Fiat 500 Abarth Gets Points for 'Cute,' Little Else
A co-worker called my black and white Fiat 500 Abarth the Beanie Baby of cars – Cute with a capital C.
I like small cars, appreciate their efficiency, their fun factor and generally their lower cost. The Fiat 500 is cute almost to a fault. At its base Pop trim level it’s a fun subcompact that starts at an extremely attractive $15,500.
The Abarth (Fiat tells us that’s pronounced AH-bart) is its racy version.A turbo with dual intercoolers raises the I4 engine’s output from 101 horsepower to 160. In a car that weighs just 2,533 pounds, those extra horses would seem to create a pocket rocket. Combine that with its slick black paint job, white racing stripes along the sides, red and black leather seats and white aluminum 17-inch wheels, and you’re pretty sure you have a racer on your hands.
This doesn’t come anywhere close to a Mini in performance or overall feel.
There is some pop off the line with its five-speed manual, but it’s just that, a short burst of power that doesn’t feel strong and sustainable. The transmission has extremely long throws, so you won’t have a sports car feel to the shifting as you do in a Mazda Miata. Shifts aren’t so precise, but are long and notchy.
Gearing also isn’t what you expect from a sporty model as the car often bogs as you accelerate in city driving and is lackluster going up mild area hills. I found myself downshifting to second and third to manage decent speed uphill.
Handling is sporty. It’s light and lively like a go-cart. The highlight of driving a 500 is zipping into a corner, cranking the wheel, clipping the apex and hustling out the other side. Driving rotaries is a blast.
Ride is punishing despite the 500’s independent front suspension and semi-independent rear. This is a performance tuned suspension, but I found myself slowing considerably on many area concrete streets due to all the rump-busting seams and potholes. The short 90.6-inch wheelbase also does the 500 no favors. Few cars I’ve driven the past 25 years required me to slow this much to avoid a painful posterior.
Braking is fine with four-wheel discs, ABS and stability control. Being a small car, the Fiat stops quickly, thanks to those discs.Some may find the Abarth’s grumbling, rumbling exhaust tone racy, but mostly it’s just noisy with a distinct diesel-like grumble at idle.
Inside, the black and red leather pepped up the interior. That look and the leather are optional.
Abarth is key-started with a switchblade style key and has a rear wiper control for the hatch. Trip computer functions are handled via a button on the end of a stalk to the steering wheel’s right. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope and includes radio controls on the hub. I also like the wheel’s flat lower portion, which allows for easier entry and exit for the driver.
Room inside is tight. A 6-foot friend had trouble with both headroom and seeing out of the windshield from the passenger’s seat, which seems to ride tall. There is no height adjustment.
The driver’s seat does have a height adjustment, so taller folks can drive the car. All seat controls are manual, with the seat back angle control on the seat back’s inner edge, near the center console. These tall-backed ($1,000 option) leather seats are comfortable though, providing good lateral support.
Outward visibility over the driver’s right shoulder is limited by the tall seat backs and curve of the roof’s C pillar.Storage is minor at 7.0 cubic feet behind the rear seat, which could be used only by small children. The rear seat is split and folds down, but not flat, making for an awkward cargo area. I also found the radio’s volume control toggles irritating; a knob is much simpler to adjust. Also, the car’s tiny sun visors are stubby and useless.
Pricing starts out in the value range, considering the car’s turbo and unique looks. Base here is $22,000, but add $700 for delivery and with options this one hit $26,200.
Gas mileage was good at 31.3 mpg and fits within the EPA estimates of 28 mpg city and 34 highway.