Abarth 500C review

The Abarth 500C is a proper mini hot hatch with a characterful 1.4-litre turbo, aggressive styling and sharpened handling

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

  • Lively turbo engine, sporty looks, neat handling
  • Firm bouncy ride, jerky auto gearbox, limited practicality
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Fiat’s performance sub-brand first returned to the UK in 2008 and the Abarth 500C sticks close to the formula of the company’s two previous models, the Punto Evo and 500 supermini. Changes over the standard car include a wide range of sporty styling tweaks, a peppy 140bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir engine and lowered, stiffened suspension. A likeable hot convertible that will definitely get you noticed, the 500C is really fun to drive and has bags of character, even if it can’t quite match the dynamic polish of rivals like the Renault Clio RS.

Engines, performance and drive

The 500C uses the same turbocharged engine as Abarth 500 producing 135bhp and 206Nm of torque. That translates to a rapid 0-60mph sprint time of 8.1 seconds and a 128mph top speed. There are two different driving modes to choose from - normal and sport - with the latter providing quicker throttle response and weightier steering. The stiff suspension makes for quite a firm ride, but body control is good, and the 500C handles quick changes of direction with ease. The standard five-speed ‘Competizione’ automatic gearbox is slow to respond and the manual is easier to use. An ‘Esseesse’ pack is also available, which ups the engine’s power to 158bhp.

MPG, CO2 and Running Costs

Despite packing plenty of punch the Abarth is still quite cheap to run thanks to its small size and lack of weight, returning a claimed 43mpg, but you’re unlikey to reach that figure in real world driving thanks to its addictive performance. Carbon emissions of 151g/km put Road Tax at £165 a year, which isn’t bad for a car of this type, but with prices starting at nearly £1,000 more than a Renaultsport Clio cup it’s not cheap. The flawed automatic gearbox pushes the price up even further, as does the Esseesse performance pack.

Interior, design and technology

For such a small car the Abarth has no trouble standing out from the crowd. Buyers can choose from a number of bright contrasting colours for the exterior and sporty touches like the twin-chrome exhausts, 16-inch alloy wheels and rear diffuser are all standard. Bigger wheels are available as an option, and the interior has been given the same sporty treatment, with bolstered sports seats, a thick-rimmed leather steering wheel and more of the brand’s famous Scorpion badges. The folding fabric roof can also be had in various different hues, and the 500C comes very well equipped, with rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity and air-conditioning all included.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

Compact dimensions mean that the Abarth will really struggle to seat four adults in comfort, with leg and headroom at a real premium in the rear seats. There’s no such issue up front, but thick C-pillars and the cumbersome roof can restrict rear visibility. Putting the roof down is the best way to hear the rorty exhausts, but there’s a lot of buffeting at higher speeds, and a wind deflector is a pricy option, as is a folding rear seat. The boot is a measly 182 litres as well, so pack light or be prepared to use the rear seats for extra storage on longer trips.

Reliability and Safety

It hasn’t yet been crash tested – but the regular 500 is a five-star car in Euro NCAP tests, and the drop top should be similarly sturdy. The Abarth comes with an impressive seven airbags as standard, including one for the driver’s knees, xenon headlights and hill hold control to stop you rolling back when setting off from steep inclines. Abarth dealerships are few and far between, so customer service should be personal and direct if you encounter any mechanical issues, but all the larger mechanical parts have been tried and tested in other models, so the 500 should prove reliable.