FiatChrysler’s Fiat 500c Abarth has its own voice. The tiny two-door hatch is the performance vehicle for the Cinquicento (Italian for 500) line of coupes and four-door, front-wheel-drive (and AWD) vehicles from FCA. And it’s a hoot to drive and listen to.
That great exhaust tone from its double , baffled pipes is only one indication that this is a car that lives by its own rules. While it might look like your garden variety 500 coupe, there are hints, winglets and badges around the exterior and interior of this 500 that tell you this one’s no ordinary economy 2-door hatchback.
The 2019 Fiat 500c Abarth is the brand’s convertible coupe with a canvas fabric top that folds to the rear window, allowing a panoramic expose of sky to enter the cabin. On those wonderful spring and fall days, that would be a supreme benefit; in the cold of early February, not so much. But there’s a usable heater, along with heated seats to handle whatever the weather throws our way.
The 500c Abarth is a special car for people who really love to drive. Its heart is a pipsqueak of a 1.4-liter four-cylinder inline, intercooled, turbocharged engine that gives up 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at a measly 2,500 rpm. Redline is 6,000 rpm. Fiat fits a five-speed manual gearbox that’s smooth and sweetly shifting from its tall mounting in the cabin.
MacPherson strut and torsion beam suspensions are lowered from the standard 500’s to a ground clearance of 4.6 inches, so one must take care in dips; the ride isn’t terribly harsh but it’s also not as compliant as a standard 500 either; handling is sharp and definitely sporting. Rack and pinion steering is a bit light to my taste; considering all the sporting attributes of the suspension, the steering might have been a bit tighter on what is on such a long wheelbase (90.6-in) compared to overall length of 144.4 inches.
Braking is exemplary and calipers are from Italian tuner Abarth, whose work enabled this little hatch; the company celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. The Fiat 500c Abarth uses Pirelli PZero 205/40ZR rubber mounted on optional 12-spoke, 17-inch hyper-black Abarth alloy wheels. As tested the convertible coupe weighs an enviable 2,545 pounds, which adds to its ability to dance through the twisting roads we encountered while working the NHRA season starter at Pomona. Staying a short distance from the track and taking back, twisty roads was an absolute treat.
The Fiat 500c Abarth has a list price starting at $23,485 including its hefty $1,495 delivery fee. There are options, including Fiat’s popular equipment package that includes SiriusXM with a year’s paid subscription, automatic temperature control and heated front seats for $895. GPS navigation rates a $595 up-charge, black trim on the lights costs $245, black mirror caps with mild body side stripes goes for $295 while the wheel/tire combo costs $1,395, bringing the grand total to $26,910. I’m not sure that much fun is available elsewhere on the marketplace for such a low price.
Inside the 2019 Fiat 500c Abarth has much to offer, but one thing it doesn’t have is pushbutton start. Yep, still uses a key, and locking/unlocking is performed through the fob. That might seem old-fashioned but it’s easy to get accustomed to the older way of doing things. In keeping with this, only the driver’s window is one-touch and then, only for down operation. You learn to live with this stuff because the joy of driving totally makes up for any lack of technology.
Not that this Fiat is devoid of technology: it has rear park assist, a very good back-up camera, a 5-inch touchscreen display for the TomTom navigation system, along with other essentials like audio. Fiat does fit integrated voice command with its Bluetooth system, which allows easy phone integration. Thankfully, many of the “nannies” seen on vehicles on the marketplace are absent on this Fiat, allowing the driver to maintain full attention to the road and slice through traffic. Apple CarPlay is available, a nice addition because the audio system easily loses its signal in the city.
The gauge area contains a hooded single display in front of the driver and sits rather high. Info includes digital tachometer, temp gauge (with a blue indicator at start-up), digital speedometer with info in the center that includes outside temp, date and time, fuel load and fuel usage to the right. Left of this cluster is the boost gauge for the turbo; to its right one has the capability to change central info displayed. This driver kept the info on the first of two trip odometers, although it was easy to access range and other driving information.
Fiat’s central stack includes the small display at its top, surrounded by vents, while heating, air conditioning and ventilation controls lie beneath that. Window controls surround the gearshift lever while, at the base lie 12-volt, USB and auxiliary accesses. A secondary USB is in the glovebox. There are arm rests for both front-seat occupants, as well as two cup-holders in the central tunnel and two at the the rear between the two seats. Red stripes adorn all four seats, a nod to Abarth’s contributions. The rear seats aren’t easy to access but comfy once accessed.
As this was a working weekend, there were some worries about lack of space in the Fiat 500c Abarth’s hatch. As it turns out, what appears to be a meager 9.5 cubic feet of space (302. cubes with rear seats folded) was more than enough to handle a suitcase, two track bags and ancillary gear. The photo shown was taken early in the trip and more detritus was added as the weekend progressed. Space was never an issue, either in the hatch area or in the cabin itself.
With the selection of sport mode, the light steering remains the same, even as Fiat allows the driver to select gear changing optimums (suggestions are made in normal mode). One is able to see fuel used instead of fuel saved when in sport mode. Sport mode is boldly announced on the boost gauge but, other than that, gauges remain the same.
Seats are very good for support, with cloth enhanced by sueded inserts on their sides. It appears everything about this car was designed and constructed to benefit an enthusiastic driver. Even with a 10.5-gallon fuel tank, the Fiat 500c Abarth is rated at 28/33/30 mpg. Expect to cruise about 300 miles before a quick stop to refuel.
This small, joyful Fiat 500c Abarth coupe makes a driver happy, which is why it’s the most researched 500 on most websites and will likely be the sole survivor when Fiat phases out 500 exportation to the United States. Grab one while you can because who knows how long they’ll be around. For that reason and many more, the 2019 Fiat 500c Abarth is bound to become a cult classic.
Words and Photos by Anne Proffit