The Fiat 500c Abarth is ridiculous. It’s one of the least practical cars you can buy and there is a lot wrong with it. Despite its many flaws, though, it’s still one of my favorite cars to drive. Hear me out.
Engine: 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder, 160 hp and 170 lb-ft. (manual), 157 hp and 183 lb-ft (auto)
Transmission: Six-speed auto or five-speed manual
Fuel Economy (US): 28 MPG city, 34 MPG highway, 20.6 MPG observed
Fuel Economy (CDN): 9.6 L/100 km city, 7.3 L/100 km highway, 11.5 L/100 km observed
Pricing (US): From $22,495, Cabrio starts at $26,595.
Pricing (CDN): From $22,495, Cabrio starts at $26,495. As tested: $33,350
The regular turbo Fiat 500 is already fun as it is, but the Abarth version infuses the little hatch with a spicy sauce that turns the normally docile car into a rowdy Italian looking to start a fight. It doesn’t care that it’s smaller than everyone else; it will still want to fight you. It will insult your mother, kick you in the shins and scream vulgar things about the size of your private parts. It fights dirty, and then it brags about it to its little friends.
So, needless to say, I would normally love this belligerent sprite of a car. Attainable, engaging and fun little cars like this appeal more to me than expensive luxury cars with massive horsepower.
The Biggest Flaw
Except when I climbed into this one for the first time, all smiley and jumpy, I saw its one biggest flaw and my joy quickly evaporated. I couldn’t find the clutch. It was equipped with an automatic transmission! *cue dramatic plot twist music*
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This is the first year the Abarth 500 has been available with an automatic. Until now, a five-speed manual was the only transmission available, and I honestly think it’s the only way to go for this car. Having an automatic just neuters the Abarth; like having a really dirty rap song with all the bad words bleeped out, the automatic just takes away some of the car’s edge and makes it a lot less engaging to drive.
Not only that, but with the manual, it’s easier to get the most of the Abarth’s turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. With an engine this tiny, you need to work at keeping it in its sweet spot. It’s just easier to get the car to do what you want with a manual, and it’s just so more more fun. The six-speed automatic just isn’t as responsive, shifts are abrupt and aren’t very well timed.
For an enthusiast-oriented car like this, having a manual-only option weeds out the poseurs. If all you wanted was a Fiat 500 with an automatic, just get the regular non-Abarth model. Save the Abarths for those who care!
About All Those Other Flaws…
Besides having an automatic, the Abarth has a very long list of shortcomings (some will be addressed in the upcoming refresh):
-It has one of the most awkward seating/driving positions I’ve ever encountered: It’s like sitting upright in a dinner chair. It’s not helped by the fact the steering wheel doesn’t telescope.
-Its infotainment system is pretty much non-existent: No touchscreen, no like. It makes pairing a cellphone annoyingly complicated, and it refused to play music from my Samsung smartphone when connected via the USB port. Not cool for a car that costs as much as it does.
-There are huge blind spots. With the Cabrio’s top all the way down, you can’t see out the back. With the top up or down, your left shoulder check is pretty obstructed by a fat B-pillar.
-Terrible ergonomics: Window switches on the center console? No volume knob? Come on!
-A very basic interior with a short equipment list: Although I do love the body-colored dash panel.
-It rattles and bangs: I swear to god I thought I heard parts flying off at one point.
-It has one of the tiniest trunks ever and pretty useless backseats.
-Poor fuel economy for such a small car. I averaged 20.5 MPG.
-It also has a really high center of gravity that doesn’t help its handling.
-The Abarth version has modifications that make the turning radius wider than the regular 500.
But All is Forgiven
And yet, I still find myself smiling like an idiot when I drive it. Even an automatic transmission can’t fully blunt its scrappy personality and deliriously fun driving dynamics.
A lot of this fun has to do with how it sounds; the Abarth 500 easily wins the biggest-noise-from-the-smallest-car competition. Especially in Sport mode, the Fiat snaps, farts and burbles away, shouting its rude intentions to all the bigger cars out there. It’s fun hearing the teeny turbo spooling up and then a loud pop from the exhaust as the transmission shifts and lets off steam.
The best thing about the Abarth is how it makes you feel like a criminal, like you’re getting away with something, except you don’t actually need to break any laws to really enjoy driving it. Its driving limits aren’t so high as to need a racing background to fully exploit its capabilities — it feels much faster than it actually is, all you really need a city runabout car.
Its capabilities start with an overachieving 1.4L turbo four-cylinder pushing 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, a very robust number for a car this small and light.
A lot of modifications have been made to give the Abarth the performance edge over the regular 500, and besides sportier tires, some cosmetic changes and engine tweaks, the suspension upgrades make a big difference in how it handles. The suspension is much stiffer in the Abarth, so it feels more stable and flat around fast corners, but that also means that you really get thrown around when you drive over rough pavement. You can just thrash the Abarth around and it’s happy to be abused.
The Verdict: 2015 Fiat 500c Abarth Review
There’s a lot wrong with the Abarth and it is one of the least practical cars you can buy, especially when you consider the fact that this one costs more than a Nissan 370Z (which makes almost twice as much power). Still, a lot of its flaws can easily be forgiven, but only if you do the right thing and get it with a manual transmission.