Fiat 500C Abarth Convertible (2009 - ) review
Read the Abarth 500C convertible (2010 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.The Auto Trader expert verdict: 3.4 The Abarth 500C convertible is a hoot to drive at any speed. It can’t match the MINI Cooper S Convertible for performance, but it’s much cheaper and packs a stronger visual punch.
- Insane looks
- Entertaining to drive
- Clever folding roof doesn’t cannibalise boot
- Standard auto gearbox is slow
- Useless rear seats
- Pricey for such a small car
At a glance
Miniaturised aggression encapsulates the vibe of the Abarth 500C . The range-topping convertible Fiat 500 is an unusual but exciting mix of cute soft top and butch performance car. Everywhere you look there’s a design detail, be it the folding cloth roof, 17-inch alloy wheels with red brake calipers, twin exhaust pipes, Abarth badges, deep front bumper or side skirts. The 500C Abarth makes a big, bold statement.
The thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel is lovely to hold, and the coloured panel in the dashboard gives the car a premium feel. It’s easy to make the Abarth 500C look even more distinctive using Fiat’s vast array of personalisation options. We like the little turbo boost gauge next to the big speedometer. Sadly the ergonomics aren’t a patch on those of the MINI Convertible. The Abarth 500C is a small car with limited headroom and a cramped driving position. The pedals are squeezed together, the steering wheel lacks adjustment and the driver’s seat is set too high.
The Abarth 500C has limited space both up front and in the back. In the 500C’s favour, however, is a clever roof design which concertinas backwards electrically and can be operated at speeds of up to 37mph. When folded, the fabric roof rests on top of the boot area so not to eat into the already limited 182 litres of space. The boot opening has the same awkward, letter-box style shape of the MINI Convertible, but that rival only manages a 125 litres of space.
Ride and handling
Unlike many open top cars, the Abarth 500 has retained its roof pillars which helps improve structural rigidity. As a result, the Abarth 500C handles almost as well as the Abarth 500 hatchback, though the ride is similarly harsh. It’s a car that feels fun to drive at any speed, though we’d say the MINI Convertible still has the edge.
Even as a convertible, you can tell this Abarth was developed for point-and-go performance. The 140bhp 1.4-litre T-Jet turbo engine packs 5bhp more than the Abarth 500 hatchback, to compensate for the additional weight a convertible package brings. Unfortunately, performance has been blunted by the standard automated manual gearbox. It’s terribly slow to change gears in either sport or comfort modes, interrupting power as it does so, and feels lurchy. It’s a shame, because it’s a real fly in this car’s otherwise delightful ointment. Still, an 8.1-second 0-62mph time makes it quicker than the similarly priced MINI Cooper Convertible.
The 43mpg average fuel economy is more economical than the less powerful automatic MINI Cooper Convertible. Emissions of 151g/km put it into car tax band G. Fiat dealer servicing is reasonably priced, too.
Fiat does have a patchy reliability history, and certainly early reports of the 500 back up that inconsistency. However, the 500C Abarth’s T-Jet engine has proven mechanically sound in this and other Fiat models, and the car’s build quality is good.
Leaving the roof pillars intact also means the Abarth 500C can keep side curtain airbags for added crash protection – it has seven airbags in total. Electronic stability programme and anti-lock brakes are standard, plus an electronic system called Torque Transfer Control helps keep the Abarth 500C under control in tricky conditions.
Aside from the obvious body kit additions and alloy wheels, the Abarth 500C gets some nice luxury features as standard like Bluetooth, climate control and rear parking sensors. But like MINI, Fiat specialises in extracting more money from buyers by way of a long options list. The ultimate option, arguably, is the high performance ‘esseesse’ pack which features 18-inch alloys, gives the engine an extra 20bhp and retunes the suspension.
The Abarth 500C occupies the middle ground between the MINI Cooper and Cooper S Convertibles, although it’s priced very close to the former while looking much flashier than the latter. For those who can’t resist getting the top down, this is surely the most extrovert way of doing it without looking ostentatious.