Having owned a 2012 Fiat 500 Sport in the past I was beyond excited to get some time behind the wheel of this 2016 Fiat 500C Abarth. My Fiat 500 Sport was anything but powerful with a dreary 101hp and 98lb-ft of torque but this newer Abarth version features a more pleasing 157 hp and 183 lb-ft of torque. This power comes via a turbocharged version of the standard 1.4L 4-cylinder motor and exits the back end through a very shouty exhaust. On the exterior the 500C loaner car was equipped with a handsome Rhino Gray paint and sporty red accents to let you know this car is special. The Abarth badge has been placed on some rather legendary performance vehicles in the past so we put this drop-top Italian through the paces to see if it had earned its Scorpion badging.
On the inside the Fiat 500C is very different than the original 2012 model with digital gauges and an updated 5-inch touchscreen Uconnect® 5.0 system. The Abarth model stands out on this inside with red stitching and leather on the steering wheel, parking brake handle, and dash trim. A boost gauge and high-back performance bucket seats lined in “Nero” cloth with a red center stripe let you know that you better hold on tight. The interior trim is rather low quality plastic but is rather pleasing to the eye and can be ignored as you focus on the driving. Turning the key to startup the little car is followed by a boisterous cackle from the exhaust. The noise that comes from this 2016 Fiat 500C Abarth ranks as one of the finest from any 4-cylinder motor in automotive history. You simply cannot believe how loud the exhaust is and it instantly inspires the driver to pilot the vehicle as if they were a child at a local go-kart course.
The “C” in the stands for “Cabrio” to signify that this particular model has a convertible roof. With a flick of a switch the sturdy black cloth top folds back on top of the rear end of the Fiat. I am not generally a fan of convertible vehicles but in the Abarth it simply adds to the theater of sound that envelop the passengers as you drive. Our loaner was equipped with the Aisin six-speed automatic and I initially let out an audible sigh when peering through the driver’s window to spot the rather mundane looking shifter. But in use the automatic transmission will fire off up and downshifts quickly and allows for some fairly loud pop and bang from the motor. There is simply nothing better than cruising at freeway speeds and abruptly downshifting twice as traffic slows to dispel one large gulp of fuel out the tailpipe with the sound of a gunshot. Other cars like the Mini Cooper S will give an occasional hiccup but I have never driven a compact car with the visceral growl of an Abarth Fiat 500.
The driving position is a bit high and awkward but the seats hold you well and the chassis is solid and well balanced. We were able to mount the new Waylens Horizon camera in the Fiat 500C and took it out to the canyons. On tight corners in “Sport” mode the Abarth gives just enough feedback through the steering wheel to let you know when you’re about to lose grip. The Fiat 500C Abarth has a weight distribution around 60/40 gives way to understeer when pressured. The higher driving position can lead to some body roll in the corners and at time the turbo lags enough to make you scream at the tiny Italian. You will likely have a more engaged drive in something like a Fiesta ST or Mini Cooper S but for pure “top-down” driving excitement – this car has it in spades.
The standard Fiat 500 Abarth starts around $22k but our Cabrio version with a dreadful Beats Audio system, Comfort / Convenience package, and bigger 17′ wheels sites at $31k. This may seem like a lot compared to affordable performance cars like the Fiesta ST but for those really interested in a convertible you would need to fork over nearly $35k for a similarly equipped Mini Cooper S Convertible. Ultimately the 2016 Fiat 500C Abarth is the perfect Italian car that represents the ultimate in style and emotion. Sure details like the interior trim, handling, power, etc. can be improved but the folks at Fiat couldn’t be bothered. The Abarth is a car for those that appreciate its quirky and fun personality over its short list of faults.
Featured Photography by Jim Donnelly Photo