First drive: On board Abarth 500C

If you like your motoring with wind in the hair and lashings of excitement, then the Abarth 500C will be right up your street.

The maker - Fiat Group's performance arm - has just unveiled this drop-top version of its potent little city car and Autoblog has climbed behind the wheel.
Packing a 1.4-litre 16v turbo-charged engine with 140bhp, the 500C may look small but punches well above its weight.
That T-Jet unit is capable of propelling the car to 60mph in just 8.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 127mph - and all while you soak up the rays with the top rolled back.

Abarth has stiffened the windscreen pillar to cope with the fabric roof, which folds back electrically like a long sunroof. It concertinas away, bunching up above the rear tailgate when not in place.

The problem is, with the roof down, noise levels are high and the buffeting at speeds the little Abarth is capable of reaching can be uncomfortable. The electrical mechanism works quickly and at town speeds can still be operated, but for fast-paced roads and motorways you'll need the lid shut.

The 500c really is a true hot hatch though - it feels a lot quicker than the 8.1second to the 60mph time suggests. On the road, two roarty exhausts sing the car's intentions and the engine has a pleasing growl to it when stretched.

It grips superbly too and on a race track - where professional drivers demonstrated to Autoblog what the Abarth was really capable of – it was clear the car is entertainingly quick.

But it's not all good news. From launch only a semi-auto flappy paddle gearbox will be available and sadly it's not up to the job. In automatic mode, changes are slow and irritating. Flick the sport button on (a button you should rarely turn off) and use the paddles will see things slightly improve - but you need to lift off the power every time you change. Even then it's still jerky.

The good news is a manual gearbox - which is more than up to the job in the hard-top Abarth 500 - will be available from November.

Despite those impressive performance figures, the 500C is still quite frugal - it'll do 43.4mpg on the combined cycle and emits 151g/km. Specification is high too with xenon headlights, parking sensors and Blue&Me connectivity all standard.

Abarth told us that an Essesse performance upgrade will be available in November. This will boost power to 165bhp and reprogram the gearbox for faster shifts. We can't help thinking the standard car needs that gearbox upgrade already.

It really is hard to see past that annoying shift and that's a real shame as there's little else wrong with the £17,500 Abarth 500C.

It's fast, comfortable inside and most importantly isn't a Mini Cooper S - and for buyers looking to stand out from the crowd that could be the hook the Abarth needs to find homes.
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