2014 Fiat 500C Abarth Review
An absolute blast, despite itself.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: August 11th, 2014
For those of you who aren't familiar with the "slow car fast" mentality, it works like this: It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than drive a fast car slow. More often than not, drivers of high-horsepower cars on the road (the Hellcats and AMGs out there) are really only experiencing a sliver of the car's capabilities; if you really want to explore the limits of cars like this, you need to go to the track. With a slow car, you can barely eclipse the speed limit, but you're so much closer to the car's capabilities that it provides for a better driving experience on the whole.
That's the whole idea behind the Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio, and it works. It's not perfect - far from it, actually - but it's really tough to dwell on the negatives once you turn the key.
The Abarth Cabrio's interior is a mixed bag. Whether you choose the leather seats or the cloth ones, you're going to find yourself surrounded by a comfortable blend of materials that's very good at keeping you from sliding around. Once you open up the cabrio top, sunshine goes everywhere - including the gauges, which will become unreadable with enough sunlight. Most every material is some form of hard plastic that we fear will become permanently scarred by an errant key or long fingernail.
The climate and infotainment controls are laid out in a sensible manner, but the radio's design is also its downfall. Yes, it's refreshing to see a car without a screen; however, when you buy the "navigation system," you get just that - a TomTom that you plug into a dedicated slot on the dashboard. It blocks a good deal of your short-range vision around the hood area, and it's a bit of a cop-out option. You'd be better off buying a windshield-mounted phone cradle. Why Fiat didn't rework the stereo's look to accommodate the phenomenal Uconnect system, we'll never understand.
The rear seats are, well, difficult at best for adults. Tall individuals in general might have some problems up front, as well; your author is six feet tall, and he didn't have much leftover space with the cabrio all sealed up.
The Fiat's exterior is pretty unique - you'd be hard pressed to find a person on the street who didn't immediately recognize it as a Fiat. The Abarth (the marque's performance brand) doesn't stray terribly far from that formula; mostly, it adds bigger wheels, more aggressive bodywork, and some fun vinyl on the sides. It's surprisingly tall-looking, and the 16-inch wheels don't make the proportions any easier on the eyes.
The power-operated soft top (it operates more like a giant sunroof than a proper convertible top) is an excellent addition, and it doesn't unnecessarily stand out from the car in any way. It even looks somewhat attractive when you open it; soft little curls of fabric let other drivers know that you've probably got plenty of wind noise going on. The top can go further back, but it folds down the glass rear windshield and does little more than block the driver's rearward vision.
On the Road
The driving is the most compelling part of the Abarth's overall experience. The engine isn't particularly large (1.4 liters), nor is it particularly powerful (160 horsepower), but it's great on gas (34 mpg highway!) and it will let you blast to and from redline over and over again without complaint. Sadly, you'll need to reach for redline every time you need to move with some gusto; ample turbo lag at low revs from a motor this small results in some very slow goings south of about 3,000 rpm.
However, between idle and redline, the sound that comes from the exhaust is otherworldly. It's low and guttural, with a familiar Italian twang that shouts Ferrari more than Fiat. Chrysler went through more than two dozen different exhaust designs before settling on this one, and that's reflected in the quality of sound that comes from the MultiAir turbocharged four. It makes you want to wallop on the car at all times ...
... And the Abarth won't have a single problem with that. Since it's so small, it's skittish enough to make things interesting at low speeds. Catch enough boost mid-corner, and you can feel the torque steer gently nudge the car towards the outside of the turn. The suspension, while not entirely bone-shattering on public roads, is on the stiff side, but that's a major contribution to this car's go-kart handling. It's a really trite way of describing it, but with a car this small and this low, it's a sensible comparison.
As we mentioned earlier, there are plenty of issues with the Fiat 500C Abarth. Turbo lag is everywhere, and the clutch pedal is vague. There was a rattle (in a new car) that we couldn't pinpoint. The blind spots in this car combine with a fully-down cabrio top to create a blind hemisphere. The $600 navigation system is an actual TomTom unit. The rear seats aren't built for humans.
However, once the key is turned and you hear nothing but the exhaust, those problems will head to the back of your mind. Despite its problems, it's still an infinitely fun little egg of a car, and it begs to be driven as often as possible. It's got some weird, hard-to-pinpoint charm. Must be all the Abarth decals.
Specs & Price
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, front-wheel drive
Power Output: 160 hp / 170 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (mpg): 28 city / 34 highway
Base Price: $26,195
As Tested: $31,645
Comfort and Convenience Package: Automatic climate control, heated front seats, satellite radio
Beats Premium Audio Package: Beats Audio six-speaker premium sound system, satellite radio
Individual Options: In-car wi-fi, performance leather-trimmed bucket seats, navigation
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2014 Fiat 500C, click here: 2014 Fiat 500C.