Proving that sex appeal is rarely practical.
– Detroit, Michigan
It’s probably fair to say that America has yet to warm to the entire Fiat 500 line. Sales are slack in 2016, and the model didn’t outsell the Mini Cooper last year, either. And though sales figures aren’t readily available for something as granular as the 500c Abarth flavour of the subcompact, my gut tells me it isn’t shouldering most of the load.
I guess technically then, this qualifies as an Italian exotic? That feels right, for this not-quite-hot, near-convertible city car is both utterly charming and almost impossible to live with over long stretches. Just don’t accuse it of being commonplace.
- Look at this little bastard! Screaming Giallo Moderna Perla (“modern pearl yellow”) and a stripe package, over 17-inch, Hyper Black wheels that have been pushed way, way out to the corners of infinity; every inch of this car screams “look at me!” If you’re into making a statement wherever you drive and park, you could do worse.
- Even the blind guy walking down the sidewalk will notice you, thanks to an exhaust note that approximates a Lamborghini with a head cold and a dose of Little Man Complex. I started the Abarth on a cold morning in my driveway, and the initial blat of exhaust upon turnover was enough to wake every dog on my block. Sorry, neighbours. As with the looks, if you’re not into a snarling city car, throw this “pro” down on the “cons” list.
- A turbocharged 1.4-litre making 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque is plenty to make this cabrio scoot. It really does feel at home while driving aggressively through grumbling city traffic, where a press of the Sport button and a downshift routinely allowed me to shoot gaps and toast the front tires at stoplights.
- I’m a huge convertible fan, and though I don’t really count this as a true member of the genre (the canvas roof folds but the roof rails and pillars stay up), I do like certain elements. For starters, the top is well contained enough that you can put it back or forward at speed – more like a sunroof than a convertible. And, of course, the more enclosed space does make for some good cold-weather convertible-ing, thanks to great isolation from the wind.
- The canvas roof has a ducktail spoiler. That gets its own pro.
- The Abarth is such a great driver’s car on so many levels, which makes it even more disappointing that the controls are a letdown. Both the steering wheel and the shift lever feel too fat, too wooly, and imprecise. And though the car will turn on a dime thanks to that short wheelbase, the suspension is too soft to make that rewarding.
- The squishy suspenders are a real problem when it comes time for some quick stopping, too. While the brakes do a fine job of hauling the 500c down from speed, the action is met with dramatic squatting and pitching. The car moves around so much under heavy braking that I started leaving a large gap between myself and other traffic on the highway.
- My supercar analogy from earlier is apt in terms of the Fiat’s rear visibility, too. To be blunt: it’s atrocious. With the top up one can almost-but-not-really get a view through the tiny rear window by way of the mirror – don’t even think about where the back corners of the car are, though. With the top down, you basically get nothing. There’s a buggy-basket of a soft top where the window used to be, and those two fat pillars. Can I get a backup camera at least?
Photos: Seyth Miersma / Motor1.com