Monday 3rd January 2011


DRIVEN: ABARTH 500C

Abarth time for Garlick. (And about time too, you might hear it whispered...)

PHer Garlick's 'scorpion'-styled steed was two-tone....
PHer Garlick's 'scorpion'-styled steed was two-tone....
When PH gets its hands on a Ferrari, you can rest-assured the entire team has the date inked into their diaries, and will come up with all manner of good reasons why they should drive it. The same can't always be said for some other models from the Fiat group, and using that to my advantage I managed to steal the keys to the Abarth 500C at the last Sunday Service of 2010. And I kept them in my pocket for the rest of the week.

...so he photographed it twice.
...so he photographed it twice.
I'm a fan of small FWD cars and have good memories of my old JCW MINI Cooper S. The Abarth is a similar proposition, with its image being what most drivers will judge before ever giving it a chance dynamically. This being PH Open Season, the 500 we've blagged is the C version, which means it has the almost pram-like opening roof in a style (not dissimilar to the old BMW Baur cars) giving it an open feel. But to be honest, with so much metal around you it's easy to forget it's open at all... Well, compared to my TVR, and our other Open Season drives at least.

So here's another one, courtesy of Fiat...
So here's another one, courtesy of Fiat...
For reasons known only to Abarth, the C version is only available with the automated 'Competizione' gearbox, which gives you a few buttons where the gearstick would be and paddles on the steering wheel. Leave it in auto and you have a fairly jerky change, but point it down a B-road, press the Sport button for a faster shift (it artificially weights-up the steering too), lift off slightly as you change gear and you'll be laughing out loud as the 1.4 turbo whisks you down the road at an unexpected lick. On a run from London to Goodwood we had a ball, as the turbo motor left us feeling there wasn't anything we couldn't pass safely. If the handling feels a little skittish at times, it is completely predictable and the rasp from the twin exhausts is addictive - especially with the roof open.

...and we'll say no more about it!
...and we'll say no more about it!
There is a compromise to all of this fun though, and that's down to the 'C' conversion. You really can feel the car twist and shake when pushing on, which is a shame as the roof-down experience really adds to the character of the car. So in spite of the buzz of listening to the turbo spinning and the exhaust popping, as a true PHer I suspect you might want to opt for the metal roof. It's worth mentioning at this point that the Abarth C has a slightly softer suspension set up than the hardtop too (to appeal to women drivers apparently...), so the hardtop is certainly the enthusiasts' choice.

The looks may divide opinion, but we reckon it looks the part in the colour combination we tested. OK, so perhaps it's over-styled in places and some of the design touches are at the detriment of functionality; the good looking steering wheel is too thick and doesn't adjust enough, you can't read the combined speedo and rev-counter at a glance, the rear window needs a wiper and you can't ignore the fact that sitting in traffic with the roof-down is a touch embarrassing. (Garlick, you love it... Ed.)

(Although frankly...
(Although frankly...
It's not cheap either, and will set you back over 17,000 as standard. Our car came loaded with options - leather seats, climate control, upgraded hi-fi, two-tone paint and painted 17'' wheels, all pushing the price up further. The 1.4 engine delivers 140bhp which equates to a 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds and a top speed of 127mph, but there is an 'Esseesse' pack available which takes this to 160bhp along with Esseesse badging too.

I really enjoyed this car, but I knew that after a week I would be able to give it back. In reality, if you want the open experience in your 500 you really should choose a lower model with a small engine and buzz around town in style, not noticing the shake and flex.

...it's probably Riggers' fault.)
...it's probably Riggers' fault.)
If you want the full Abarth experience however (and I recommend that you do) then save yourself some money and choose the non-C version. You'll appreciate the solidity only a roof can offer, it gives you the auto/ manual choice, you get better suspension and you'll have a fantastic looking driver's car. It might not be quite as fast or polished as its German MINI rival, but isn't that all part of the Italian charm?



Author: Garlick