Cars

2015 FIAT 500C ABARTH CABRIO: It’s small but powerful and a lot of fun to drive

The Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio. Background mural is on Black Label Cycle, Ninth and Mulberry, Kansas City. Owners: Jesse Morton/Tom Lyons
The Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio. Background mural is on Black Label Cycle, Ninth and Mulberry, Kansas City. Owners: Jesse Morton/Tom Lyons

The fun starts in the new Fiat 500c Abarth Cabrio as soon as you turn the key.

It’s that sound – the low rumble of the Fiat’s performance-tuned exhaust – that lets you know you are in for a completely different mini-compact driving experience.

The “Abarth” in the name comes from Karl Abarth, who started racing motorcycles when he was young, and later started a company that made aftermarket products for production cars. In the 1950s, he started making performance options for Fiats, and those Fiats started setting speed and endurance records. By the 1960s, the Abarth name became synonymous with performance and winning.

Karl Abarth was a Scorpio, and today a scorpion badge sits prominently on the front hood and trunk of the Abarth models.

That spirited sound of the Fiat 500c Abarth would be window dressing without a brawny powerplant, and this 500 has one. The turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine generates 157 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque. It’s enough to push you back into your seat, and it can make this 2,500-pound car scoot. Fiat says the Abarth will cover 0 to 60 mph in “the low 7-second range.”

A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but new for 2015 is a six-speed automatic. Fiat says the new automatic transmission “has been reinforced with more clutch plates and a more robust heat treatment to allow for higher torque capability.”

A button on the dash toggles between Sport and Eco settings. Sport mode provides fuel-cut upshifts, rev-matching downshifts, brake-assist downshifts, corner gear hold and fast-off gear hold, as well as a more aggressive pedal map. It also allows the driver to shift manually with a flick of the shift lever. In Sport mode, the turbo boost gauge to the left of the main display comes on.

Toggling between the two modes also changes the 7-inch, high-definition color cluster display that sits directly in front of the driver. There is no large display in the center stack.

In keeping with its performance personality, the ride is firm but not jarring, and its cornering ability and handling are excellent. The Fiat always felt planted while cornering, which is admirable for a car with a wheelbase of only 90 inches that sits as tall as the Abarth does. Despite the sound of the twin exhaust, the cabin is surprisingly quiet.

The performance theme continues inside, where the exterior color is splashed across the dash in decorative trim. It could have been gaudy, but I thought it worked. The front seats were both supportive and comfortable. Headroom and shoulder room for the driver and front-seat passenger are good. There is a back seat, but it’s tiny and suitable only for young children or groceries.

There is a trunk, too, but there is only 5.4 cubic feet of space there – about enough for one small suitcase. By folding the back seats, my son and I were able to get our golf bags into the car.

Because this is a Cabrio model, the Abarth’s power-operated cloth top retracts at the push of a button next to the rear-view mirror. This creates a large opening that’s much like that of a convertible.

Warranty

Four years or 50,000 miles.

Price

The base price of the 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth was $26,395. Options included a Beats premium audio system, auto temperature control air conditioning, heated front seats, SiriusXM Satellite radio with one-year subscription, heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission, leather-wrapped shifter, black trimmed lights, gray Abarth soft top, TomTom navigation with BLUE&ME hands-free communication and 16-inch aluminum wheels. The sticker price, including destination, was $31,595. Purchase of an Abarth model includes the segment-exclusive full-day Abarth Driving Experience.

Mike Fitzgerald’s email address is mfitzgerald@kcstar.com

2015 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir four-cylinder with 157 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

Wheelbase/length: 90.6/144.4 inches

Curb weight: 2,545 pounds

Base price: $26,395

As driven: $31,595

MPG rating: 24 miles per gallon in the city, 32 mpg highway, 27 combined

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