A shot of "oomph" turns this mouse into a street ratWhile the normal Fiat 500, with its wheezy 100-horsepower engine and awkward driving position, is quirky enough to buy over a 3-door Yaris or even a base Mazda2, I just didn't fall in love with it. After our friends over at Abarth were finished with it however, it was a whole different story.
It may not be a Mazda, but the only words that I found myself uttering over and over again throughout my week with the 500 Abarth were “zoom zoom”. The only way to accurately describe this car using few words is “quick, snappy, and fun”. There are a couple of misconceptions I’d like to address before getting into the details of the Abarth. Firstly, it’s not a competitor to the Cooper S or the Volkswagen GTI. While the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth is a hot hatch with two doors, that’s about where the similarities stop. Let me explain.
While the normal Fiat 500, with its wheezy 100-horsepower engine and awkward driving position, is quirky enough to buy over a 3-door Yaris or even a base Mazda2, I just didn’t fall in love with it. After our friends over at Abarth were finished with it however, it was a whole different story. A press on the clutch and a twist of the key fires up what’s quite possibly the best sounding exhaust on a mainstream car since the Infiniti G35 Coupe. It’s raspy and throaty without sounding too artificial; it almost sounds like the roar of a young lion. The 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder puts out 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque in the North American model. Mated to a 5-speed manual, the shifter protrudes out of the dashboard not-unlike the EP3 Honda Civic hatchback, but it’s somehow comfortable to use. Before driving the car, I had preconceived notions that it wouldn’t be as quick or as much fun as a Cooper S. I was both right and wrong at the same time. While the Abarth is a notch below a Cooper S in nearly every aspect, it’s 90% as much fun to drive as the Mini at 60% of the price (comparably equipped).
The funny thing with the Abarth is that even though it doesn’t look too much different than the normal 500 (red mirrors, more aggressive body flares, bigger wheels, etc.), it gets a ridiculous amount of attention. Unlike my experience with the Civic Si HFP this past summer, people didn’t continuously want to know how fast the Abarth is. They were all inquisitive; I got comments ranging from “wow, that thing sounds like it packs some serious muscle” to “damn, that looks good!” Stares, thumbs-ups, and waves; all standard features in the 500 Abarth.
On to the actual features of the 500 Abarth; the list is pretty impressive. My test car came equipped exactly as I would want my Abarth to be; finished in a lovely “Nero” with red leather seats. I’ve long been a boycotter of the “Beats by Dre” audio brand, isolating an entire brand by the hugely overpriced headphones that Starbucks-goers wear plugged into their MacBooks while sipping a $7 coffee. I think the headphones (and some other devices made by the brand) have far too much bass and lack clarity. However, my 500 Abarth came equipped with the Beats by Dre audio upgrade, complete with USB iPod integration and a 8″ subwoofer built into the trunk, and it didn’t fail to impress me. The vocals are clear, the instrumentals are clear, and even when the bass is turned up fully, there’s just the right amount of it. Well played, Chrysler. Although, I would like a slightly more user-friendly stereo in terms of browsing playlists and such on the iPod.
Awesome as it may be, I do have a serious gripe with the Abarth, and it’s the same gripe I had with the regular 500. The driving position is extremely bizarre. The steering wheel, while nicely shaped, lacks telescopic movement. It’s just too far away. It’s not just me either; I’ve read plenty of reviews on this car where my fellow auto critics find it hard to get comfortable unless they have long arms and short legs. If I move the seat close enough so that I’m comfortably close to the wheel, I’m suddenly too close to the pedals and my knees are squeezed up against the dashboard. As a 6-footer who wears 34-length pants, I’ve already written off any possibility of driving one of these on long jaunts.
With a starting price just under $24,000, the Fiat 500 Abarth is certainly a viable alternative to the more expensive hot hatches. However, it just lacks the finesse and attention-to-detail of the Volkswagen GTI and the typical Bavarian characteristics of the Cooper S. Where the Abarth does excel is fun for your dollar. Though some may argue that the new Toyobaru twins (FR-S and BRZ) are more “hardcore”, I guarantee that the day-to-day ease of the Abarth can’t be beaten. It’s easy to get in and out of, it has a reasonably usable storage area, it’s easy to park, and most importantly, it growls. I’ll even go as far as to say that the Abarth is quite possibly the most fun you can have every single day (year-round) if you live in the city and choose to drive to work.
2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Gallery