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First Drive: Abarth 500C. Image by Fiat.

First Drive: Abarth 500C
The Abarth 500 is a superlative hot city car, but there's a massive thorn in the convertible version's hood.

   



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| First Drive | Helmsley, Yorkshire | Abarth 500C |

This Millennium's Abarth has its mini magnum opus in the shape of the eponymous 500, which is probably more go-kart than a MINI will ever be. There's a fundamental problem when it comes to convertibles, as we all know: weight and wobble. However, the Fiat 500C isn't a regular convertible, because its roof is a sliding thing that retains the roof pillars. Problem solved. So why is the Abarth 500C so disappointing?

In the Metal

It doesn't come across so much in the pictures, but the Abarth 500C's rear diffuser, twin pipes, spoiler, big matte grey alloys, deep front skirt and contrasting roof all conspire to look slightly OTT - if interesting.

Beneath the fabric roof the thick flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports seats, Abarth badges and bubble turbo boost gauge all seem rather more retiring. Sadly, the car suffers from a driving position that repels taller dudes like Katie Holmes, with the seat set too high, the wheel not adjustable for reach and the pedals cramped. In fact, during cornering it's quite possible to accidently change gears with a knee on a paddle-shift equipped car.

What you get for your Money

For 17,500 you'll get a canopied Abarth 500C, saddled as it is with the automated manual gearbox as standard. Mercifully there'll be a manual version before the year's end, which we assume will be cheaper and know for certain will be better.

Standard kit includes climate control, rear parking sensors (useful given the poor backward visibility), and Bluetooth, as well as the obvious Abarth add-ons. It does have the feel of a well-equipped car, albeit one with plenty of space left for you to personalise to your heart's content.

Driving it

The Abarth 500C is absolutely hamstrung by its robotised manual gearbox. And by 'robotised' we can only assume said robot is actually a fax machine, faxing the gearbox with the word 'now!' when a change is needed. The torque loss during lumbering gear changes is almost total, and at times can lurch the car forward to the extent that the seatbelt locks up. Sport mode quickens the shift times, apparently, but it really is at odds with a car that we know has dynamic excellence in its DNA.

And it's that frustration that defines the driving experience, as you curse every shift, particularly if one comes mid-corner with the weight transfer it induces. In its power band, above 3,000rpm, the 140bhp 1.4-litre turbo engine feels robust if never at all manic. The stiffness, agility, grip and steering briskness of the 500 Abarth proper remain, making second- and third-gear cornering a roll-free, predictable and tyre-testing joy (gear issues aside). Brakes are impressive too, with a strong but non-grabby bite.

Worth Noting

As with the new Abarth Punto Evo there'll be an esseesse version of the 500C before Christmas, unlocking around 160bhp from the engine, changing the springs and adding an inch to the wheels' diameter. It will make for one bumpy little convertible, though specified with the manual gearbox it will undoubtedly give potential MINI Cooper S Convertible buyers something to think about.

Summary

"Cameriere, there's a fly in my antipasti." It's difficult to separate the Abarth 500C's good qualities from the inadequacies of the gearbox. Because of it, the car is frustrating to drive both slowly and quickly, hindering it as both a convertible and a pocket rocket. We'd wait for the manual.

Mark Nichol - 15 Jul 2010



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2010 Abarth 500 specifications:
Price: 17,500 on-the-road
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
Top speed: 127mph
Combined economy: 43.0mpg
2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.

2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.



2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.
 

2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.
 

2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.
 

2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.
 

2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.
 

2010 Fiat 500C Abarth. Image by Fiat.
 






 

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