2019 Fiat 500C Abarth new car reviews

Sad news: 2019 marks the last year of regular 500 and 500e sales in North America. What’s worse? The 500 Abarth says goodbye, too. For 2020, Fiat soldiers onward with the 500L, 500X and 124.

That leaves our 2019 500C Abarth tester as a bit of a lame duck, but one that we’re sure could be had for a bargain. The Abarth adds plenty of fun to the party, with its 1.4-liter, turbocharged inline-four producing 157 horsepower. It nicely complements the suspension setup, along with something they call “Torque Transfer Control” which Fiat describes thus:

The TTC system is a differential locking system that uses the mechanical differential as a reactive element in the transmission to control torque via the brake system and electronic stability program (ESP) sensors. Utilizing ESP enables the 500 Abarth to transfer torque from a front wheel that slips, to one that grips.

Our cabrio tester came equipped with the optional six-speed automatic, a $995 option that could be best described as an interesting decision: You give up 3 horsepower, but gain 13 pound-feet of torque. All in, our tester was nearly $29,000, or almost $7000 more than the base price. Along with the aforementioned automatic, our tester had the optional 17-inch wheels, navigation, various appearance packages and the Beats Audio package.

Other staff views

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard

Since the Fiat 500 Abarth came out in 2012, I have loved them. As an old car buff, I remember the original Abarths, so I get the looks.

The cars are a blast on track as well as on the street. This is the first one of these cars I have driven with the six-speed automatic transmission. While this transmission shifts well and in Sport mode downshifts nicely, it absolutely does not match the personality of the car. The signature Abarth exhaust that sounds so fine on the manually equipped versions sounds like you have a bad muffler with the automatic transmission. Thankfully at speed, it does not drone and starts to sound better again.

This is the first convertible version of these cars that I have experienced. Unlike the Mini Cooper—which the convertible just ruins the looks and versatility of—I liked the convertible top on this car. It does give an open-air feel, has both sunroof and full convertible mode and is quiet and unobtrusive when raised.

When lowered fully, rearward vision is lessened, but so what? This car is fun in a convertible version. The handling is spot-on in this car and just a blast to run through the twisties. Unlike so many great handling cars, the noise level and ride comfort are very acceptable.

Sure, the Abrath is small and perhaps not practical for carrying much if anything but kids in the back seat, but as a commuter car or fun weekend toy, this Fiat is a lot of fun.

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela

Why can’t we have nice things? Let me expand on that: Why does the 500 Abarth have to go away? I was so excited when I saw that we had a 500 Abarth in the parking lot, and it was a Cabrio no less! I figured this was the perfect car to finally enjoy what Florida thinks summer should be. And then I saw the automatic.

Okay, fine, I get it. I had learned long ago to stop worrying and embrace the automatic. Most of my previous cars had been thus equipped, so I knew what I am getting into. And to be honest, if some extenuating circumstance forces you to opt for the auto, there are much worse options than the one in the 500 Abarth. It still has the absolutely amazing exhaust note, it braps and farts on the up and downshifts (in sport mode, naturally) and the car still feels zippy for what it is.

Once I had sized the car up to make sure my William Howard Taft-esque frame would fit, I hopped in and dropped the top all the way down. Cool. Yeah, you lose some (okay, most) rearward visibility, but it also blocked the headlights of most crossovers, so we’ll call this one a wash. Having the top down was worth it; every time I have driven in Florida it has been a “windows up, AC on” situation, so it was nice to experience open-top driving and not care about how sweaty I was. Plus, you could hear the exhaust better.

The exhaust, by the way, was a hoot 95% of the time. It wasn’t as fun on cold starts in the morning, where it seemed much louder than it needed to be. I could see how this may annoy some neighbors. Also not so hot? The turning circle. Seriously, my Mercedes-Benz 300 SDL at 208 inches long has a better turning radius than the 500. It handled just fine at speed but turning in tight places proved to be a bit of a slog.

The worst thing about the 500C Abarth? It’s going away, and all the money won’t another minute buy. But hey, it was fun while it lasted.

Marjorie Suddard
Marjorie Suddard
General Manager

I only drove it down Beach St. for 15 minutes, so not much of an impression. Just this:

1) The Abarth's exhaust note, which I have liked and found amusingly badass in the manual cars, sounds like you’re flogging a dying cow with the automatic.

2) The auto Abarth also feels like you’re flogging a dying cow.

3) I now have "Mrrroooooow, mrrroooooowwwww” stuck in my head.

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Dootz Reader
9/19/19 7:22 p.m.

The Abarth always screamed Genesis Coupe 2.0 to me.

Looks great on paper: lightweight, small turbo engine, great exhaust note, manual option. Despite that, it came off as half-baked when compared to the Fiesta ST. Two doors less and it just isn't able to compete.

Jerry UberDork
9/19/19 9:33 p.m.

At ~67k miles I still love driving my 2013, but I don't think an auto would work for me.  They didn't offer the auto till 2015 or so I believe, and while people complained I said let them.  If offering an auto keeps them making the thing, by all means go for it.  You still had the manual option.

And at least for me?  #Tonyfixedit.  Replaced an axle that went bad, the other was looking spotty so we did both to save labor costs, and a ball joint.  5.5 years, 67k miles, not terrible in my opinion.  And I still get to enjoy that exhaust almost every day.

Feedyurhed UltraDork
9/19/19 9:45 p.m.

I keep hearing that Fiat and Alfa Romeo will be leaving the American market all together soon.  I don't know if it's true. 

Vigo MegaDork
9/19/19 9:49 p.m.

Kinda sad to hear that the automatic detracts substantially from this car. I had guessed it would be one of the cars that the auto version of would still be pretty good. 

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela Digital Editor
9/19/19 10:24 p.m.

In reply to Vigo :

Honestly, I've driven much worse automatics. You do get the extra torque bump, too. But having not driven a stick version does leave my view a bit myopic. 

Oh, the one thing I forgot to mention? Upshifting and downshifting were reversed. Took awhile to suss that out. 

cdeforrest Reader
9/19/19 11:09 p.m.

RIP you insane little monster. My 500e couldn't keep its tread intact for long on those overstressed front tires. Such a blast to drive. 

mad_machine GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/19/19 11:36 p.m.

Love my little Abarth. Any naysayers really should give one a try. There is something in the DNA of all Italian cars that brings out the hooligan in the driver.

Vigo MegaDork
9/20/19 2:24 p.m.

If my current DD was italian i'd have to re-glue the rearview mirror to the windshield so i could rip it off again. 

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