2014 Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven

The Fiat 500 first saw life back in 1957 as the Fiat Nuova 500 and was an inexpensive little city car that became extremely popular throughout Italy. Its small, two-cylinder engine displaced roughly 500cc — hence the name — and produced a modest 13 brake horsepower. It enjoyed a ragtop roof that slid rearward and a pair of suicide doors. In comparison to today’s cars, the original Fiat 500 was a toy, only standing chest height to the average person. Production ended in 1975 and the 500 name laid dormant until 2007 when the current version became available in Europe.

The Fiat 500 swam the pond in 2010, marking the first time Fiat sold vehicles in the U.S. since 1984. The return happened, thanks to Fiat’s purchase of Chrysler and the two automakers’ global alliances. The car has remained unchanged for the most part, except the additional Abarth trim level new for 2012. That sporty trim added a ton of go-fast, have-fun goodies to Fiat’s spunky little run-about.

I recently spend a week getting to know the Fiat 500c Abarth. You’ll notice the ‘c’ in the 500’s name, well that signifies it carries a ragtop roof, just like the original Fiat 500 did. This 500, however, has 147 more horsepower than the original, a sweet exhaust note, and a superb five-speed manual gearbox. This thing is like the Mazda Miata of Italy — the tossable plaything that begs to be driven hard.

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2014 Fiat 500c Abarth

TopSpeed Garage

Exterior

Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven
Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven
Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven

While it might be sized like a clown car, the Abarth package means the only funny business happens when the turbo spools and the clutch is dropped.

Looking at the 500c is something of a whimsical experience. Its small packaging and diminished size makes onlookers wonder how many clowns are stuffed inside. The two door 2+2 cabriolet is longer than a Smart car, but only by a few feet. It fits rather comfortably inside a standard parking space with loads of room on either side. That does help make opening the 500’s long doors easier in a crowded parking lot.

While it might be sized like a clown car, the Abarth package means the only funny business happens when the turbo spools and the clutch is dropped. The extra wide and sticky Pirelli tires are wrapped around attractive 17-inch wheels. A larger front fascia, rocker panel valance, and rear bumper denote the Abarth’s sporty intentions.

Of course, the larger wheels, numerous Abarth Scorpions, and racing stripe down the side help folks figure out this isn’t a regular 500. The chrome-tipped dual exhausts spouting angry noises are a clear indicator as well.

Adding to the fun is the ragtop. It has three open positions for tailoring your experience. The first is a small opening like a conventional sunroof, the second is open nearly to the C-pillar and the third is folded all the way back. The top does obstruct rear visibility, but hearing the exhaust and having wind in your face is well worth the cost. Plus, the side mirror is large enough for seeing what’s behind.

Interior

Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven
Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven
Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven

I found myself listing to the turbocharged 1.4-liter soundtrack more than the SiriusXM radio.

Fiat did an amazing job designing the new 500’s interior to hark back to the olden days of 1957. The round gauge cluster is a predominate feature that carries the heritage over. Like the original, the interior space is tight, but not overly. The front two occupants have all the room anyone would need. The sport seats have folding center armrests and the door panel armrests are well placed. The driver is welcomed with well-placed controls in an ergonomic environment.

The same cannot be said for the lower center console where Fiat has attempted to place three cup holders. They are simply too low and small for the John S. American to use on a normal basis. Perhaps that’s Italy saying to stop commuting and start driving.

While small, the rear seats aren’t really that bad. In fact, I fit comfortably behind myself with leg, shoulder, head, and hip room to spare. It wouldn’t be ideal for longer stints, but it works just fine for shorter trips. And yes, a child seat does fit back there, though it forces the front passenger to scoot forward a bit.

Ergonomics in the driving department are all good. The shifter is just forward of my arm’s natural fall, making shifting a simple task. The pedals are well placed and are easy to operate. The clutch has a distinct bite point that’s easy to feel. The brakes are linear and don’t exhibit any sponginess. The steering wheel feels great in-hand and the gauge cluster was easy to read after some getting used to.

HVAC and radio controls were easy to operate, though I found myself listing to the turbocharged 1.4-liter soundtrack more than the SiriusXM radio.

Drivetrain

Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven
Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven
Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven

The whole gear-shifting experience makes you want to up- and downshift for the slightest reasons. I did find myself wishing for a sixth gear while cruising down the highway.

The heart and soul of the Fiat 500c Abarth is the turbocharged, 1.4-liter, inline four-cylinder. It makes 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque when in Sport mode. Without it engaged, the engine only puts out 150 pound-feet to save fuel. Engine is a single overhead cam design with an aluminum head and an iron block. It features 16 valves, and conventional port fuel injection.

The four-pot is mated to a five-speed manual transmission with decently short throws. Its engagement into each gear is rewarding and is accompanied a predictable clutch engagement. The whole gear-shifting experience makes you want to up- and downshift for the slightest reasons. I did find myself wishing for a sixth gear while cruising down the highway. At 70 mph, fifth gear left the engine churning at over 3,000 rpm, at which point I could almost feel the engine sucking down unnecessary amounts of premium gasoline.

A 0 to 60 mph run results in a ton of exciting noises, chirping tires in to second gear, and 60 mph coming in roughly seven seconds. When the throttle isn’t buried to the floor, the Abarth Abarth is EPA-rated at 28 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined. I saw numbers averaging around 30 mpg, so expect to get close to the EPA’s estimates during normal driving.

Suspension and Brakes

Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven

I found the suspension setup to work really well in the corners as well as around town.

Underpinning the 500 Abarth is an impressive list of go-fast handling bits. A stiffer suspension is partially achieved with Koni front shocks and a 0.7-inch lowered ride height. Front brake rotors grow an inch to 11.1 and are clamped by larger calipers. The skinny 195-series tires are replaced by less skinny 205-series tires from Pirelli. They wrap Abarth-unique 17-inch wheels.

I found the suspension setup to work really well in the corners as well as around town. The Fiat’s short wheelbase and low-profile Pirellis transmit a ton of road harshness into the car, but it’s not overly punishing. Understeer occurs just past what normal drivers would likely put the car through, so it shouldn’t be an issue. Likewise, body roll is somehow well controlled as the Abarth remains surprisingly flat through switchback turns.

Pricing

Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven

Pricing for the Fiat 500 Abarth starts at $22,195. Upgrading to the Cabrio model pushes the base price to $26,195, which is where my tester started life. My options included the Comfort and Convenience Group ($900) that includes the auto A/C controls, heated front seats, and SiriusXM radio. Also added is the TomTom navigation system ($600), black trimmed lights ($250), black mirror caps with the body side stripe ($450), and the beautiful 17-inch forged aluminum Hyper Black wheels ($1,400).

Add in the $800 destination charge, and my tester totals at $30,595.

Competition

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Golf GTI is getting improved for 2015 with the Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampening system becoming an option. That adds to an already competent car built for being a great all-rounder with both a fun and serious side.

Powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the GTI rockets to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds. The extra power also affords the GTI a faster feel on the street. A six speed manual transmission is standard while a six-speed dual-clutch unit is optional.

Pricing for the 2015 Golf GTI starts $24,395 and moves into the lower $30,000 range with all the options added.

2015 Ford Fiesta ST

Ford Fiesta ST

Coming in a little bit larger than the Fiat 500 is the Ford Fiesta. Still considered a compact car, the Fiesta sportiest trim, the ST version, has been highly regarded as one of the better sports cars in its class. Even better are the four actual doors that allow for better passenger access. Of course that costs the car in overall size, but if extreme urban crawling isn’t your thing, then perhaps the extra size is a good thing.

Power comes from a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder. It makes 197 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed manual The combination is good for a 6.8-second run to 60 mph and a 130 mph top speed.

Pricing for the Fiesta ST starts at $20,915 and will crest just over $25,000 with all the options selected.

Conclusion

Fiat 500c Abarth - Driven

The little Fiat 500c Abarth turned out to be an amazingly fun car to toss around. The Abarth-spec engine, suspension, exhaust, shifter, and appearance goodies made the 500 into something special — something of an enthusiasts’ toy. The retractable cloth roof made sunny days a top-down must, while the burbly exhaust further rewarded the sensation.

The 500c Abarth may not be the fastest or the best-handling car on the market today, but it certainly has its place. If I found myself living in a crowded city center with tight parking, I would give the 500 a serious look. I might save the extra $4,000 by getting the coupe, but in either form, the car offers some honest fun for an honest and obtainable amount of cash. Using Fiat’s online configurator, I built my ideal 500 Abarth for a tad over $24,000.

What’s more, included in the price of every Abarth is a full day’s worth of track training with professional instructors from Fiat. Now that’s certainly a decent deal.

LOVE IT
  • Small size makes it a nimble handler
  • Wonderful exhaust note
  • Plenty powerful & 5-speed manual
  • Open-top fun
LEAVE IT
  • Craves a sixth gear
  • Looks too ’cute’ for some
  • Afterthought placement of GPS unit

What is your take?

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