The 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth
Patrick Rall's picture

2013 Fiat 500C Abarth Review: Going Topless Makes This Italian Subcompact Even Sexier

I love the Fiat 500 Abarth and considering that the topless Abarth 500 Cabrio offers nearly identical performance to the hard-topped version, it should come as no surprise that a week driving the Abarth Convertible led me to fall in love all over again.
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To look at the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth on paper, it doesn’t sound like much of a sports car in the grand scheme of things when compared to the likes of the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger or Chevrolet Camaro with their high performance V8 engines but the Abarth-equipped 500 is – in my opinion – the most exciting subcompact sold in the US market. The tiny, lightweight chassis powered by the 160 horsepower turbocharged engine makes the 500 Abarth a blast to drive on the highway at high speeds or at low speeds when cutting through the tightest turns. Combine that fun to drive factor with an exterior that screams performance and an interior layout that is fitting of an Italian sports car and you have a perfect equation for a car that is comfortable, fun, affordable and efficient. Add to all of those great aspects the ability to roll back the roof and you have the Fiat 500C Abarth – one of the newest vehicles on my list of favorite cars on sale today.

My 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth carried a base price of $26,800 (with destination) and when you add in the leather high back sport seats ($1,100), the Comfort/Convenience Group ($900), the painted mirror caps with Abarth stripes ($450), the handy Tom Tom navigation setup ($600) and the 17 inch forged Abarth lightweight rims ($1,300) – this test car carried a sticker price of $31,150. That isn’t cheap by some buyers’ standards but when you look at other comparably priced convertibles on the market– the Abarth packs more style and more driving excitement than any other topless sports car in the low $30k range.

The Exterior
The exterior of the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth is nearly identical to the hard topped Abarth coupe that re-introduced the American auto industry to the high performance Fiat trimline. Unlike most convertibles that have full “greenhouse” areas that are made of canvas which retract back under a cover to provide the full open air experience, the 500 Cabrio has a cloth center section to the roof that retracts while the sides of the car – right up to the roofline at the top of the doors – stays stationary. When the top is up, the cloth is smooth and follows the same basic lines as the fixed roof of the Abarth coupe and when the top is down, you still have the structural safety of the “cage” design which is preserved by Fiat’s move to go with the unique retracting roof in fixed tracks. The appearance of the coupe and convertible are so similar when the top is up that most people will have a hard time noticing that the Abarth 500C is convertible. Also, the design of the convertible top allows the driver to have the top up, down or positions in the middle the present more of a “sunroof feel” than a convertible and the “sunroof” positions help to cut down on wind turbulence when driving at higher speeds.

500C Abarth side

Aside from the convertible top portions of the Fiat 500C Abarth, this subcompact is physically identical to the hardtop models and that is a very good thing. Out front, the Abarth wears an uber aggressive front fascia with huge air intakes and projection fog lights that are positioned just above a sharp chin spoiler. Projection headlights set in the bright chromed housing give the Abarth package a bright, upscale look across the front end and the scorpion-clad badge between the headlights actually leaves many people asking what kind of car it is…as if the sporty body bits make it unrecognizable as a Fiat 500. Admittedly, black would not be my first choice (even though it does look great) as the Abarth package includes a handful of contrasting components that make the car look even more aggressive and that contrast is lost on a black car.

Along the sides, the Abarth 500C wears the same lower body stripe as the coupe with the Abarth name tucked just behind the front wheels while a set of thin spoked 17 inch black wheels help to draw attention to the bright red brake calipers that clamp down on beefed up rotors. The Abarth package also adds more aggressive side sills that work with the sport suspension to give this compact a very low, aggressive stance.

Out back, the Fiat 500C Abarth sports the same lower fascia as the coupe with an integrated splitter along the bottom incorporating the standard dual exhaust – all in a rear fascia that has vents on the outer edges to accentuate the sporty nature of this package. The Abarth Cabrio also includes a low profile spoiler that sits high on the back end with an integrated 3rd brake light and when you roll the top down, that spoiler drops down with the soft top.

500C Abarth top half up

The best thing about the look of the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth is that it looks so much like the Abarth hardtop coupe. Where some sporty convertibles look awkward and a little goofy when the top is up, the Abarth Cabrio looks just as great with the top up as does the Abarth coupe. This is one of the sportiest subcompacts sold in the US and the addition of the retractable top in a way that is so seamless and smooth makes this one great application of a convertible setup to a sporty little coupe.

The Interior
The 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth is a true subcompact sports car and with that class comes a subcompact car interior. While there is tons of head room (especially with the top down but also with the top up) for the driver and front passenger along with a surprising amount of leg room, elbow and shoulder room is a bit tight – but it’s better than some other cars in the class. Along the same lines, the back seats are very small but they offer more functional seating space than other subcompacts. I wouldn’t want to jam a pair of 6 foot tall guys in the back for a 10 hour road trip to Vegas but four average adults can comfortably fit into the Abarth 500C for a night out on the town. This space advantage in the rear seats is most beneficial to those owners with children as your little ones will be more comfortable in the back seat of the 500C than they would be in some other subcompacts. Also, thanks to the design of the convertible top that stacks up outside of the car, the trunk space is available whether the top is up or down and when you need more cargo space – you can easily fold down the rear seats and dramatically increase cargo room.

500C Abarth seats

The 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth won’t wow you with a bunch of cutting edge infotainment technology but even as a car with a “normal” radio (no-touch screen) goes, the Abarth package has a very high end look. The high back, sport seats wrapped in red and black leather with contrasting white stitching look awesome amidst the mostly black interior. Throughout the majority of the interior, the black leather trimming on the steering wheel, gauge cluster cover and shifter all feature red contrasting stitching with more red trim in the door panels providing for a very sporty interior layout. While it is small, the interior of the 500C Abarth has a very upscale look and feel for a car that costs just over $30,000 with power everything, heated seats and an easy to use stereo system. The sport steering wheel features controls for the cruise and the hands free Bluetooth functions and just beyond that sporty steering wheel is a very cool gauge setup that fits everything into one clean, circular design with the speedometer and tachometer taking the center stage while a big, easy to read boost gauge is located just to the left of the main gauges. Honestly, the boost gauge is one of my favorite features as, while it doesn’t really do anything, it adds that little extra special something that every turbocharged or supercharged sports car SHOULD have.

500C Abarth dash

Finally, the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth includes an option Tom Tom Navigation screen that plugs into a covered hole on the dash. While the Tom Tom unit sitting high on the dash is a bit intrusive at first, I quickly got used to it being there. This design works very much like an aftermarket navigation system and when you don’t want people to see the big nav system poking out of the dash – or when you just don’t need your navigation – you can unplug the whole unit and tuck it neatly in the glove box.

The Drive
The 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth is a performance oriented package that certainly hasn’t been designed with optimum fuel economy in mind but with expected numbers of 28mpg around town, 34 on the highway and 31 combined – the 500C Abarth yields pretty solid fuel economy. I didn’t do all that much driving on the highway and with lots of hard driving around town, I was not able to hit the 31mpg average during my time driving with Abarth 500 convertible…but this car is so much fun to drive that putting money into the gas tank is like buying hours of fun. I also got lesser fuel economy than I could have if not for all of the revving of the engine but with what I consider to be one of the best sounding exhaust systems available in the US market, I spent a shocking amount of time revving the engine and listening to this topless Italian beauty purr.

Abarth 500C side on the road

One of the most attractive features of the Fiat 500C Abarth is that unlike many sports cars that are first designed as coupes and then watered down due to the added weight of the convertible top and all of the chassis reinforcements needed to make it safe, the unique convertible function design of the 500 Cabrio doesn’t add all that much weight and that translates to less added weight. I have logged a great many miles on both the open road and closed circuit tracks in Fiat Abarth models and the performance difference between the coupe and convertible is very nominal at worst. There is no extra power added under the hood of the 500C Abarth compared to the fixed roof coupe but thanks to Fiat’s innovative convertible design, this isn’t a car that feels heavy in acceleration, braking or handling. With “only” 160 horsepower, the Fiat 500C Abarth isn’t a quarter mile rocket but it packs enough acceleration that it is a whole lot of fun to launch hard and rip through the gears. Better yet, when you put this car onto a road course or any track with turns – it really shines.

I’ve driven a great many cars in my day and I’m sure that I’ve never driven a subcompact that feels as planted as the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth. Whether you are cutting through a twisty canyon road, soaring along a curvy stretch of highway or hammering the turns on a tight autocross course; the Abarth suspension, brakes and tire/wheel package allow this little car to literally stop and turn on a dime. In fact, I’m fairly certain that the Abarth 500 convertible is one of the stickiest feeling cars in terms of handling that I have driven even when I take into consideration far more expensive cars. Best of all, the performance minded enhancements that make this car so much fun to drive do so without killing the ability of the Abarth Cabrio to serve as a very reasonable daily driver. Mind you, the suspension is fairly stiff – as a proper sports car should be – but it isn’t rigid enough to make a long highway cruise uncomfortable even when dealing with the ruts and bumps of Detroit’s highways at 75mph. This is a car that is a ton of fun to drive whether you are hammering the pavement hard or if you are just cruising along with no sense of urgency. The combination of the surprisingly comforting yet perfectly aggressive suspension system with the plush interior makes this a great car for track days, daily driving or a long drive to the beach on a warm summer day.

Fiat 500C Abarth top up

One other area where the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth excels over the competition is in the function of the convertible top. Since the 500C top rides on a track mounted in the upper sides of the body construction, you can open and close the top while the car is moving whereas other convertibles require you to be stopped or barely moving to put the top up or down. While you still cant drop the top when you are blasting down the highway at 90mph, this feature comes in especially handy should you get caught in a rainstorm. While driving the Abarth Cabrio in rush hour traffic one day, I ran into some unexpected rain while I had the top down. With many other convertibles, I would have been forced to pull out of traffic into a parking lot or something to get the top back up but in the 30mph traffic, I was able to roll the top back up at the push of a button without having to slow my progress towards home. Of course, having that top down also gives you an even better means to listen to that sweet, Sweet Abarth exhaust note as you cruise.

In short, the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth offers every bit of the incredible driving excitement as the hardtop Abarth but it also affords the owner the comforts of open air driving. My only real complaint about the drive qualities of the 500C Abarth is that a speed limited kicks in when the top is down and honestly, what good is a sports car that is governed under 100 miles per hour? I would imagine that Fiat has a very good reason why they opted to implement that top-down speed limiter but I find that to be a total buzz kill when the need comes up to let the Abarth stretch its legs out on the open road.

500C Abarth lead

In many cases, picking a convertible option on a sports car kills the pure driving fun of the model in question but the Fiat 500C Abarth offers open air comfort without any noticeable compromise of performance – easily making this one of the most exciting sport convertibles on today’s market in the $30k range. The Abarth package makes the Fiat 500 an awesome “driver’s car” – a car that someone who loves to drive will love to get into every single day – and the convertible Abarth is every bit as much of a driver’s car with the added element of open air driving.

The Final Word
If you are in the market for an affordable, efficient sports car that offers tons of fun to drive factor with the comforts of open air driving – look no further than the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth. This is a pure driver’s car that is just as comfortable when serving as a daily driver as it is a weekend track toy and if you love to drive – this is a car that you will look forward to getting into every time that you have to go somewhere. It isnt going to beat up many modern sports cars in a straight line but I guarantee that this subcompact convertible packs as much driving excitement as any convertible in the price range.

Abarth 500C rear

If you are shopping for a sporty convertible, make sure that you drive the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth before making your next new car purchase and I bet that you will have a very hard time settling for any of the other convertibles that wish that they were as much fun to drive as the droptop Abarth.

I loved the Fiat 500 Abarth and I love the Fiat 500C Abarth even more as it offers all of the Abarth goodness with the ability to drop the top. Drive one and I bet that you will love it too.


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