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2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
July 25, 2013
7 min. Reading Time

It’s not easy to build a brand when you’ve essentially got a single model sitting in the showroom, but Fiat is making a valiant effort.  The Fiat 500 has spawned convertible (500c) and micro-van (500L) variants to sit beside the original subcompact hatchback.  Adding further spice to the Fiat lineup are the Abarth high performance models, of which the 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth is the latest and greatest.

It’s a familiar formula – hot engine in a tiny car, sprinkled liberally with air scoops and finished off with a set of flashy rims.  The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is, which is a good time on four wheels, and although rivals like the MINI Cooper S convertible and the Volkswagen Beetle Turbo convertible might offer more practicality and day-to-day comfort, they simply aren’t as brash as this Italian upstart.

2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Models and Prices

The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth comes in a single trim level that retails for an MSRP of $26,000 – a hike of roughly $4,000 over the hardtop Abarth’s window sticker.  For the money, the Abarth includes not just its upgraded drivetrain but also a full body kit, rear parking sensors (an absolute necessity, as we will see later), fog lights, a leather-wrapped shift knob, sport seats, power windows and door locks, and a CD player with Bluetooth connectivity.  My tester was also outfitted with the Comfort and Convenience package (heated leather seats, automatic climate control), 17-inch rims, and the Beats Premium Audio package (upgraded stereo).  Altogether, the total price of the Fiat 500c Abarth that I drove for a week was $28,750.


2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Design

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth is a new design for the current model year.

The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth might be a fresh option in the Fiat stable, but from a styling perspective it carries over almost all of the same cues found on the Abarth hatch.  This is a good thing, because the 500c Abarth’s aggressive front fascia, replete with honeycomb cooling ducts and grilles make a solid first impression when initially approaching the car.  The same treatment continues to the rear of the Fiat, where a small cutout surrounds the vehicle’s dual exhaust tips.  A huge Abarth scorpion badge is affixed the 500c’s hood, and a pair of smaller stinging insects festoon its body work just to the rear of its doors.  The car is a rolling billboard for on-road shenanigans, and it collected eyeballs like a fridge collects children’s finger paintings every time I cruised down the street.

The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth is much less extroverted when it comes to the design of its passenger compartment, which largely mirrors that of the standard 500.  Exceptions included the red leather of my tester, as well as the red stitching on the shift knob and parking brake.  The 500c Abarth’s flat-bottom steering wheel is also much more bolstered than one would find in a garden-variety 500.


2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Comfort and Cargo

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth does not introduce any significant comfort or cargo changes compared to the standard 500c.

Fiat has ensured that the convertible versions of the 500 – Abarth models included – suffer no real changes to their passenger compartments when compared to the hatchback.  This is because the 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth’s canvas roof slides back within the rails of the vehicle’s side panels, instead of folding completely like a standard drop top.  Preserving the form factor of the 500 might have kept development costs down, but it also eats up a ton of trunk space.  In fact, with the top completely folded (it offers three different positions, and can be dropped at speeds of up to 60-mph), it takes up all of the space in the subcompact’s trunk.  Popping the rear cargo access panel actually causes the 500c Abarth to automatically slide its top back up to the point where it’s once again possible to stow a few bags inside its 9.5 cubic foot cubby.

It might seem like the 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth’s tiny trunk is its Achilles heel, but don’t worry – you can just use the car’s back ‘seats’ to store your gear instead.  That’s because there’s no way you’re going to be transporting full-size adults or even pint-size children back there in any degree of comfort.  The Fiat’s cabin is only suited to hauling two people at a time, which it does with relative skill providing one is comfortable with the limited adjustability of the front sport seats.  A bigger issue than the 500c Abarth’s limited passenger room is the absence of anything resembling rear visibility with the top down.  The bunching fabric sitting on the car’s hump completely blocks the line of sight from the Fiat’s rearview mirror, and the car’s B-pillars do an excellent job of extending the 500c’s blind spots to the point where changing lanes had me adopting a ‘switch and pray’ approach.  Parking of any kind was also more of a challenge than it needed to be in such a small car, and the beeping of the rear parking assistance feature was only so useful when balanced against the ‘blat blat’ of the 500c Abarth’s exhaust.


2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Features and Controls

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth adds no new features to last year’s 500 Abarth model, save the convertible top.

The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth makes little effort to conceal the economy car roots of its passenger compartment, save for the additional leather and sporty trim that come with the Abarth model.  This means a sea of hard plastic greets both driver and passenger, along with haphazard button placement that was confusing to the degree that I didn’t even know that my test vehicle came with heated seats until I located the controls five days into the road test.  The 500c Abarth is ergonomically challenged – consider, for a moment, the placement of the traction control switch at the bottom left of the dashboard, where it must be felt for due to its invisibility – and features such as its Beats stereo system defied me to figure out how to link my phone via Bluetooth (after I learned the unique set of steps required to navigated its single-line satellite radio display).  Even the information screen nestled within the difficult-to-read concentric circle design of the speedometer and tach resisted my attempts to parse its menu system.


2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Safety and Ratings

What’s New:

  • There are no new safety features offered with the 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth compared to the 2012 500c.

The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth comes with side curtain airbags, dual forward airbags, and front side impact airbags to go with its pair of knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.  Electronic stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes are also included free of charge with the Fiat.

2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Crash-Test Ratings:  The National Highway Transit Safety Administration gave the 500c Abarth a four star out of five possible stars crash test safety rating due to poor side rear testing performance.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on the other hand afforded the 500c Abarth Top Safety Pick status due to it garnering a rating of ‘Good’ the organizations three important crash testing categories.


2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth borrows its drivetrain from the 500 Abarth hatchback.

The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth comes with a single engine and transmission combo: a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder mill that works together with a five-speed manual gearbox.  The boisterous motor makes use of a turbocharger to push out 160 horsepower and up to 170 horsepower when in Sport mode (and 150 lb-ft of twist in Normal mode).  Fuel mileage for the Abarth edition of the car stays respectable, checking in at 28-mpg in stop and go driving and 34-mpg during highway cruising.


2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Driving Impressions

The 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth is far more fun to drive than I expected it to be after my disappointing experience with the regular version of the hatchback.  This is certainly no accident, as the engineers at Fiat have specifically tuned the Abarth’s suspension system to offer a lower ride height that is also much stiffer than stock, with Koni shock absorbers stepping in as ringers up front.  The vehicle’s Sport button also adds more steering resistance and sharper throttle response, and 11.1 inch front brakes ensure that the car can stop fade-free from triple-digit speeds.  Overall, handling is spirited and nimble, but not exactly confidence-inspiring – blame the car’s ultra-short wheelbase for its willingness to crab-walk in sweeping corners on-throttle.  It’s no track star, but it’ll more than do for careful exploration of country roads or an aggressive tilt at a highway on-ramp.

Truth be told, the most satisfying aspect of the 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth’s driving experience is its ‘I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Legal’ exhaust note.  Indeed, the car’s straight-pipe setup (with no mufflers or resonators to be found underneath its chassis) might not even actually conform to the letter of the law, which gives the ear even more of a thrill when blipping the four-banger endlessly at a stop light.  Roaring to the redline entailed a series of chortling, backfire-filled explosions from the rear of the car, and with the top down the effect was sublime and had me grinning from ear-to-ear on even short journeys.

When it comes down to it, it would be a stretch to call the 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth ‘fast.’  Able to reach 60-mph in just a tick over seven seconds certainly places it in good company, but it’s a far cry from more performance-oriented compact and subcompact models like the Ford Focus ST or the Subaru WRX.  The turbocharged engine offers plenty of thrust above 4,000 revs, and shifting slightly past the 6,000 rpm mark in the first two gears is exciting without risking a traffic ticket.  ‘Playful’ would be the term I would used to describe the 500c, and I mean that in the best possible way.


2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Final Thoughts

Not everyone who loves to scream their engine all the way into the red is looking for a serious sports car – sometimes, the simulation of fury is just as satisfying as an actual fire-breathing performance vehicle.  If you are looking for the last word in small car speed, power, and handling, you will need to search elsewhere, but the 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth is excellent as a lifestyle accessory that sounds the business without punishing drivers via an overly-stiff suspension system or asking them to tolerate an expensive thirst at the fuel pump.  It’s far from a practical car, given the limitations of its interior and trunk, yet putting the roof down and puttering around town is an absolute joy as its melodious exhaust system lures local law enforcement to your location with astounding rapidity. 


2013 Fiat 500c Abarth Review: Pros and Cons


  • Race-car exhaust system
  • Convertible top
  • Sporty looks
  • Affordable price
  • Decent performance
  • Everyone looks at you


  • Effectively a two-seat vehicle
  • Interior ergonomics are sub-par
  • Rear visibility severely compromised with the top down
  • Does not inspire confidence in high speed corners
  • Everyone looks at you

Chrysler Canada supplied the vehicle for this review



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