Abarth 500c

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: £17,500
Top speed: 128 mph 0-62mph 8.1 seconds
Consumption: 45.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 151g/km
Best for: Fiat's bottom line
Also worth considering? Mazda MX-5, Mini John Cooper Works Convertible, Renault Wind

If I had to write a caption for the photograph on this page, I would be tempted to take a leaf out of René Magritte's book and go for "This is not a Fiat 500C". But unlike M. Magritte, with his famous pipe, or rather picture of a pipe, my purpose would not be to make a point about the difference between image and reality, but about branding.

Because although it may look like a Fiat 500C, what you see is not a Fiat 500C, or even a picture of a Fiat 500C. In fact, despite appearances to the contrary, it's not a Fiat, or a picture of a Fiat, at all – it's an Abarth, or at least a picture of an Abarth.

Now unless you are fairly interested in cars, you probably haven't heard of Abarth before, but it's a name with a pretty distinguished history, a history that is intimately intertwined with that of Fiat. Better still, it's strongly associated with the original 1957 Fiat 500 that provided the inspiration for today's successful model of the same name, because Carlo Abarth, the legendary Austrian-Italian tuner, often worked his magic on that car before selling his company to Fiat in 1971.

Anyway, Fiat rightly sees the Abarth name as a great asset, which is why it has gone to the trouble of establishing it as a separate marque, which means that in order to buy the Abarth 500C, a sportier version of the open-topped Fiat 500C, you need to go to one of the UK's specially selected 19 Abarth dealers.

Of course, by laying the Abarth thing on so thick, Fiat is creating some strong expectations, which, fortunately, are largely fulfilled.

The Fiat 500 on which the Abarth 500 is based is already an almost irresistibly cute little car, especially in "C" form, and here the desirability rating is pumped up further with lots of Abarth badges, flashy alloy wheels, sporty seats with built-in headrests and a long list of standard equipment.

With its 1.4-litre turbocharged engine and paddle-shift Competizione gearbox, the Abarth is quick, too, although that's a quality I personally find to be slightly at odds with the open "C" body, which, when the roof is off on a nice sunny day, seems to invite a relaxed, rather than intense, driving style.

It all costs £17,500 – steep for a Fiat, sorry, Abarth 500, but not that pricey by the standards of this car's most obvious competitor, BMW's Mini. I suspect there'll be plenty of takers.

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