The world of automotive journalism is full of jaded minds and cold, shattered hearts. We are constantly fed page after page of press releases full of promises and breakthroughs, but every promise always comes across as empty. Very few cars are able to stir the soul in today’s market. The car companies are no longer trying to make the best car, they are trying to make the best appliance. The best tool to drag bodies from point A to point B is the ultimate goal. Even most “enthusiast” vehicles are built to cater to the softer side of the motoring world. When the Fiat 500 Abarth rolled into my drive I was fully prepared for disappointment, but what I got instead was harsh kick to teeth. Read on to see how this little pile of Italian bolts melted my heart.
First let’s start with the looks. It came to me clad in pristine white paint; with matching white 17-inch thin spoke alloy wheels. Slathered onto this blank canvas was a red strip down the door sill (because every proper petrol head knows that stripes make it faster), Abarth logo scorpion badges everywhere and bright red mirror caps. It is a boy racer’s dream design. Of course all this color is slathered on a body that has been revised with a larger front grille, features a rear diffuser with dual exhaust and of course we have the requisite rear spoiler. Lest not forget the car also sits lower thanks to its new suspension. All together the car looks slightly like a caricature of itself.
The interior features more of the overthought silliness. Our tester had red leather sports buckets with their own racing stripes (remember, stripes equal faster), a flat bottom steering wheel and a comically huge boost gauge. The seats are comfortable enough, and the red contrast stitching throughout the cabin is well done, plus you still get the trick exterior color matched dash. All in all it looks like a hoon’s paradise.
Of course, the look of this machine is not the feather in its boy racer cap. That comes courtesy of the exhaust. The twin chrome tips that exit the rear of this tiny car bellow with the fury that hasn’t been heard since the demise of the Class B rally machines. To truly understand, you need to experience. Check out the video below to get a true sense of the noise this tiny car can produce.
That exhaust note is the first tool the Abarth used to claw its way into my blackened heart, but it would not stop there. When I first drove the 500c, I noted that car’s loose suspension caused excessive lean and massive understeer. The Abarth has a completely revised suspension, wider tires, and the car sits lower so the handling should be greatly improved. The truth, however, is that thanks to the increased speed and power, the drive is much the same. When you throw the car into a turn the whole body pitches and feels ready to topple, but it always manages to stay upright. Just like the 500c, the Abarth also exhibits the scream of tires during many maneuvers, but thanks to the revised suspension and short wheel base, a bit of mid-corner rotation can be yours with just the lift of the throttle. Thankfully the horrible shifter from the base 500 has been revised with a tighter feel and more pronounced throws, but it still has the worst clutch ever fitted to a factory car. Ever.
Now to really squeeze the most of the Abarth, you need to be very wary of a small button on the dash, just to the right of the steering wheel. It’s the one labeled “Sport”. You see, this button takes the tiny little 1.4-liter turbo motor and cranks all the settings to 11. With Sport mode activated the engine is pumping out a massive 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Throttle response is also sharpened and the exhaust gets just a little growlier. I recommend just taping the button down. Without Sport mode the Abarth makes only 130 horsepower, and that is just no fun for anybody.
If you are here to find out about the daily livability of the Abarth and are tired of hearing about how fun and sporty it is, I apologize. As a normal A to B form of transportation, the Fiat 500 Abarth is woefully terrible. Just like every 500 before, the back seats are pointless, the trunk is smaller than most people’s kitchen garbage cans and all the exhaust and low-profile tires do is make the car loud and uncomfortable. At a steady highway cruise you are likely to go deaf as the Abarth sits just north of 3,000 RPM and emits the most terrible drone imaginable. Even the seats, with their nice shape and body hugging bolstering are hard and uncomfortable, plus that sleek lowered suspension crashes and jostles passengers over minor bumps.
The Abarth does its best to make daily life better with some creature comforts like an upgraded stereo and a navigation system, but even those seem to fall flat. The Bose stereo is not only too muffled on its own, but when cranked to the excessive volumes needed to overcome the drone of the tires and the engine, it becomes distorted and loses what little clarity it had. That Bose stereo does beat the Navigation implementation though. Buyers who opt for the 400$ navigation upgrade are presented a big-box special TomTom unit mounted to a long rod. That rod slots directly into the top of the dash, looking like you might as well have duck taped it up there. For a car that is so focused on style and aesthetics, I fail to fathom how this ever passed through the designers. Thankfully the system does at least work well. Its large size is easy to read and its awkward positioning does at least make it easy to reach. Maps were accurate, location tracking was quick and it even featured Hoon approved features like traffic camera warnings.
Now I have come to the part of the story I feared the most. It is time we discussed pricing for the 500 Abarth. At base level the Abarth is a not inconsequential $22,000, but the leather seats added $1,000, the red stripes and mirror caps added another $350 and those awesome white alloy wheels will cost you another $1,000. All told, my Abarth tester came to a grand total of $26,200 after destination. That is a lot money, especially for a car this size. To put that in perspective you can get the much larger, more powerful and better equipped Focus ST for $2,500 less. Hell you can slot yourself behind the wheel of a WRX for that kind of money.
Make no mistake, the 500 Abarth is a terrible car, but as a tool for the enthusiast it is nothing short of magic. If your twelve year old self would have built his own car, I can promise it would be much like this Abarth. It is noisy, uncomfortable, and that 1.4-liter engine swallows gasoline faster than laws of physics would seem to allow (I saw averages as low as 19 mpg). I don’t care about any of that however. As a pure expression of automotive fun and excitement, the 500 Abarth is in a league of its own. It is far too expensive, beyond impractical and anyone who buys one is probably a little bit mental. I can promise you though, no matter how mental they are, they will damn sure be happier every time they turn that key.
If all you need out of life is a tool to take you from here to there, go buy a Camry. If you are looking for a vehicle that sacrifices all else in the pursuit of automotive excitement and bliss, you need to get down to your local Fiat dealer. This is one of the worst cars I have ever driven, and I want one so bad it hurts.
Fiat 500 Abarth, I think I love you.