2013 FIAT 500c Abarth review: Scorpion in sheep's clothing

By Kijiji Autos
2013 FIAT 500c Abarth review- Scorpion in sheep’s clothing

The stylized scorpion badge that replaces the normal FIAT nameplate is one way to tell the difference between the two versions that really don’t look all that different.

Since making a return to North America after nearly a 20 year absence, FIATs have been popping up on roads everywhere with the 500. You might be thinking that the cute run-of-the-mill retro-mobile may not be for you, but the Mexican-built 500c Abarth — named after FIAT’s racing division founded by Austrian-Italian car designer Carlo Abarth — is a scorpion in sheep’s clothing.

Credit: Benjamin Yong

Look and feel

The stylized scorpion badge that replaces the normal FIAT nameplate is one way to tell the difference between the two versions that really don’t look all that different. Sure, there are the optional bigger multi-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, side skirts, more aggressive bumpers and the red stripe that says “Abarth” running down both sides of the car with matching side mirror cap. It’s lower, too, due to the springs that are 33 per cent stiffer in the front and 12 per cent in the back compared to the regular model resulting in better handling and more grip. The seasonal wet weather didn’t stop us from testing the cabriolet variant that has a roof spoiler attached to the cloth top, something I hadn’t seen before. It’s supposed to make the vehicle more aerodynamic and create more downforce for the corners when coupled with the rear diffuser that houses the twin-tip exhaust system. The operation of the top is controlled by a switch above the rearview mirror — press it once and it opens as far as the spoiler. Press it twice and it folds like an accordion, stacking behind the rear headrests. I liked the ability to open it as little or as much as I wanted by pressing the button again while it’s retracting. The tradeoff for the ragtop is a mere 153 litres of cargo space in the tiny trunk, accessed by a liftgate similar to the back of a pickup that doesn’t open nearly enough. If this is going to be your only car, I’d suggest the slightly more practical coupe.

The drive

But then again, without an open roof you wouldn’t be able to fully hear the wonderful noise it makes every time you put your foot down. Described in a press release as “one of the most respected soundtracks of all-time, the rasp from its signature Abarth-tuned dual exhausts” by Tim Kuniskis, head of FIAT brand North America, it really is a great tune to drive to. Every shift of the standard five-speed manual transmission causes a growl or pop as you wind up the 1.4-litre MultiAir engine that has been massaged and turbo’d. I do have the same complaint about the transmission that I made during my test of the subtler Fiat 500 Turbo a few months back, in that the gear lever feels rubbery and notchy when rowing through the gates. The shift knob is also too big to be comfortable and, together, lessens an otherwise enjoyable experience. The other add-ons inside are great, like the turbo boost gauge that tells you how much psi you’re pushing, as is the  $495 TomTom navigation system. I didn’t like the obtrusive shift light that glows like a Christmas tree, reminding you when to change gears to achieve the estimated 8.4 L/100 km city/6.9 highway fuel consumption numbers. Thankfully you can turn it off, if you can figure out how to do it (hint, you can’t fiddle with the settings while the car is moving).

After adding on all the toys like the two-tone leather bucket seats, air condition, heated front seats, Beats by Dr. Dre audio system and so on, the price ballooned to a total of $33,765 from the base of $27,995. That puts it in Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ ($26,450/27,295) territory, but even though it’s front-wheel drive I still like the quirkiness of the Abarth and the fact that it doesn’t look like it was born in a wind tunnel.

Quick specs (as tested):

Base MSRP: $27,995Motor: 1.4-litre four-cylinder MultiAir engineHorsepower: 160 @ 5,500 rpmTorque (lb-ft): 170 @ 2,500 to 4,000 rpmGearbox: five-speed manualLayout: front engine, front-wheel driveFuel economy: 8.4 L/100 km city/6.9 highway (manufacturer estimate)Seats: four


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