500c Abarth Cabrio is full of fun

2014 Fiat 500c Abarth
2014 Fiat 500c Abarth
Posted: June 08, 2014

For Chrysler and Fiat, snuggling under the same corporate blanket has encouraged the impulse to share.

Fiat gave Chrysler the essential architecture for its Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee. It then used the same Coat of Many Models marketing strategy for its Fiat 500 that its American cousin had employed with the Chrysler PT Cruiser.

With that retro cutey sold earlier in the millennium, Chrysler showed that you could sustain sales and thus significantly extend the life of a specialty car with a procession of variations on the same theme. The original PT was a four-door wagon. That begat a turbo-charged wagon, a convertible, and a turbo convertible.

The second coming of the Fiat 500 arrived a couple years ago as a coupe. The coupe begat a convertible (the 500c Cabrio) followed by a performance-minded coupe called the Abarth. Finally, the Abarth and Cabrio offspring begat a 500c Abarth Cabrio.

Which brings us, in a rather biblical way, to the Abarth Cabrio that I just spent a week playing with.

The 500c Abarth Cabrio is terminally cute, but not any more so than the basic coupe. Where it differs considerably is in the Department of Fun. Compared to the base 500, the Abarth Cabrio's smile quotient is off the charts. The folding roof takes part of the credit for the enhanced enjoyment, and the more powerful engine, sport suspension and spirited exhaust note get the rest. ("Spirited" is perhaps an understatement. Fiat calls the sound "menacing." I would call it a loud, likeable snarl that brings out the boy racer in those of us whose development was arrested somewhere around puberty.)

The Abarth Cabrio is powered by a turbo-charged, intercooled version of the 500's 1.4-liter engine. That means 160 horsepower instead of the 101 the regular 500 engine develops. Pushing the "Sport" button raises the torque tally from 150 to 170 pounds feet. Drop this engine and its five-speed manual gearbox in a car that weighs only 2,550 pounds, and you have the makings of 0 to 60 times under seven seconds. That's fast enough to be fun.

Thanks to the suspension modifications, which include stiffer springs, added roll resistance and a lower ride height, the Abarth ragtop is athletic enough to make cornering a kick, too. The car feels poised, encouraging you to push it in the corners - where the correct throttle openings and steering inputs will diminish the front-driver's congenital understeer.

The Abarth Cabrio I tested had what the window sticker replica described as a "Bianco" exterior and a "Nero" interior. This sounds almost like Mick Jagger's ex-wife and a pyromaniacal Roman emperor, but it's actually Italian for white and black.

The top was Nero as well, but wasn't your usual cloth roof. The 500 convertible has the regular coupe doors topped by side rails that run from the windshield to the trunk. The automatic cloth top sits between these rails and opens and closes like a big fabric sun roof. This, of course, is a simple, low-budget way to make a convertible out of a coupe.

While the interior is small, I wouldn't call it minuscule. By putting the seats as far forward as possible, seating the men in the front and the two women in the back, and shoehorning luggage, we were able to drive two guests to the airport.

I liked the tester's interior design, particularly the supportive, red-accented black sport seats and the large dash panel insert the color of the car. I wasn't as happy with the hard plastic interior surfaces inherited from the much cheaper base car.


Good

2014 Fiat 500c Abarth Cabrio

Based price: $26,195.

As tested: $30,595.

Standard equipment: 1.4-liter, turbo-charged engine, five-speed manual gearbox, front-drive, a nice equipment list and all the usual safety suspects.

Options: Include heated front sport seats, a navigation system, 17-inch alloy wheels and low-aspect performance tires.

Fuel economy: 28 mpg city and 34 highway.

Handling: Satisfying.

Ride quality: Rather firm.

Styling: Saucy nostalgia.

Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper.

The Ben key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.


alhaasauto@aol.com

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