500C is short on stability under heavy braking
Taking the roof down has its compromises, but adds to the driving pleasure
Electronic Torque Torque Transfer control also allows the 500 to carry big speeds through corners
Softer suspension will likely make the 500C better than the hatch to live with on UK roads
Steering feel is adequate, if not the most communicative ever
What is it?
A bit more than first appearances suggest. Yes, this is a Fiat 500C fitted with the engine from the much-loved Abarth 500. But the real new addition is a five-speed automatic-manual gearbox through which the 138bhp 1.4-litre T-Jet engine is driven.
Complete with wheel-mounted paddles, this ‘box will be standard in place of the hatchback’s manual transmission.
The suspension has also been revised to offer a softer ride – apparently in order to make the car more appealing to women, who so far remain a minority figure in Abarth’s sales statistics.
What’s it like?
It’s just like an open-top Abarth 500. It has the same flamboyancy that appeals in the tin-top, and with open-air delights added to it the fun is just a bit more visceral.
The gearbox mostly adds to the package. In standard auto mode it is smooth enough, albeit not free of the occasional hesitancy. Overall, though, it's fine for a more sedate drive.
Should you wish to find the inner-Ferrari in your 500C, put it in all-out sport manual mode and you can flappy paddle until you feel like a complete hero and the 'box will respond well. It’s particularly slick and satisfying as you pull the left paddle for rapid downchanges.
Unfortunately the right-hand paddle is slightly less ideal, with upchanges causing noticeable head-toss unless you lift off the throttle.
Another problem is the 500C’s shortage of stability under heavy braking. In general driving, stability is perfectly good, but go for all the stopping power available and the rear end becomes very light. Add in a little steering lock and the 500 makes it very clear that, unless you react quite soon, it will be exiting the corner backwards.
The good news is that there is plenty enough feel in the steering and through your seat to know when the back end is getting frisky. It’s far from the most communicative steering ever, and it suffers from the same artificial feeling that the cheaper Punto Evo Abarth also gets.
The electronic Torque Torque Transfer control also allows the 500 to carry big speeds through corners with no unexpected drama – as long as you stay off the brakes.
We didn’t get to drive the 500C Abarth outside Fiat’s testing facility, but from what we experience the softer suspension settings have been well-judged to make life a bit more comfortable without compromising body roll. It will likely make the 500C better than the hatch to live with on UK roads.
Other niggles? The driving position could do with being more adjustable – particularly in terms of height – and though in an Abarth it’s easy to write off faults as quirkiness, the fact that you can’t open the boot more than a few inches when the roof is down is going to become irritating.
Should I buy one?
If it appeals to you then absolutely. It is excellent fun, even if it’s not the last word in finesse, and it does feel like a proper hot hatch.
However, it’s pricey – the showroom sticker price is set conveniently between the Mini Cooper and Cooper S Convertibles - and it’s nowhere near as useful as the bigger, cheaper Punto.
So there are compromises, but when it comes to something that so obviously sells simply because people want it, the finer practicalities matter very little. It’s flawed, but we like it a lot anyway.