Six years after Fiat returned to the United States, the Italian carmaker continues to struggle in the subcompact market. It’s a tough go with competition that includes perennial favorites like the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Beetle.
For 2017, Fiat has streamlined its efforts. Novelty trims have been ditched; the entry-level Pop, upscale Lounge and performance-oriented Abarth remain. The 500c variants include a coupe, sliding roof cabriolet and fully electric, 500e.
The cabriolet Abarth has a four-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower, an increase of 59 horsepower from its siblings. The Abarth name references the Italian carmaker’s founder Italian-Austrian Carlo Abarth. Its bold shield logo features a black scorpion on a red and yellow background.
The base Fiat 500c has a dubious distinction of being among slowest accelerating vehicles on the market. The Abarth trim eliminates the embarrassment, but it’s more perky than swift.
Like other diminutive cars, Fiats are inherently fun to drive. They’re nimble, fit into tiny parking spaces and scoot around town with confidence. But there’s an oddity. The Abarth has a serious turning diameter deficiency, more than 37 feet. That’s equal to the specs of some sport utility vehicles.
Petite vehicles are also inherently open to potential safety concerns. The Fiat 500c is smaller than a Mini-Cooper, so it’s ripe for criticism. The little beast is ideal for the narrow, cobblestoned roads of Italy as well as in the more than 100 countries in which it’s sold. But how does it fare on U.S. highways and the ever-increasing throes of commuter traffic in big-city life?
Fiat has addressed the issue by including seven airbags. But now-common safety features like lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and pre-collision detection aren’t offered.
Spaciousness is never a strong trait in the tiny car world. The Fiat 500c lineup is no different. Front seat space is satisfactory considering the segment expectations. But the back seats are adequate only for small children or grocery bags.
Fiat has done a fine job with interior color choices. But it’s primarily shiny plastic and prone to scratching. The infotainment center is sufficient, but the small storage bins and side door slots the ignition deep below the steering wheel are awkwardly placed.
Like all convertibles, the Fiat 500C Abarth is more exciting to drive with its ragtop down. But fun factor is countered by annoyance. The top folds slowly and in sections via a lever about the dash. It works like peeling back a can of sardines, and it’s not a full convertible. Further, when the canvas top is fully retracted it rests in a heap on the back deck and completely blocks the rear view.
With its top down, the most significant issue with the Abarth is exposed. The engine is unusually loud. More than one passenger remarked the engine noise is reminiscent of a damaged muffler.
Fiat doesn’t view its 500 lineup as novelty cars, and they’re not if you live in a township, remote villa in Europe or only drive on narrow country roads. But as a daily driver when freeway excursions are in the mix, better choices abound.
Easy driving and maneuvering through traffic.
Supremely fun with the ragtop down
Straightforward infotainment center.
Tight headroom and cramped back seats.
No rear-view vision with the top down.
Facts & Figures: 2017 Fiat 500C (Abarth)
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 7.5 seconds.
Fuel economy: 24 mpg (city), 32 mpg (highway), 27 (combined). Six-speed automatic transmission.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $21,490.00.
Manufacturer’s Website: www.fiatusa.com.
Price As tested: $25,510.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 4 years/50,000 miles; Powertrain, 4 years/50,000 miles; Corrosion, 7 years/unlimited miles; Roadside Assistance, 4 years/unlimited miles.
What Others Say:
“If you’re in the market for a subcompact with mega personality, the 2017 Fiat 500 coupe and convertible have it in spades.” — Kelley Blue Book.
The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:
“Lots of fun scooting around small streets and in and out of parking lots other tight spots. But the Fiat’s exterior design is uninspiring, acceleration is subpar, space is limited and the ride is loud and uneven.”
Article Last Updated: October 6, 2017.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.