By on November 20, 2012

With the TWATs under way and awards season about to gear up, I would like to take a moment to highlight the one car I’ve found that ticks all the boxes for me personally. It’s the Fiat 500 Abarth.

The base 500 might as well be the template for the “premium city car” segment that’s slowly cropping up (the 500, Opel Adam and even the Ford Fiesta and Smart ForTwo can be included). It’s stylish, economical and carries a small footprint which makes it easier to park and maneuver. It’s also bog slow and dull to drive.

The Abarth fixes all that. 160 horsepower won’t light anyone’s hair on fire, but its quick enough by anyone’s standards, with serious punch above 3000 RPM that’s great for merging and passing big rigs on the highway. In the base car, those are white-knuckle feats of derring-do. In the Abarth, you want to do it again and again. The power comes in handy in city traffic too. There’s very little lag, and you can take nearly anything from a stoplight. A stopped taxi or dawdling driver blocking your lane can easily be evaded without downshifting – wait for even the tiniest gap, punch the throttle and you’re gone.

It sounds like a tuner car, and tries to look like a serious performance machine but doesn’t have any of the “I work at McDonalds” vibe that a tuner car (factory or aftermarket hackjob) carries. Girls think its cute, seniors take a real shine to it and you’d never be embarassed to take a client or your boss out to lunch in it. That wonderful exhaust note that everyone goes on about? It never drones or buzzes like an aftermarket unit does. But it sounds wonderful with the windows down, when you can hear the turbo spooling, the wastegate exhaling and the unburnt fuel crackling and popping.

Some of the cars flaws, like the high seating position, are actually a boon to city driving. Visibility is excellent and you quickly adapt to it. Others, like the excessive body roll and darty steering at high speeds make it less than ideal for serious performance driving. This isn’t something you’d take to the track. But for the kind of road courses you tackle on a daily basis, it’s superb. I even fit a Cotsco-sized grocery shop in the trunk without folding the seats down. In a pinch, I took a couple friends across town to go for lunch. Even though I drove the car vigorously all week, I had no trouble matching the 28 mpg the EPA claims for this car.

The Abarth is definitely a niche product, and a lot of people will be more comfortable with something else, whether that’s a Mini, a Mazdaspeed 3 or even an FR-S. But if you are that mythical Millenial; downtown-living, employed in the creative field, the kind of person that GM and Ford are trying so hard to cultivate, then this is your car. I love it for more tangible reasons; it can fit in nearly any parking space, easy on gas and has just the right amount of performance. Do I love it enough to take on a car note? No. But of all the cars I’ve driven this year, this is the one that I’d buy. Maybe in a few years, when things are a little more stable and I’m firmly entrenched here at TTAC, I’ll take the plunge. Right now, the world doesn’t seem to be getting any more stable economically, and that means even a $22,000 new car is something to be second guessed.

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101 Comments on “Generation Why: My Gen Y COTY...”


  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I find the regular more than quick enough, so the Abarth must be a rocketship. It’s all relative, of course.

    I want a base Pop just to zip around town in. Too bad we don’t get the TwinAir in the US, that would probably be the most fun of all as you would have to cane it like a gum-chewing Singaporian to make it go. And it would LIKE it!

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      Agreed – we’ve now taken several test drives with both manual and automatic versions, and it’s really zippy around town. Even during a brief sojourn onto the Interstate the 500 didn’t seem out of place.

      We have not been able to test drive an Abarth yet, as there seems to be supply constraints in Western Canada, but it’s looking more and more like it’s going to be the next Mrs. Monty car, providing we can locate one in black.

      The price is reasonable, it delivers decent fuel economy and it’s unbelievable fun to drive, especially in the upper regions of the tachometer.

    • 0 avatar
      BunkerMan

      While car shopping last year, I took a 500 Sport with a manual transmission on a test drive with my wife and 2 kids. I really like the look of the car and the interior design. It seemed OK driving it in the city, but when I took it on the highway, it was terrifying. On ramps were scary and passing was not comfortable at all.

      Since I commute 30 km each way to work and it’s all highway, the 500 wasn’t even an option. The kids were pretty cramped in the back too, and they are both under 10.

      We ended up with a Veloster. It is not a speed demon, but it accelerates well enough for merging. The third door makes quite a difference for the kids too, even if they can’t see out the rear driver’s side window, since it’s too small and high up for them.

      As a city car for someone without kids, the 500 is probably a great car. For my family, not so much.

      • 0 avatar
        andyinatl

        That’s a whole bunch of exageration. I am 6′ tall, my wife is 5’5″ and we have two kids, 11 and 5 year old boys, average size for their ages. We never felt cramped in the car, and we had luggage in the trunk for an extended weekend. We took a vacation trip from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach last summer in our Fiat 500. Not a single on ramp was scary and I spent cruising around 80mph the whole trip, with engine being right around 3500 RPM the whole time. It was actually a very nice drive, and we’re planning a Fiat Freakout 2013 trip to Long Island, NY next year based on how well the trip to Myrtle Beach went. It’s amazing little car.

        It’s a whole different story for typical Am/Canadian driver, judging by the cars of people i see in parking lots, choke full of garbage, and kids packing every possible toy in case they “might need it” for the trip. In that case, yes, perhaps a Suburban is a better option.

  • avatar
    tatracitroensaab

    i think the generation y car of the year should be a beater of indeterminate origin. Most Millenials do not have any sort of money that would justify buying a new car, and nobody in my age group really cares what kind of car the car is, so long as it is reliable, fuel efficient, and with ample room for friends. I hate to say it, but the only car lovers it seems are people in status-obsessed subgroups (here in Texas we have redneck prep – rich boys driving nice pick ups, in other groups blingy cars, muscle cars, and ricer cars are a thing, etc.)

    I understand that this has all been mentioned before, and that mentioning it kind of off point, but still. I like the Fiat 500 Abarth, and I think that choosing it was thoughtful/intelligent, but it’s really more “car of the year for Gen Y Urban Creative Types Who Also Like Cars” which is unfortunately a much smaller group than it should be :-(

    • 0 avatar
      hf_auto

      I can’t help but think this might have something to do with urbanization as well. I grew up in the suburbs, where car culture was very much alive. I still lived outside the city as of a couple years ago, and many of us older Gen-Y-ers were getting into 335, S4, S2000, G37, STI, Elise, Camry (wait, scratch that),Viper, etc. The car was also prevalent at my HS reunion last year, where the status question inevitably came up- “what are you driving now?” (and that was my queue to leave…)

      As I moved into the city about 2 years ago, priorities changed. I don’t live 5 minutes from the best road in the state anymore,the road surfaces are much worse in the city, visibility is more important, tossability takes precedence over high speed cornering, parallel parking has replaced Excursion-sized spots, and so on. All of a sudden, cars like the 500 make a lot more sense. A few of my old friends also made the urban transition and the cars are changing. I don’t think we’re any less passionate about cars, but there is just a greater need for practicality.

      I also *think* women might be more into cars these days and might be shifting the field away from BIG + POWER to something more sensible? I dated a few die-hard manual drivers. My wife, also a manual driver, is a 930 fanatic and dislikes miatas because “they get squirely over 200km/h”.

      • 0 avatar
        tatracitroensaab

        Young people are moving into the cities, but I think the things that have killed car culture the most are economics related. Cars are simply more expensive (adjusted for inflation) than they were back in the day. They have more features and are better in every way, but still. This increased expense, coupled with it being a long term purchase (as theyre more reliable than ever) makes fun fling purchases less likely. I also think that increasing gas prices and government regulations have killed it. Old styles could never be around now – they would hurt aerodynamics too much, or be too space inefficient (big old american cars) or they would never pass pedestrian safety regs (pointy nosed 80s cars). I think that if electric cars get super cheap, and if energy prices decline accordingly, then maybe we can go back to an age when cars were sculptures because space efficiency or aerodynamics wouldnt matter so much.

      • 0 avatar
        hf_auto

        I also think the increased expense has hurt the culture in other ways. The cars are so complex now, and so expensive to repair that owners have a strong incentive not to modify the cars or push them to their limits since they can’t fix the cars themselves. Tinkering with a modern car is just such a gamble. I’m infinitely more comfortable under the hood of an E30 than an E90- that kind of evolution just doesn’t support the traditional car culture. The tinkerer is being designed out of the population.

        Good point on electric cars, I agree that there’s a glimmer of hope there. The drivetrain can be so much simpler than the current status quo- cheaper to build (once we figure out the batteries) and cheaper to run. I envision a very modular drivetrain connected with harnesses, no harder to work on than a computer. Once I get over the fact that the sounds of VR6s, V8s, I6s, and boxers will disappear, I’m actually starting to get pretty excited about the potential that’s there. Of course it could all go wrong and we all end up driving MiEVs to our therapy sessions…

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        You’re right hf_auto, modern car technology has increasingly shunned the DIYer. We can’t even change out the battery on our E90s without diagnostic equipment required to program the car to accept the new battery, which typically means what was once $80 and a trip to Autozone now means a $500 visit to the dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @Leek

        This old chestnut is getting a bit tired. You can still DIY modern cars, it is simply the tools have changed. Instead of the carb sync gauge I need for my Spitfire, my e91 needs a USB-ODBC cable and a laptop. There is free software to let you change that battery in the comfort of your own garage.

        Personally, I rather like that a modern car can do an excellent job of telling you what ails it, rather than trying to figure out what of several things could be causing a poor running condition.

    • 0 avatar
      Thinx

      The demographic constraints you mention are true in the USA, but the Fiat is sold worldwide, and the priorities and tastes of those other markets are quite different. It also helps that those customers are often more affluent (on a PPP basis, and sometimes even on an absolute basis) than ‘urban gen-Y creatives’.

      TL;DR: There’s a whole world out there, and some of them got more money, yo.

  • avatar
    indyb6

    “wait for even the tiniest gap, punch the throttle and your gone”

    *you’re
    http://www.youryoure.com/

    You’re Welcome :)

  • avatar
    Dyl911

    Has anybody driven or seen a review of the Turbo? I imagine it has the Abarth’s power with a softer suspension. The review of the Abarth here at TTAC cited a harsh ride…

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I wouldn’t describe the Abarth’s ride as “harsh”, it’s pretty well-damped and controlled. My 350Z had a harsh ride.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        That’s why I chose the RX8 over the Z.

        I always loved Zs as far as I can remember. I love the 240z and the 280z the most, though.

        When I test drove the 350Z in 2005, it was very much a Japanese Camaro. I realize this is cliche, but it was spot on. The interior trim was pretty chintzy, and the ride was, as you said, “harsh.”

        I know Nissan improved the interior materials dramatically since then, and they obviously enlarged the motor and squeezed out even more hp/torque, but I do believe the ride is still on the harsh side of the spectrum, as even the Infinity Gs have quite firm ride quality especially in their sportiest nomenclature.

        It’s one thing if one lives in La Jolla, and their commute to work takes them to San Diego. For those of who live in states with pock-marked, frost heaved, piss-poor roads, a harsh ride gets really old really fast.

      • 0 avatar
        Dyl911

        The roads around me are terrible, but I can appreciate a well-damped ride. As a matter of fact, I prefer the ride of my ’84 911 with Bilsteins and stiffer torsion bars to the ’02 RSX-S I had. What a terrible ride/handling trade-off on that car (Honda’s first attempt at struts).

    • 0 avatar
      SOneThreeCoupe

      I would characterize the Abarth’s ride as harsh- and this is coming from a guy who daily drove a 240SX with spherical bearings everywhere and random-valved KTS (read: Taiwanese-made) coil-overs. My 240 with 448/336 spring rates and DA Konis rides much better than the Abarth. The Abarth’s about on par with the FR-S as far as ride’s concerned, and that’s not a good thing.

      I have become a serious stickler for companies making suspension overly firm in the pursuit of some attempt at “sportiness.” I don’t think a jiggly ride is sporty, I think the ability to haul arse in the twisty bits is sporty. To me, it shows a lack of willingness to fully flesh out the suspension; it seems that the suspension is tuned to wow customers during a 5 minute test drive and then they’re just kinda going to deal with it for the next few years they have to drive it.

      Also, I’ve not been in any other $22,000 cars recently, but the interior felt pretty darn low-rent.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        The Abarth rides better than a Miata, a Mini, a WRX and quite a few other “sports cars”. I would put its time thru a slalom up against just about all of its competition, including the Focus ST, the Subie/Scion, the WRX and more. I chose the red leather interior and there’s a rich feel to it. All in all, the car is a little jewel.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        Drove both an Abarth and a Subaru BRZ within 20 minutes of each other on a mild 50F (10C) day back in early December. Both dealerships owned by the same mega-millionaire, so the salesmen don’t get snotty with you when you tell ‘em up front what you’re up to. Had the Subaru completely to myself, no salesman hanging on for dear life.

        Following are my personal observations:

        The Abarth has a much more compliant ride than the BRZ on the same roads. BRZ ride at times quite jarring, but just about acceptable to me, because the car feels immensely strong and rigid – not surprising as it is no lightweight, all marketing PR to the contrary and lapped up by, well just about everybody – its only 150 lbs lighter than an Impreza, for goodness sake.

        The Abarth engine is just a little gem. From a standing start against a Jetta that had been hounding me in a 50k zone then pulled into the next lane at the light, no problemo. Got the tires shrieking halfway through low gear after a low rpm start – that’s startling to an AWD boy like me, and reminded me, summer tires don’t work at cooler temps. On the highway, tried my fourth gear pull from 100 kph up a steep hill that made me get an Eagle Talon over a Nissan 300ZX 22 years ago. Abarth had zero problems, plenty of guts and easier 130 kph cruise than I expected. Far better, in fact.

        The Subaru had much sharper throttle response with no turbo, but no real guts in fourth up that same hill. However, compared to the FR-S I drove months ago, the engine didn’t rattle, and was very nice – I now blame regular gas at the no-nothing Toyota dealer for what was obviously pinging and not the DI. What a difference!

        Our local government has some cheap road resurfacing called chip seal, and it leaves wavy ridges. Abarth tramlined on them quite noticeably. Subaru was completely unperturbed. Overall, preferred the Subaru in every way as regards everyday handling, including sudden dives onto side streets. Not surprising really, and it “feels” like my Legacy GT albeit without the wallow, so felt familiar although steering feel non-existent by comparison (EPS vs hydraulic).

        The BRZ gearshift is better than the wobbly Abarth lever, but clutch takeup far worse, and for some inexplicable reason, the turbo Abarth engine is far easier to blip on downshifts than the BRZ. I say inexplicable, because just driving along, the NA Subaru feels sharper. TWM out of Quebec make a whole new shifter mechanism out of machined metal for the Abarth for a mere(!) $440 though.

        The BRZ interior is a dowdy place compared to the Abarth. No design flair whatsoever in the Subaru, but that’s hardly a surprise based on past experience. Had no problems fitting either but YMMV. The Subaru Alcantara seems to have been supplied by Furniture For Less Home of the $699 giganto “leather” sofa. The Abarth leather is awesome.

        The Abarth has a turning circle of a pickup truck, which somewhat negates the small car handiness when parking. To the surprise of two FIAT salesmen, I showed that the turning circle of my Legacy GT was about 4 feet less right between rows of parked 500s. So the Abarth isn’t that handy in close quarters – bit of a bummer.

        Back seat in either car – totally useless. You can buy a $250 rear-seat delete kit for the Abarth, but it has a hatch and an actual rear wiper. Gadzooks! Advantage Abarth.

        Overall impression: obvious dynamic competence from Subaru, dour interior, gotta flog it to have fun. Joyous frisky fun from the Abarth, but watch it or you’ll be in the weeds.

        I’d like the Abarth engine in the Subaru. That would make the Subaru fun.

        Bottom line: no sale for either at the moment. My Legacy GT is just fine for now.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Right now, the world doesn’t seem to be getting any more stable economically, and that means even a $22,000 new car is something to be second guessed.”

    I am firmly entrenched in the IT field currently working for an profitable employer who proudly hasn’t laid of any employee since after 9/11, and even I would second guess a $22K ride. The future is very uncertain.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Exactly.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Compared to all that, betting on a 10 year old used car seems like a sure thing!

      • 0 avatar
        turbobrick

        No, after 10 years there’s still some lemons floating around. I prefer the 14-15 year old cars because by then all the bad ones have been crushed and only the best ones are still around. ;)

      • 0 avatar
        ringomon

        The nice thing about buying a new car is that after 5 years, you get a 5 year old used car for free. Then after ten years you get a ten year old used car for free. Etc…

        The way used car prices (and new car interest rates) are nowadays if you can afford the front-loaded costs at the outset, buying and keeping a reasonably priced new car for 10 years seems to me to be at least arguably the most economical decision.

        If you’re gainfully employed now, might make more sense to buy a new car with a short loan or in cash. (If you’ve got it). Then when you get layed off in 3-5 years you won’t need to replace your well maintained because you handled it yourself “beater” as soon. (I’m being kind of tongue in cheek but also I kind of believe this)

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        @ringomon

        I have to agree if your in the position new is making more sense than used and it will continue to be this way for the foreseeable future. There are still used deals out there but for many brands the retail sticker on CPOs is ridiculously close to new MSRP.

        Still things are very murky better to put your saved money into an asset which won’t significantly decline over the next five years. Sure you may lose 50% on your five year old used ride in five years, but whats your transaction price, maybe 10K-12K? Better to lose 50% on 10K than the 40%+ you lose in the first four years of new car ownership at $20K+

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      A car is a lot easier to dump and recoup some cash in the case of an economic downturn than a house.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    Come on DK- just buy the car. There is never any promies about what tomorrow may hold. If you can afford it today- go ahead and buy it. You know you want it bad!

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I agree completely with you on this car Derek. While I was never attracted to the regular 500 at all, and only mildy to the Abarth, after driving one for a few days, I conceded that I really liked it.

    I personally have very little use for such a small car, but it is a fun little go-cart that sips fuel and is fairly quick. I think if I had time to track it on a road course, I would like it even more.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    I just realized that being born in 1985 makes me part of this generation you keep talking about. I bought a used mazda3 hatchback. I can put 8′ pieces of lumber in it and longer stuff out the sunroof. Anything smaller is utterly useless in my opinion as I have zero problems getting anywhere and can actually fit stuff inside. I wouldn’t dream of owning that little clowncar…

  • avatar
    BigMeats

    I foresee a happy future for you as an owner of both a truck and a motorcycle.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I’m born in 86, and after considering Mazda 3′s and Ford Focuses, I decided that the $10k difference between those and the used BMW I bought pay for a lot of repairs and gas. No regrets about the decision. I do like this car a lot. My parents drove me to and from the airport in theirs (500C Lounge), which was the first time I’d been on the highway in it, and it was shockingly comfortable and quiet. My mom found herself doing 80 unintentionally at one point. Never seemed to have trouble keeping up with traffic. The non adjusting passenger seat did feel like it was sitting up way to high though. I keep debating an Abarth…might compliment the 330i nicely. Save some city wear and tear and mileage on the BMW and save $ on gas as well. Whenever the 500c Abarth comes out, I’ll be interested. And yeah, the Turbo may be just what those who don’t want the harshness of the Abarth but want more power than the standard 500 are looking for.

    • 0 avatar
      ringomon

      If you want a BMW you just have to own it and say that you prefer that car and that’s why you bought it. (Which is what you’re kind of saying)
      You are not going to win a cost of ownerhip argument with a used BMW versus a new compact car. Not over the long haul.
      Unless you’re a mechanic or are capable of doing 90% of the upkeep/repairs yourself.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        I did want a BMW, but what cinched the deal for me was I paid cash for it instead of taking out a 5 year loan on a Focus or Mazda. Note the choice wasn’t between a $22k new Mazda/Ford car and a $22k used BMW car, it was a $22k new car and a $12k used BMW (I also looked at G35s and Mustang GT’s). Plus I probably won’t ever want to get rid of the BMW, whereas I don’t see myself wanting to keep the Focus or the 3 much past 10 years. That being said, I do have a connection to get BMW parts at a discount, have access to extra cars to drive while the BMW is down for maintenance, and if I or my friends can’t do the work ourselves, we do have it done at a skilled reasonably priced independent shop.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      @ tjh:

      What would you compare the ride quality and interior noise levels (say, at highway speeds, on concrete roads) of the 500 to?

      Ride quality is probably the 2nd most important quality of any vehicle for me, right after reliability. Handling (in balance with ride quality), noise levels and fit & finish all rank high as priorities, too.

      I would not have expected to see as many compliments about the 500′s ride quality and noise levels as I have been seeing because of the size and relatively short wheelbase (I am not doubting the claims, just surprised).

      Is the ride more compliant than in a Golf or a Corolla? It’s hard to come up with direct competitors to the 500. It’s a unique car.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        @ Dead Weight. Good question. I haven’t spent quality time in a Golf or a Corolla recently, having only test driven the Golf briefly when car shopping a year ago, and my only Corolla experience has (thankfully) been short jaunts in a rental which was rather unpleasant. The 3 economy cars I can compare it to are the Mazda 3, Mini, and the Focus, and I would put rank it behind the Focus and ahead of the Mini and Mazda. The Focus, as has been mentioned multiples, rides and feels like a pricey European car. The Mazda, being the sportier offering, definitely feels it, with the firmest, and at times most bouncy ride. The Mini was the most firm and noisy, with an identical feel to my sister’s 99 Miata with a sports suspension.

        The Fiat certainly lacks the planted, carved from granite teutonic feel of the Focus, but the ride was not as busy and firm as the Mazdas or Minis. The noise level was also between the two. The fact that the Mazdas tires tend to be sportier may have something to do with it (one was a 2.5GT and two were skyactives). I was on generally smooth pavement, but I could see how the ride might deteriorate some on broken pavement due to the SWB. Like I said, we got up to 80 mph at one point and had we not looked at the speedo, would never have guessed it (and this is the 500C with the fabric roof). My parents drove it from Orlando to Niagara Falls and back this past summer and have no regrets about the trip. Their only complaint was that it could start to feel winded climbing up through mountains if you didn’t let it keep the revs up (their other 3 cars are a 3.0 V6 Camry, a Lincoln Town Car, and an e36 BMW 328 so this is a somewhat new experience for them). I think it’s telling that a family who’s garage, with the exception of the Miata, is well stocked with cars noted for their ride quality (2 BMW 3 series, a Panther, a 98 Camry LE) would have good things to say about the Fiat is noteworthy.

        Interior quality is generally good. They’ve got about 18k miles on it and everything still feels fine. No broken handles or loose trim or rattles. I’d say it feels on par with the class, but again, a step below the Focus and Golf. They’ve had no breakdowns or repairs, only recalls and scheduled service. I should add my Mom has been impressed with Fiat’s follow up. They’ve been getting a phone call every couple months from Fiat corporate checking on how the car is doing for them.

  • avatar

    Although I’m in my 40s, I love my Abarth. I find it to be one of the most competent off the showroom floor track usable cars I’ve driven in years. Right up there with my ’96 Miata R (God, I’m old). Perhaps I’m looking through slightly rose colored glasses, as my very first race car was a Fiat 124 (good lord, I’m positively geriatric). However, I do think the Abarth is among the best of the little econo hot rods I’ve sampled in quite a while.

    I don’t find the steering “darty” at all, it’s just lightly weighted and a bit numb. With the numb steering feedback, you’re probably reacting more slowly to what the car is doing and thus giving more exaggerated steering inputs. The Abarth has a quick-ish steering ratio, so bigger inputs translate to yawing and careening little Fiats. Happens all the time to folks jumping into unfamiliar cars. I prescribe more track time for you.

    My wife and I have been loving our Abarth; it’s the perfect commuter and run around fun car. We bought it as a reliable, comfortable appliance and have absolutely no regrets. We get about 25 mpg, but we both have fairly heavy right feet.

  • avatar

    “high seating position”

    Does anyone has a clue why Italian car companies favor this position, or why they come to favor awkward seating positions, in general?

    • 0 avatar
      tbone33

      High seating positions are common in many cars with a compact length and extra height. Rather than having passengers sit with their legs in front of them which uses length that the car doesn’t have, they set the seats up higher, placing the passenger’s feet below them, minimizing the need for length.

    • 0 avatar
      Tinker

      I presume they all have fantasies about driving a school bus on the race track, so they have the steering wheel flat and a bit too far forward, so if you have long legs there’s no way to get comfortable behind the wheel. At least that’s my impression from owning a 1976 Fiat 128.

      You get used to it. Eventually.

  • avatar
    GoesLikeStink

    How can it be both dull to drive and a white knuckle experience? I have plenty of fun in my 500 but I got the Cabrio. I paid 18k for a “convertible” that seats 4 and is not a Sebring. As for size and hauling, it fits my family of 4 comfortably and if we need more room that is what the wifes Grand Caravan is for.

  • avatar
    daviel

    An Abarth and a Moto Guzzi V7 Stone and I’m all set.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    A cappuccino machine, a Vespa, and an Abarth; you’d be living large.

  • avatar
    BrianL

    A COTY for a generation that rarely buys new cars. Makes perfect sense.

  • avatar
    DrunkenDonuts

    I’m part of Generation Why, but I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Fiat 500. I’m just weird like that, suppose.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      It’s a New Beetle for people who find the New Beetle to be too butch. It’s a car for people who don’t know particularly much about cars. Like the New Beetle, it is a neoclassic recreation of a rear engined car propped on the platform of a FWD econobox. If good design should encompass authenticity, cars like the 500 are non-starters. That leaves an audience of people who either admire artifice or who can’t tell the difference.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        A tad too dismissive, CJ… your post has a taint of Flo n’ Eddie PlasterCaster “200 Motels” 8 inches or less snobbery about it.

        just sayin’…

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        To each their own, but I can’t imagine driving around in a car that wears a costume, pretending it is something that it is certainly not.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        A Fiat friend has dropped a Marelli Power Pedal on his and the man’s turning mid-5 second 0 to 60s. No pretending there. The Abarth has a personality, as most Italian cars do. If you’re lucky enough to drive one, you may get a clue what the fuss is all about.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I must not be the average Generation Y’er. I wouldn’t consider a Fiat 500, not even on my radar.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Yup, Derek, right on. Couldn’t care less about demographics and the usual navel-gazing marketeers and focus group wallies.

    As I’ve said many times, drove the FR-S and was totally underwhelmed and disappointed. Drove the Abarth in September and have been trying to get it out of my head. What a neat machine.

    More fun than a barrel of monkeys!

    The FR-S forums are full of the young people demographers slaver over, the Abarth forums full of people of all ages who can recognize fun, plus compared to the quality nightmare from Scion, the Abarth seems better screwed together and isn’t a black pit of cheap plastic inside. The leather seats do not require an industrial chemist to determine whether they are of organic origin.

    I was prejudiced about its small size till I drove it. All the gainsayers should try one out. Of course, you do know how to shift manually, so that eliminates the inept right there.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “the usual navel-gazing marketeers and focus group wallies…”

      Man, I really like that phrase for some reason! Smile of the day!

      I don’t know about the Fiat 500, but they are cute as a button – there’s a bright yellow one all chromed-up in my company’s lot, so I need to find out who owns it and talk to them to see how they feel about the car.

      Doesn’t look like a car I would buy, though.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      +10

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    This is by no means a bad car, but the Mazda3 SkyActiv is just better for the money.

    I don’t think people (especially smart ones who are the demographic) want to pay lots of money for a little car. If the price were $16-18k they would sell like hotcakes, but this is too much for too little.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    Oh please. WRX is a much better car for just a little bit more money. It’s got more of everything – more power, more handling, more utility, more wheel drive, etc. And while it might look a little ricey it looks nothing like a clown car.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      The Abarth will be a car that smart owners hang on to. It’ll be a collector car in a decade or two. Don’t expect the same can be said for ANY Subie.

    • 0 avatar
      tbone33

      Base WRX MSRP: $25,800
      Base Abarth MSRP: $22,000
      Differencee: $3,800 or 12%

      TrueDelta’s price comparison tool shows an $8,000 difference if the two are comparably equipped.

      Fuel Economy Difference:
      WRX: 19/25
      Abarth: 28/34
      Difference: 9/9 or 47%/36%

      I don’t have the insurance numbers, but I think it is safe to conclude that the Abarth is significantly cheaper long term, which is important when the future is uncertain.

    • 0 avatar

      Where I live, there’s nearly a 9k difference in the MSRP of the two cars.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I can confirm that the WRX is a FAR sloppier handler than the Abarth.

      • 0 avatar
        Synchromesh

        How do you figure? Base WRX pulls .89 while Abarth does .87 according to google. Of course it makes sense to add a set of sway bars to WRX to eliminate the sad factory body roll. But even bone stock WRX is better.

        Either way, yes, WRX is a bit more expensive. And thirsty. But you get a lot more space with hatch version, quite a bit more power (160 vs 265), awd, 4 real doors with normal seating and so on. On top of that you get much better tunability, aftermarket and internet support than Abarth could ever dream of.

        As for Fiat being cheaper to run – it’s iffy. Through the warranty that maybe so but after that – reliability of FIAT is unknown. So in the long run it might be far more expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Synchro, I don’t know what else to tell you, but I’ve driven both, and the WRX plows much harder into corners with far more understeer than the Abarth at the same given speed.

        Not exactly a skid pad test, but in an autocross or tight road course, I’d take the Abarth all day long over the WRX.

    • 0 avatar
      Lemmy-powered

      I can’t imagine anyone cross-shopping the Fiat and the Subaru.

      But if you’re Scooby enough to have one as your pic, I could see how the answer to everything would be WRX.

      For me, the answer is always Illyushin. Always.

    • 0 avatar

      The WRX is more bigger, and thus more harder to find parking for in city. WRXen are also more heavier on their feet than the Abarth.

      Something like an Abarth isn’t for everyone. I have other cars for track or racing duty, and a truck and Saab for snow duty.

      For a cheap econo commuter with character (the exhaust snarls and pops are hilarious) and a warranty, the Abarth can’t be beat. That’s why I bought mine.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Design is subjective.

      Subaru’s are hideous. With the cheap plastic, and tin can doors you would think they would get better fuel economy.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Wouldn’t be caught dead in one unless that French model driving. The exhaust options do sound good though.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      She’s Romanian, but don’t let that stop you.

    • 0 avatar
      MK

      Ha, yeah that’s kinda my take also but I’m not a gen y urbanite employed in the creative field. I thought those fiat commercials with the guy on the street and the Italian model were the biggest “untruth in advertising” I’d ever seen. Im sure it’s fun for what it is but the car isn’t particularly attractive to my eyes, for the money I’d buy a used Mini and spend the rest on a great vacation, but that’s just me…an old plodding gen x’er gainfully employed and never having set foot on a new car lot.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    I’ve owned my Abarth for a little over 6 months now and I absolutely love the car. 100 mile roundtrip commute to my office 3 times a week and it puts a smile on my face every time I drive it. I’m 60 years old and I’ve owned many “driver cars” over the years… ’64 GTO… Nissan Z cars… ’69 Z28… Fiat X1/9s, both stock and “enhanced”… and I have to say I have enjoyed this car the most of all.

    You finagle a test drive and you’ll want one too.

  • avatar
    GTAm

    Excellent. Looks like America is getting a taste of affordable Italian thrills at last! :)

  • avatar
    blau

    I was born in 1980, and don’t understand why this discussion of an awesome little car is so focused on age that everyone participating it feels they have to mention theirs.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      I’m guessin” because they were marketed to a particular demographic. I don’t know if it’s just my circle, but really I think it’s more prevalent than not, but many folks don’t buy what the marketers say they should.

      Instead of focusing on a particular age group they should focus on making cars that people want.

  • avatar

    I have seen a number of Abarths and think they are cool. However, I just looked at Autotrader in Canada and dealers are asking around $31,000 for an Abarth. Ford dealers are offering Focus STs for only slightly more so I think I am out of the Fiat market now as the Ford is also practical but cool-looking and gives 90 more hp (!) while fuel consumption is not much different.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      Yes, excellent point.

      Derek, where did you find an Abarth for $22K? The FIAT store in Steinbach MB had one listed in inventory in September and the MSRP was over $31K. It didn’t last long. It was listed for less than a week, IIRC.

      If I found one in Western Canada for $22K, it would be in our new garage right now.

      • 0 avatar

        Monty, maybe this is a case of Canadians being overcharged yet again.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        Yup, we get rooked as usual in Canada. Base price is $24,200 plus $1500 PDI, and you don’t get the free media kit in the mail or the free trackday. Sergio is getting back his exorbitant interest charges that we Canucks ripped him off for on his Chrysler bailout. Remember that? 8.75% or something. Ahem.

        Our local dealer in Halifax had three 2012s when I went for a drive in September. They just sold a 2013, so they’ve sold seven total. The last 2012 had $3K off.

        The 17 inch wheels are a grand, as are the leather seats. Compared to the WRX at $35K plus $1700 pdi, it’s much cheaper. The only sanely priced Subaru is the BRZ at $28K plus pdi. In the US, the WRX and the BRZ are the same price, not in Canada. That just means to me that the BRZ is vastly overpriced in the US. It’s a bare tin can with zero interior style. The Abarth whomps it for tactile feel and sound, both ICE and exhaust.

        One last thing, the engine which is such a joy in the Abarth is not too happy in the new Dart, which weighs over 700 lbs more. Drove a six speed turbo. Uh. No.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s $22k in the US where most of the readers are. It seems like all the dealers here have ordered the loaded cars to sell at $31k. If I did it, I’d only get A/C and heated seats. No big wheels, leather or sunroof for me. $26k CDN plus tax. I’ll give it another year until the hype dies down and scoop one for $350 over invoice :)

  • avatar
    LeeK

    Good for you, Derek! The Abarth reminds me of my 83 Rabbit GTI: quick but not fast, tossable, relatively frugal at the gas pump, part of a cult of like-minded enthusiasts, and above all FUN TO DRIVE!

  • avatar
    rudiger

    While the car is competent and stylish enough, I suspect that the success of the 500 rests in large part on a master-stroke by Marchionne and Company in the ability for prospective Gen Y customers to make the cars truly individual with myriad color/option choices.

    Just take a look at the 500′s available color palette. In this day of most vehicle color choices being limited to black, white, red, and grey, the 500 harkens back to days long passed nearly a half century ago with not only a full slate of colors, but also several different shades of some. That’s got to be a huge drawing card for this car’s intended market.

  • avatar
    TW4

    C’mon, Derek! The Abarth is Gen Y kitsch–a value-trap for the Facebook generation who derive product utility from the hotness of the models in the ad campaigns. As a journalist and automotive pundit, you’re supposed to bring insight to your readers, not affirm that you are a statistic within 1 standard deviation of FIAT’s marketing data. The COTY for Gen Y, a generation of people with too much debt and too few employment opportunities, is the most irrelevant abstract kitsch in the hatch segment? You’ve played right into their hands b/c you continue proliferating the youthful image of the Abarth, which makes it appealing to all of the aging hipsters who actually have $22,000 to throw away on supermini. You should have named the Bentley Continental as COTY. At least the shock value would have made the article interesting.

    If new cars are relevant at all to Gen Y, vehicles like the Jetta, Cruze, Corolla, Focus, etc are about the only 2012 MY worth mentioning. Then you could have done something clever, like pick a winner based upon the pricing and functionality of the connectivity equipment. At least the COTY article would have been somewhat insightful for the cell-phone-generation.

    • 0 avatar
      svan

      +1. There are young people who can afford new cars, and I suppose the Fiat is intended to appeal to them. I don’t know how many young people can, if the statistics about people not leaving their momma’s basement until after 30 are to be believed.

      A young person living in a city (like Toronto) is far better off using a car-sharing service and only getting a car if they decide to live the suburban life. In the US, where you pretty well have to live in the suburbs, if you make less than $50k, there’s a 2004 sunfire waiting for you.

      If you’re well-off enough to afford a new car like this, you’re probably also smart enough to think ahead a bit and get something with room to haul your friends and family members. As a second car, it’s great, though, but I’d go for the convertible.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        The car sharing service would make so much more sense to those in an urban environment than silly Fiat toys. In my area these microcars seem to appeal to those who purchase them as what they are, fun little runabouts, not primary transportation. If I am in the position to buy a car for 22K cash, I’m going to opt for something with alot more car for the money… something practical such as used Lex, Infiniti, etc. or something stylish, last gen T-bird, Pontiac G8, Vette, Camaro, Mustang, Lincoln LS V8, Jag (no x type) etc.

      • 0 avatar
        svan

        Toronto’s main car sharing service has lots of fiats :)
        http://autoshare.com/fleet_fleet.html

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Why does that not surprise me :o)

  • avatar
    andyinatl

    I don’t have an Abarth, but i do have a regular Fiat 500 that i have had since June. It’s an amazing little car, and can hold its own on the highway without any problems. So far i’m averaging between 38 and 39mpg with mixed driving and no hypermiling techniques. I keep my speed on highway under 65, and try to shift early; that’s about it. This think is very quiet and comfortable on the highway, and it seems like my two kids are picking it more often than mom’s Volvo V70 when we go on various day trips. I am tempted by Abarth though, which may be in my future once i give this one to my older boy when he gets his license in few years.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    Hope that one is better screwed together then the one at my local enterprise, I like to rent a car to beat up for a weekend every once and a while I go up there an hour before they close and score a good deal on a fun car, last four times they have had a broken new Fiat there, they fix it rent it out and it comes back broken after a few hours every time.

  • avatar

    BTW: In case you care, the Abarth versions of Fiat cars are named after Carlo/Karl Abarth, a European Carol Shelby in his own rights (c.f. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_Abarth).

  • avatar
    rreichar

    I am not even close to Gen Y at 57 but I looked at an Abarth last weekend at the US Grand Prix in Austin and really liked it. I bought a VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI manual about six months ago but while it is a great car, it is not particularly fun to drive. So I went and drove an Abarth tonight. Definitely fun. The sales lady asked me not to rev it over 4500 rpm so I did not get the entire effect. I almost bought it but ran out of time and decided to think about it over night. I went and got into the VW to go home and it seemed so “solid” in comparison to the Fiat. Not because of size but because of build quality. The shifter seemed ten times more precise in the VW, as did everything else. I would love to have the Abarth as a second car but I am not sure about it for my only car. I may still pull the trigger on one but probably not tomorrow. If only VW would put an exhaust system on the GTI that sounds like the one that the Chrysler guys put on the Abarth. That was a stroke of genius. If I do buy one that sound will have a part in the decision. It didn’t help that pushing the Sport button makes the two buttons next to it move. Numb steering is offset by a weird lack of understeer for a FWD car. The Fiat dealer here is in an upscale shopping mall and I did not care for that at all. Our nice, but not at all knowledgable, sales person is called a “design consultant”. What the heck is that? I never thought I’d miss the old “I’ve got to check with my manager” game but I do. Price was $28,130 with all the options. I would like the car better at $22,000. I thought about a Mini Cooper S or JCW but finding one in a reasonable color and spec’d the way I want is impossible. Ordering one takes months… Our local dealer carries few with manual transmissions. They have one right now. At lest there is no auto offered on the Abarth. Probably in the end I will keep the TDI but the Fiat is very compelling. Chrysler made a great decision when they decided to do their own version of the Abarth 500 rather than just copying the 135 horse Euro version.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    A small car, just by being small and light is fun to drive. I see 500s quite frequently on the interstates around Boston. For those complaining of a harsh ride. Junk those 17-19″ wheels with low profile tires. Go for a 70 or 75 profile tire on a 14 or 15 inch wheel.

  • avatar
    afflo

    I sat in one just out of curiosity. It was surprisingly roomy in the front seats – at 6’1, mostly legs, I’m usually quite cramped in subcompacts, particularly ones that emphasize a tall cabin to make up for a small footprint.

    It didn’t feel like it would be a whole lot of fun though – the driving position was kitchen-chair upright, with a low beltline. It reminded me of a first-generation CR-V, but smaller. It was nothing like the comfy legs-out seating position of the Mini, and the low beltline was disconcerting. THat said, I only sat in it; I didn’t want to risk taking it for drive (ya know, just in case I decided that I like it.)

    My fiance saw one in traffic yesterday and asked if it was the New New Beetle. She’s mostly oblivious to cars – drives a Versa with a CVT – the fact that she even noticed it at all says something.

    Not sure what generation I’m supposed to be – I’m 31, she’s 34. We’re both pretty cheap with cars – our household income (after paying my child support) is around 95K/year, and neither one of us would spend more than $20K on a car. Having an expensive car and not being able to take extended/international vacations doesn’t sound very enjoyable.

    (I guess that makes us “Why” in spirit)

    • 0 avatar
      rreichar

      Good point on the vacation vs. car thing. The driving position felt odd for a couple of minutes then it was fine. Being an old guy I kind of appreciated the ease of entry compared to a Mini. Had the one I drove cost $22,000 I’d be answering to “Tony” today. I think Fiat does the options much better than Mini. The one I drove had leather, navigation, 17 inch wheels, and Beats audio. All things I would have trouble saying no to. Still $28,000 seems high for a little car. Of course no one fels Lotuses cost too much for their size.

  • avatar
    rreichar

    So I went and bought an Abarth. Too early to really have much of an opinion. Under $28,000 with every option. They say proper break-in is 300 miles. Supposed to stay under 4500 rpm until then. I am still a little shocked at how loud the exhaust is. How did they get that past the Feds? As a guy who was raised on rwd V8s it requires a bit of a paradigm shift to buy this car. It feels light, fast and twitchy. I was thinking originally of buying a Mustang GT but honestly the Abarth feels faster and more raw. I know it’s quite a bit slower but it has kind of an exotic feel to it. The whole time I was sitting in the dealer I was thinking, “We’ll this is stupid. What am I thinking?” Now that I have gotten to drive it a bit I feel better about it. Time will tell I suppose. The shifter remains vague and rubbery but other than that I have no complaints. Black with red stripes and red seats.


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