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Abarth 500C review (2010 onwards)
Summary - A Fiat 500C spruced up with Abarth's performance upgrades, this feistier open-top 500 takes the fight to the soft-top MINI.
We like - Cheeky looks, gutsy performance, easy to live with, funky interior, standard-fit paddle-shift gearbox, good value, surprisingly good ride quality
We don't like - Not a 'proper' convertible, needs the EsseEsse kit to really deliver the goods, a tad inert
If you fancy the Abarth 500 but want at bit of a breeze in your barnet the new roofless Abarth 500C is just the ticket. Calling it a convertible is a bit of a stretch, the roll-back roof more glorified sunroof than proper soft-top.
It's quicker, simpler and lighter than a full cabrio roof though and offers near enough the convertible experience without the need to weigh down the body with tons of additional bracing.
A neat compromise then and one that works well with the retro appeal of the 500C, harking back to the roll-back roofs of old. And in Abarth form, a feisty little warm hatch ideal for chasing MINI Coopers.
Mechanically the Abarth 500C is much the same as the tin-top version, bar an extra 5hp for the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine and standard fit Competizione gearbox, complete with shifter paddles.
The extra power is there to compensate for the additional weight of the roof mechanism and can be further uprated to 160hp with the optional EsseEsse kit, shipped in a scorpion-branded wooden crate and retro-fittable any time in the first year of ownership.
This also brings suspension revisions and new wheels into the equation and costs around £2,500 extra. As it stands though even with 140hp the 500C feels entertainingly brisk and responsive and stronger than the numbers suggest.
The 1.4-litre engine is revvy and feels plenty strong, the turbocharger compensating for the lack of cubic capacity. Power-wise the 500C is slightly out of sync with the MINI Convertible, which offers 120hp in Cooper spec and 184hp in Cooper S trim.
The 500C also comes fitted as standard with a paddle shift operated five-speed automated Competizione gearbox. It's not a dual-clutch DSG-style unit and slower to react as a result but is acceptable and likely to be attractive to the target audience.
Ride and handling
Early Fiat 500s were noticeably choppy in the ride but the C versions are more softly sprung and it shows, especially on the bumpy roads of the North Yorkshire Moors test route.
Matched with decent damping the body control is actually very good, even when pushing hard over evil stutter bumps and unexpected camber changes. Fast, feisty and fun the Abarth 500C is a real hoot to push hard.
The steering is a bit lifeless and there's little inclination to react to inputs from the throttle but the now de rigueur 'electronic limited-slip differential' (here known as TTC) helps tame torque steer and get the power down cleanly.
The only real handicap is the sense you're perched way off the ground on some sort of high chair. Drive it back to back with the low-slung MINI and you'll instantly notice how the latter feels much sportier from the off.
That roll-back roof might seem like a bit of a cop-out compared with the MINI's proper convertible hood but it means that with the roof up you'd be hard pushed to tell you're in a soft top.
It's a bit claustrophobic with the roof in place though, which simply serves as inspiration to flick the switch and open it as often as possible. Otherwise it's much like any other Fiat 500.
Which is to say packed with funky retro design features and somewhat cramped in the back. Abarth's scorpion logo appears throughout though, reminding you you're in something a little more exciting than a bog standard 500C.
Equipment is decent too, xenon lights, two-mode power steering, climate control, Fiat's Blue&Me hands-free infotainment system and various sporty trimmings are standard. Leather and split-fold rear seats are among the options.
Economy and safety
That little 1.4 T-Jet engine doesn't just punch above its weight - it's also decently frugal too. Official fuel consumption of 43.5mpg and CO2 of 151g/km are pretty good and marginally better than a comparable MINI Cooper Convertible with an automatic gearbox.
The TTC Torque Transfer Control, non-switchable ESP and a host of other acronym-heavy safety aids all aim to keep you on the black stuff too and, should you defeat them, there are seven airbags to protect you.
The MSN Cars verdict
There's no doubt the regular Abarth 500 offers a more focused drive than the open top 500C version but that reflects the subtly different target audiences these cars are aimed at. There's little doubt though, the 500C is more than worthy of the Abarth badge.
It certainly goes all-out on the charm offensive and, on the whole, wins you over. Fast enough to be fun, decently affordable to run and nearly £500 cheaper than a MINI Cooper Convertible, it's further evidence of the Abarth brand's resurgence.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.4-litre 4-cyl turbocharged|
|Torque, lb ft||152|
|0-62 mph, secs||8.1|
|Top speed, mph||128|
|Ratings||Abarth 500C 1.4 T-Jet|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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