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2013 Fiat 500C Abarth Convertible : Review

Posted on 17 May 2013 by Chris

2013 Fiat 500C Abarth
By: Dan Scanlan

The business card appeared under the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth’s windshield wiper the first night.

It had three words written on the back – “Best car ever” – with an exclamation point for emphasis.

The Abarth’s black color with white wheels drew the writer in, then its power fold-back cloth top with integrated roof spoiler probably finished the trick. It’s a pity he didn’t get to hear the snarling exhaust note or the turbo whistle when this little Italian go-kart accelerates.

But I did, both delicious noises much easier to hear with a Fiat that goes al fresco – top down – at the touch of a button. It makes it all the better to get stung by the little scorpion and like it.

 

• Fiat funshine –Carlo Abarth raced and designed automobiles. He also founded a race car making company in 1949, the sign of the scorpion his trademark symbol as he made performance exhaust systems for Fiat. That included the first tiny Fiat 500 in the 1950s and 1960s, which carried an extra performance sting in its rear-mounted engine. Fiat became Abarth’s daddy in 1971, and used the company’s skill to put some sting in Fiat cars. And when the current 500 appeared in Europe a few years ago, an Abarth (that’s ah-barth) was launched in 2010. Now that Fiat is the majority owner of Chrysler, there’s 500 Abarth versions zinging around the U.S.

The current Fiat 500 has a pug nose with a slim air inlet underneath, flanked by wide-eyed headlights. The Abarth adds some menace to that smiley face. The classic Abarth scorpion badge sits in the middle of a more pronounced pug nose’s slim chrome trim strip, a nose pushed 2.7 inches further than the base 500. The Abarth deletes the base 500’s chrome bumperettes and adds a deeper lower air intake flanked by brake inlets, the mesh grilles separated by an inset fog light on each side.

There’s a black lower lip air dam that flows around both edges, with more ducts ahead of the thin-spoked white Abarth wheels wearing sticky P205/40R17-inch Pirelli P-Zero Nero rubber. As with the Abarth coupe I tested last year, the performance rubber gives the convertible a wide stance and lower ride height, the white wheels showing off red painted brake calipers. Yes, the white wheels showed brake dust after a few days.

More changes include a wider Abarth-designed side skirt with a white staccato side stripe that really stood out on the black diamond paint. The tiny front fender running light/side turn signals stay the same, but the big side mirrors go white, while a big Abarth scorpion badge adorns each rear fender. The minimal rear overhang emphasizes the aero under-bumper diffuser and its big stainless steel exhaust tips, while also allowing the wider Pirellis to stand out. A small trunk lid replaces the standard large hatchback, the rooftop spoiler at the rear black convertible top’s curve as it drops, with a smaller rear window than the base 500. The 500C Abarth has no Fiat badges, only the scorpion.

The coupe’s basic roofline is intact because the convertible is really a long cloth sunroof. Top up or down, the black Cinquicento Abarth convertible got noticed a lot, pointed at and commented about – cute yet aggressive, with a leaned-forward stance like it’s ready to launch.

• Atmospheric Abarth atmosphere – The Abarth we have here gets transformed with the metallic black exterior, and the dash fascia gets the same metallic black, with a chrome 500C badge above the OK glove box with USB and MP3 audio inputs inside. High dash center is a simple AM-FM-CD/MP3-Sirius XM stereo hooked to a pretty good 6-speaker Beats system with a big trunk sub-woofer. Although clear and powerful, it could have used a bit more to be heard with the top down at highway speed.

The stereo volume and tuning controls, as with any Chrysler since the 1990s, are behind the top spokes of the ergonomically-carved steering wheel. Below the stereo are Sport, rear defrost and warning flasher buttons. Then the basic black control panel on the lower dash center hosts simple a/c controls, with seat heater and fog light buttons, although the last two did not. The high-mounted 5-speed manual shifter has a big leather-clad knob with Abarth badge and more dual red stitching, flanked by power window switches. The low center console offers cup holders, a cellphone slot and a 12-volt outlet. Alloy pedals and a dead pedal complete that look.

The three-spoke steering wheel gets a fat leather-clad rim with contrasting double red stitching and a flattened bottom. It tilts and has cruise, audio and BLUE&ME handsfree cellphone controls. Under a black leather hooded binnacle with more double red stitching is a big 160-mph speedometer circling an 8,000-rpm tach with an orange LCD trip computer display in the center with clock, outside temperature and engine temperature and gas gauges. Hard black plastic tops the rest of the dash, with a 4.3-inch TomTom navigation unit that unclips for storage, but was too far to easily reach and had problems understanding voice commands. It also rocked and creaked over bumps. The gauge package has an Abarth-specific turbo boost gauge on its lower left with a big upshift reminder dead center.

The black high-back leather buckets up front have dual red stitching down the middle and a racing harness pass-through under the head restraint. Their aggressive-looking side bolsters worked OK, but were more comfortable than sports car supportive. We did have padded outboard door arm rests, a flip-down driver’s center arm rest, and slim map pockets on the door panels. To get in the back seats, which offer occasional seating for kids, there’s a red fabric pull-strap on the tops of the seatbacks. Due to the folding top and sub-woofer, trunk space is boxy but small, although the split folding rear seat backs expand storage space.

The top can be slid back to the spoiler at speeds up to 60-mph, acting like a huge sunroof. Tap the button and it accordions further, folding down just shy of the rear head restraints. Closed, it’s taut and blends right in with our test car’s gloss black painted roof sides. Slid all the way back and it blocks rearward vision. Since the roof sides are intact, wind buffeting is less than most other full drop-tops, while there’s more structural rigidity. If it’s a hot day, you can double tap and hold the unlock button and the top will slide back to sunroof position as you are walking up.

• Abarth acceleration –I’ve tested the coupe and convertible base 500s with the 1.4-liter MultiAir inline four with 101-hp and 98 lb.-ft. of torque, and the Abarth coupe with 160-hp and 170 lb.-ft. of torque from a turbocharged version. The base model with 5-speed manual takes a moderate 10 seconds to hit 60-mph while averaging 31-mpg. With the Sport button on, which quickens throttle response and adds a more performance-weighted steering feel, the Abarth coupe hit 60-mph in 6.9 seconds.

Drop this 2,200-mile-old 500C Abarth’s top and fire up the MultiAir and it literally barks to life, easy to hear with open air around us bar the roof’s side frames. My wife never warmed to sound out of the Abarth-designed dual-exhaust system. I loved it, especially when I would push it. The 500C Abarth is only 33 pounds heavier than the tin-top coupe, so I expected comparable times and I wasn’t disappointed. The cabriolet hit 60 mph in 6.5 seconds at the top end of second gear. The open air soundtrack also included a nice bit of turbo whistle and an even better popping overrun snap/crackle on shifts with the top back.

Passing power was only a downshift away, the engine even offering boost in fifth gear when a leisurely pass was needed on the highway. The slightly rubbery five-speed manual did occasionally hang up when I wanted second, and I still want a sixth gear. We saw an average 24-mpg in the convertible vs. 26-mpg in the coupe after a fill-up with premium.

The Abarth gets 23 percent larger equal-length half shafts to mitigate torque steer, which I still felt if we were pushing hard in first gear on some pavement. The inside wheel will also spin with power in a turn as well, just before traction control butts in hard. Our Abarth’s McPherson strut front suspension had a 40 percent stiffer spring rate than the base model, with cast-iron front lower control arms for more lateral stiffness. There’s also an increase in negative camber for better grip. In back, a 40 percent more torsionally rigid axle with strengthened coil-spring supports and a solid stabilizer bar. The little Abarth has a .6-inch lower ride height with KONI front-shock absorbers to firm up the ride.

The result is a very firm ride with some bounce over bumps, and a bit of front-rear bounce over tar strips and small speed bumps due to the short wheelbase. It can get a bit jittery, but tackles cobblestones and smaller bumps without a harsh rebound. It stays nicely balanced in turns, the tighter 15.1:1 steering-gear ratio and the firmer steering feel on “Sport” resulting in a lot of fun and road feel.

You sit higher than in a Miata, so you feel body roll. But the Abarth can be powered through a turn and feels like it is on rails, the grip solid as it just powers out the other end with a touch of stability control. Push harder and it will understeer, but it gives up progressively. In the skidpad, you can control it with throttle, even backing off to swing the tail in place obediently so you are pointed right at the exit. I’ll say it again – it’s like a snarling little go-kart, maybe not as much fun as a MINI Cooper S Roadster, but still a blast like an Italian car should be.

The electronic steering loads up feel just right in turns, while you can turn stability control partially or fully off for more fun. It also has a tiny turning radius. The convertible didn’t like some crosswinds or big trucks passing by, but it was just a wiggle. The brakes had a precise feel and good stopping power thanks to 1-inch-larger (11.1-inch) ventilated rotors up front and 9.4-inchers in back, and they were \resistant to fade after repeated hard use. For safety – driver/front-passenger/driver’s knee/full-length side-curtain and seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags.

 

• Fiat finances – A base Fiat 500 Pop starts at $15,500, but the base 500 Abarth coupe starts at $22,000 and our 500C Abarth began at $26,000. Ours added the $1,000 high-back leather seats; $700 BEATS audio package; $650 comfort package with climate control, NERO leather, heated front seats and SiriusXM; $750 convenience package with alarm, climate control and SiriusXM; $350 for the white side mirror caps mirrors and side stripe; $500 TomTom navigation and BLUE&ME; and $1,200 for the white 17-inch alloy wheels and Pirelli rubber. With destination fee, it was a heady $31,100.

For competition, there’s not many convertibles – the Mini Cooper S Roadster, Volkswagen Beetle Turbo, and maybe the Mazda MX-5 and base Porsche Boxster. Prices and powerplants vary, from the $24,000 Beetle with a 2.5-liter inline 5 with 170-hp and a $27,000 MX-5 with a 2-liter four with 167-hp to the $28,500 MINI’s 181-hp turbo 1.6-liter four and the $49,000 Boxster’s 265-hp 2.7-liter flat six. Only the Boxster is quicker than the Fiat Abarth, by almost a second. The MX-5 is close, the others a second or more slower. The Boxster feels the best at speed and in turns, with a great engine note. The MX-5 is a rear-wheel-drive dream to drive with a great gearbox. I love the way the MINI just snarls and goes around turns, while the Beetle is a solid performer and handler, if not a GTI. Forced to choose, the MINI and the Fiat Abarth would lead my pack.

• Bottom line – With the top closed, the 500C Abarth is a civilized little hooligan of an Italian sports coupe with a perky engine and great handling. Top down, it is a true doze of dolce vita with a side of euphoric engine snarl. And that just may be the reason why I love it despite the fact that a Miata or MINI Roadster seems just as happy playing hard.

• Specifications:

• Vehicle type – front-wheel-drive, 2-door, 4-passenger sub-compact sports convertible

• Base price – $26,000 (As driven — $31,100)

• Engine type – SOHC, turbocharged and intercooled 16-valve iron block in-line four

• Displacement – 1.4-liter

• Horsepower (net) – 160 hp at 5,500 rpm

• Torque (lb-ft) – 170 at 2,500 to 4,000 rpm

• Transmission – 5-speed manual

• Wheelbase – 90.6 in.

• Overall length – 144.4 in.

• Overall width – 64.1 in.

• Height – 59.2 in.

• Front headroom – 38.6 in.

• Front legroom – 40.7 in.

• Rear headroom – 36.8 in.

• Rear legroom – 31.7 in.

• Cargo capacity – 5.4 cubic feet/23.4 w/rear seat folded

• Curb weight – 2,545 pounds

• Fuel capacity – 10.5 gallons

• Mileage rating – 28 mpg city/34 mpg highway

• Last word – Viva Abarth, now mostly topless!

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