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Driven: Abarth 500C

2010-07-26 08:37
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer ABARTH
Model 500C
Engine 1,368cm3 in-line 4 cylinder
Power 103kW @ 5 000r/min
Torque 206Nm @ 2 000r/min
Zero To Hundred 8.1 seconds
Top Speed 206km/h
Fuel Consumption 6.5 litres/100km

JD Van Zyl

Following in the successful tracks of the Abarth 500, and launched alongside the Abarth Punto EVO, Fiat’s tuning arm has just launched a thoroughly revised version of the buzzy can-opened Italian supermini. And we got to take it for a spin through England’s North Yorkshire Moors.

The Grande Punto was the first Fiat of recent times to be given Abarth’s fiery treatment, followed closely by the retro-funky 500. Both models managed to pack a lot of fireworks into very capable packages, with UK sales (Abarth models are sadly as yet not available in South Africa) of the 500 leapfrogging the company’s expectations. So roping the 500C into the Abarth mix is a perfectly logical next step.

Does it look as chunky in the metal as the Abarth 500?

It sure does. And you’ll be happy to know it isn’t all meaningless show. Take the muscular new front-end of the two-tone tot, for example. Not only does it look more aggressive, but it also creates more space for the turbo and intercooler. The same goes for the sporty vents to the side which help feed the engine with cool air.

Though, as with all Abarth models, what happens under the bonnet is what this plucky supermini is all about. Abarth has upgraded the 1.4-litre powertrain of the standard Fiat 500 so it now creates a very healthy 103kW – that’s 29kW more than the standard Fiat model, and 4kW more than the Abarth 500 to compensate for the extra weight of the concertina roof. The result is a brisk dash to 100km/h of 8.1 seconds, a fraction of a second slower than the Abarth 500, and on to a top speed of 206km/h.
So it’s keen to press on then?

Absolutely, and it rewards with an agile and sporty drive – sitting impressively flat even in tight corners and boasting stacks of grip – thanks in no small measure to its Traction Transfer Control which acts like a limited slip diff. Like in the Abarth 500, drivers can pick between Sport and Normal mode and as expected Sport gives the steering more weight, sharpens engine responses and make gear changes snappier.

Only this is one area where the 500C comes up somewhat short. The steering’s added electric resistance simply comes across as too synthetic and doesn’t deliver the type of directness and feel one would ultimately hope for in a car like this. But it is the gearbox that’s annoys even more.

One of the most noteworthy features of the 500C is the addition of the company’s Competizione automatic manual gearbox which uses dash-mounted buttons (instead of the usual lever) to select between auto and manual. Paddles are mounted behind the steering wheel to enable swift gear changes when you really want to push on. In theory at least...

Does it not deliver in practice?

The thing is, in manual mode (even with the Sport mode selected), gear changes are way too sluggish for a car with such a speedy personality. To avoid unpleasantly jerky gear changes you also have to completely ease your right foot off the pedal every time you flick the paddle. And in auto mode the ’box often struggles to find the best gear.

Abarth promises to add a manual ’box to the line-up later this year (Fiat’s dual-clutch gearbox is also on its way), and that’s the one we are holding out for. As it stands the Competizione gearbox is simply too compromised for anybody who wants to really dig into this Abarth’s promise of performance.


Not even slightly. But despite Abarth’s racing association, the 500C is best seen as a sporty (and much cooler) version of the Italian tot – not some fire-breathing pocket rocket. With the 500C’s accessible power and comfortably predictable handling, Abarth is clearly targeting the female market which makes up a large chunk of the convertible segment. Hardcore speed folk should best hang on for the 118kW esseesse version due in the UK in November.       

Abarth 500C Specs

Engine: 1 368cm3 in-line 4 cylinder
Max power:  103kW @ 5,000r/min
Max torque:  206Nm @ 2 000r/min
0-100km/h:  8.1 seconds
Maximum speed:  206km/h
Fuel consumption (combined):  6.5 l/100km
CO2 emissions: 151g/km

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