The maker – Fiat Group’s performance arm – has just unveiled the drop-top version of its potent little city car and we’ve climbed behind the wheel.
Packing a 1.4-litre 16v turbo-charged engine with 140bhp, the 500C may look small but punches well above its weight. That T-Jet unit is capable of propelling the car to 60mph in just 8.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 127mph – all while you soak up the rays with the top rolled back.
Abarth has stiffened the windscreen pillar to cope with the fabric roof, which folds back electrically like a long sunroof. It concertinas away, bunching up above the rear tailgate when not in place. The problem is, with the roof down, noise levels are high and the buffeting at speeds the little Abarth is capable of reaching can be uncomfortable. The electrical mechanism works quickly and at town speeds can still be operated, but for fast paced roads and motorways you’ll need the lid shut.
The 500c really is a true hot hatch though – it feels a lot quicker than the 8.1 second to the 60mph time suggests. On the road, two roarty exhausts sing the car’s intentions and the engine has a pleasing growl to it when stretched.
It grips superbly too and on a race track – where professional drivers demonstrated to us what the Abarth was really capable of – it was clear the car is entertainingly quick. But it’s not all good news. From launch only a semi-auto flappy paddle gearbox will be available and sadly it’s not up to the job. In automatic mode, changes are slow and irritating. Flicking the sport button on (a button you should rarely turn off) and using the paddles will see things get a little better – but you need to lift off the power every time you change. And even then it’s still jerky.
The good news is a manual gearbox – which is good in the hard-top Abarth 500 – will be available from November. Despite those impressive performance figures, the 500C is still quite frugal – it’ll do 43.4mpg on the combined cycle and emits 151g/km. Specification is high too with xenon headlights, parking sensors and Blue&Me connectivity all standard.
Abarth told us that an Essesse performance upgrade will be made available in November. This will boost power to 165bhp and reprogram the gearbox for faster shifts, but we can’t help thinking the standard car needs the upgrade already.
It really is hard to see past that annoying gearbox and that’s a real shame as there’s little else wrong with the £17,500 Abarth 500C. It’s fast, comfortable inside and most importantly isn’t a Mini Cooper S – and for buyers looking to stand out from the crowd that could be just the hook Abarth needs to find it homes.