SOMETIMES it takes a clever piece of technology or simply a particular engine to make you look at a car in a different light.

In the case of Fiat’s 500, the Italian firm’s Twinair two-cylinder petrol engine is a revelation.

Delivering low emissions and fuel consumption with the energy and character of its pioneering predecessor, the two-pot 500 is a joy to drive. At the other end of the performance spectrum is the 500C Abarth, which offers affordable sporting thrills thanks to a range of well-judged upgrades.

In convertible form, the 500C boasts, strictly speaking, a roll back roof, which can be electrically wound back the car’s full length and includes a heated glass screen.

It has oversize exhaust pipes, purposeful bodykit, chunky steering wheel, supportive sports seats, stylish alloy wheels and, crucially, retuned suspension settings.

The main reason for buying the 500C Abarth is its performance potential: The 1.4-litre turbo petrol motor might ‘only’ produce 140 horsepower, but in a car this size that’s plenty. This rev-happy engine snarls its way around the rev counter, emitting a buzzy, impatient sound that’s highly addictive.

The 500C Abarth comes with a semi-auto gearbox complete with steering wheel paddleshifters. It’s unusual for two reasons: Such technology isn’t cheap yet Fiat has positioned the car competitively, plus this technology divides opinion.

Luddites will bemoan the lack of a clutch pedal – the 500’s gearbox is essentially a manual with the clutch action controlled electronically.

In practice, leaving the car in Auto mode does require the driver to second-guess shift points and feather the throttle accordingly. And yes, that does take practice.

However, stick the car in manual and you have full control over changes. This is by far a more rewarding experience, and it doesn’t take long before you’re zipping up and down the gears with those deliciously weighted paddles.

Better still is the car’s Sport mode, which adds more weight to the steering and sharpens the combined responses of the engine and gearbox.

Frankly, this can be left engaged all the time; far from turning the 500C into a temperamental trackday monster the sharper responses are welcome. Gearchanges feel crisper and there’s an audible change in the 500’s exhaust, giving it ‘big car’ sound.

With no shortage of power, the 500C Abarth growls and screams its way from gear to gear, corner to corner. For a small car with sports suspension its ride is surprisingly supple, too.

Grip that chunky steering wheel and, while more communication would be nice, there’s no question mark over the car’s ability to go where you point it.