You probably think of the Fiat 500 as a cute little fuel-sipper that wears its Italian heritage on its fenders. And, that's mostly true. But, there's a more venomous 500 that sports a track-proven turbo engine, fortified suspension, and enough styling accoutrement to scare the ricotta outta your lasagna. Meet the Fiat with a bad attitude - the 500 Abarth.
Abarth Raises 500's Visual Gravity
Beyond the scorpion logo on the facias and fenders, you'll know the Abarth by its 17-inch forged aluminum wheels shod with low-profile Pirelli P-Zero performance tires and red brake calipers. The 500's traditional "whiskers and logo" face looks as good as ever, but is accentuated by a bolder facia and twin snarling nostrils. Flared wheel arches, unique side skirts, and twin chrome exhausts raise the visual gravity. A rear spoiler gives the car a longer profile while increasing downforce as the rear diffuser optimizes airflow. Most of the add-ons have legitimate purpose.
For 2015, designers upgraded the interior with a 7-inch high-definition color instrument cluster, Bluetooth streaming audio, and revised center console. Our test car came with one-piece charcoal gray cloth buckets with red striping that hug your sides and provide all-day support. Grip the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel and enjoy. Dash panels continue in body color for an expensive look while automatic climate control adds convenience. Beats by Dr. Dre audio with a 368-watt amplifier and subwoofer rocks your socks off, but the powertrain will blow your hair back.
Turbocharged Power Delivers Rapturous Turmoil
The Abarth's acoustically-tuned exhause makes the car sound like a souped up lawnmower, but the car's light weight give it a fun-loving spirit. Under the stubby hood is a turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine that sends 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque through a newly-available six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. That may not register as a lot of power until you realize the Fiat only weighs about 2,500 lbs. Given the standard five-speed manual's temperamental nature, get the automatic.
That all sounded like the potential for rapturous turmoil and hedonistic pleasure, but on first drive, the car was not living up to the spirit I imagined. It seemed to take a lot of throttle-caressing to get it to move even when revved obnoxiously through its manual shift mode. But then, I discovered the Sport mode's "fun button" on the dash and some Italian version of Hades erupted. In no time, I was giggling like a devil on the win. Fuel economy is rated a not-so-frugal 24/32-MPG city/hwy. - less so under full scat.
All of the body accoutrement and rebellious thrashing is backed up by a track-ready chassis. Engineers lowered the ride height and stiffened up the suspension to give the tall city car handling that would set several sport coupes back a couple of paces. Four-wheel disc brakes are up to the car's potential. There's only so much you can do to make a tallish front-drive car handle like a proper sports car, but the Abarth gives its soul to play the part.
Not All Frothed Espresso
Sadly, the Abarth is not all frothed espresso. The driving position is typically Italian with a forward-canted/knees bent steering position and the suspension is necessarily stiff, but thunks over rough pavement (though, better for 2015). Except for what's leather and painted, interior quality is about what's expected for a $15,000 car. Rear seat space is, um, challenged. My friends loved the rowdy exhaust rumble, but it drones on like Charlie Brown's teacher.
Your morning drive, whether to a stuffy office or college campus, doesn't have to be boring. The Fiat Abarth is as practical as every other city-sized 500, but comes with a lot more attitude. An as-tested price of $28,775 puts it against the Mini Cooper S, Chevy Sonic RS, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, and Ford Fiesta ST.
See Casey's video of the Fiat 500 Abarth and follow him on Twitter: @AutoCasey.
2015 Fiat 500 Abarth
- Four-passenger, FWD micro
- Powertrain: 160hp 1.4-liter T4, 6-spd auto trans
- Suspension f/r: Ind/twist beam
- Wheels f/r: 17"/17" alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, power
- Fuel economy: 24/32-MPG city/hwy
- Assembly: Toluca, Mexico
- As-tested price: $28,775