Every automotive writer has a wish list of absurd ideas they would like to do. I have been very lucky to cross one of those items off my list - driving a $130,000+ vehicle for a week. A couple weeks back I was able to cross another item off that list: Driving a open-top vehicle in the winter. What vehicle afforded me the chance to accomplish this wish? It happens to be one of the smallest and sportiest open-top vehicles on sale today; the 2015 Fiat 500C Abarth.
The Fiat 500 is one of the most iconic designs in the automotive world with its short and rounded shape that offered enough space for a small family, while having a price tag that everyone could afford. When it came to designing the new 500, designers took the basic shape and gave it a bit of a modern twist. The new 500 is slightly large, but retains the short front end and rounded cabin area. Abarth models give the 500 some attitude with a 0.7-inch suspension drop, Abarth badging on the front and rear; stripes running along the bottom edge of the doors, new wheels with a red scorpion cap, and a rear diffuser.
Now this being the 500C, Fiat did something clever with the transition to a convertible. Instead of hacking off all of the roof, Fiat left the roof rails in place and installed a canvas top. By leaving the roof rails, it allows the 500C to retain a fair bit of structural integrity without fully resorting to adding rigidity towards to the bottom of the vehicle. Now the canvas top allows the driver to have it open in various positions such as a panoramic sunroof to fully open. The downside is when the top is fully open, it scrunches up at the bottom and causes a major blind spot to appear. I wish Fiat could figure out a way to stow away the top or at least offer a backup camera and blind spot monitoring. During my testing, the Detroit area had some of coldest temperatures with lows dipping into -20F. I was worried that the canvas top would make the week unbearable, but the top was able to retain the heat and make it a pleasant place to be in.
The Abarth’s interior is very much full of sporting intentions paired with a bit of retro styling. The dash boasts a large piece of grey plastic with the 500C name on the passenger side to evoke the 500’s past when the dashboard was metal. This is paired with such details as sport seats wrapped in black cloth and a new steering wheel with stitching. Seats are mostly comfortable and provide excellent support in enthusiastic driving. Oddly, the seating position has you feeling like you’re sitting on a stool. I thought the seating position worked, while others complain about it. Your opinion may vary on this. Even though the 500 has seating for four, it's best to think to think of it as a two-seater as there is no legroom.
My test Abarth came with equipped the Beats audio system. The optional system includes six-speakers, an eight-inch subwoofer, and a new amplifier. The optional system is impressive with providing excellent sound no matter what I played through it. I wished Fiat could have done a little bit more sound deadening so I didn’t have the volume up as much to try and drown out wind and road noise. The Abarth also included an optional TomTom navigation system. While it might look a little out of place, I have to give Fiat credit for hiding the power cable and other bits inside the dash.
See the next page for thoughts on powertrain and driving experience.
Powering the Abarth is a turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir four-cylinder with 157 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque (or 170 pound-feet when equipped with the manual). My tester was fitted with the optional six-speed automatic, while a five-speed manual is standard. Start the 500C Abarth up and you’ll be inundated with one of the sweetest engine sounds on sale. With cracking and popping, this engine is a joy to work. Aside from the sweet noises, the engine is quite spunky. Power comes on fast and gets the Abarth moving at a decent clip. The six-speed automatic provides crisp shifts, though I found the shift logic a bit wonky as it tended to hold gears slightly longer than I was expecting. Fuel economy is rated at 24 City/32 Highway/27 combined. My week saw an average of 26 MPG.
Out on the curvy bits, the Abarth shows off what it can do. The stiff suspension provides excellent body control and doesn’t make your passengers feel sick. Now the Abarth is a little bit twitchy due to the suspension and small tires, but it is easily controllable thanks to the engine and steering which possesses good weight. I did wish the steering had a little bit more feel. You might think the stiff suspension would make the ride unbearable, but the Abarth isn’t that unpleasant. The ride is bouncy, but you don’t feel like your spine is being shaken out. This may get old if you decide to take a long trip, along with loud exhaust that provides those sweet engine notes. I wonder if Fiat could look into a dual-mode exhaust into cutting back the noise for those times when need it.
Despite the cold weather, the Fiat 500C Abarth proved to be amazing vehicle. Its has the looks and engine note to get noticed. Plus the handling and performance that can give you a big grin. Some may wish the 500 Abarth was a little bit more button down like the MINI Cooper in corners, but I think it would take away something from the model - its character. Few can match the 500C Abarth for driving fun and noise - even when its 20 below outside.
Disclaimer: Fiat Provided the 500C Abarth, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 1.4L Turbocharged, MultiAir SOHC Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 157 @ 5,500
Torque @ RPM: 183 @ 2,400 - 4,000
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 24/32/27
Curb Weight: 2,545 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Toluca, Mexico
Base Price: $26,395
As Tested Price: $32,045 (Includes $850.00 Destination Charge)
Heavy-Duty Six-Speed Automatic Transmission - $1,350.00
Comfort/Convenience Group - $900.00
Beats Audio Package - $700.00
TomTom Navigation with BLUE&ME - $600.00
16-Inch Aluminum Wheels - $550.00
Black Mirror Cap with Body Side Stripe - $450.00
Black Trimmed Lights - $250.00