streets to the track for an extra element of fun, while the convertible soft top just adds another layer of driving enjoyment. Deciding between the more engaging five-speed manual or relaxed six-speed automatic depends on in which direction you’d prefer to take the 500C Abarth in terms of maxing out on its lifestyle appeal or its sporty demeanor.
The Honda Fit is the subcompact class leader in almost every regard, as at its base level, it offers the most in practicality, functionality, and efficiency. Even with a massive trunk capacity of 52.7 cubic feet, the back seats of the Fit are 60/40-split folding Magic Seats, which can be positioned in a number of configurations, making it able to handle more types of cargo than other typical subcompact vehicles. The Fit has more standard safety features and advanced driver assistance systems than the 500C Abarth, which, with moving up the trim levels, only increases pricing. A notable feature the Fit also offers as standard is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, which alone gives it an advantage over the Abarth. The Honda Fit is, however not featured with a convertible top, which is about the only drawback in comparison with the 500C Abarth.
At around $5,000 more than the 500C Abarth, the Mini Cooper Convertible is well worth its asking price. The Mini offers better drive quality and is more fun than the 500C Abarth: in handling dynamics and maneuverability, the Mini takes the lead. It comes standard with more safety and comfort features and a better infotainment system comprising a more modern 6.5-inch touchscreen display in a cabin that exudes quality and futurism. Both vehicles are, however, limited in trunk and cargo capacity as well as in interior space, and both share similar gas mileage estimates, with the Mini only slightly ahead. On top of its retro appeal and classic Mini Cooper charm, it’s also one of the only convertibles in the segment alongside the 500C Abarth. With the Mini receiving a perfect predicted reliability rating of five out of five from J.D. Power, however, deciding on the Mini is most recommended.