By on September 1, 2012


A few months back, Bertel decreed that TTAC would have no more duplicate reviews. If we wanted to test a car that had already been reviewed, we’d better have a dramatically different take on it. I had a FIAT 500 Abarth for the week. Jack and Alex had already covered it on track and off. I thought someone had a comparison with the MINI Cooper S on the way. What else could I possibly compare the Abarth to that would make sense? It’s not like there are any other high-performance Italian hatchbacks offered in North America…

You’re a single guy (not me) with an appointment to keep (sadly, me) when you happen across a supermodel. You have only a few minutes to spare, but you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t chance a pass, and she’s going to reject you anyway. Except Jeff Cauley is a top-notch dealer with enough of a sense of humor to agree to an “Italian hatchback comparison test.” So here we have all of the insight I could glean from a quickie with “this is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy” looping inside my skull.

There are some differences between the FIAT 500 Abarth and the Ferrari FF. We’ll cover those. But the similarities are uncanny. For $1,590, you can grace the fenders of your FF with “Scuderia Ferrari” shields. These are yellow topped with the Italian tricolor.

The Abarth’s fenders include shields as standard equipment. They’re smaller in size, with a scorpion rather than a horse (startled by a scorpion?) displayed sable, but the colors are the same.

A 2+2 two-door hatchback configuration distinguishes both cars from alternatives. The rear seats might barely fit adults, but they’ll do in a pinch, and should serve well with smaller humans. The FF has a considerable edge in cargo volume with the rear seat up (15.9 cubic feet vs. 9.5), but it goes away when the seat is folded (28.3 vs. 26.5).

Matching fitted luggage isn’t available from the FIAT factory at any price, much less $9,967, but there are other ways to contain your empties.

The leather inside the FF is of very high quality, and covers nearly every surface. Nearly every creature comfort is either standard or (in some unexpected cases) optional. Cruise control adds $1,067, a parking camera $3,463, and a dual-screen rear seat entertainment system $5,298. The nav system is as easy to use as that in a Chrysler, perhaps because it’s the same unit. The reconfigurable LCD instruments effectively convey a huge amount of information. (Hopefully they prove as durable as they are functional.) But you can find equally opulent cabins in cars that cost half as much.

Similarly, the Abarth’s decidedly less organic interior materials resemble those in cars that cost roughly half as much (though the red-stitched and upholstered instrument binnacle is a nice touch). Unlike in the Ferrari, cruise control is standard. Nav is provided by a portable unit that plugs into a hole atop the dash, but at least it only adds $400. As with the FF, you’re mostly paying for performance hardware.

What sort of hardware? The FF is powered by a normally-aspirated 6.3-liter engine that produces 660 horsepower (PS) at its 8,000 rpm redline. Torque peaks at a similarly lofty 6,000 rpm, but there’s plenty to be found just off idle, courtesy of the Vette-like displacement. Not that you’ll want to keep revs low. The V12’s tenor wail, more like that of a sport bike than any non-Italian car, is pistonhead nirvana, with never a note out of place. No manual transmission is offered, perhaps because none would be nearly as quick nor as smooth as the rear-mounted seven-speed automated dual-clutch unit. An ingenious all-wheel-drive system is standard. Instead of a transfer case, it employs a two-speed automatic transmission connected to a clutch pack for each wheel to grab power as needed (to maintain stability and traction) from the front of the engine. Is it quick? Of course it’s quick, so quick that you can barely scratch the powertrain’s potential at semi-legal speeds on public roads. In track testing, sixty arrives in about 3.5 seconds. This said, there’s more of a sensation of speed than in some other extremely powerful cars, where you arrive at 60 with little memory of the trip.

Does the thought of clutches that must continuously slip to do their job scare you? Or perhaps your environmental sensibilities cannot tolerate EPA ratings of 11 city and 17 highway? Then the 28/34 500 might be more your thing. For the Abarth, FIAT turbocharges the 500’s 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine to yield 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm. Unless you forget to hit the sport button, in which case the engine peaks around 135 horsepower, the throttle lags, and the car feels unworthy of its fancy badges. So be sure to hit the button to the right of the red-stitched, flat-bottomed steering wheel each time you start the car.

Even with the sport button pushed, there’s little torque below 3,000 rpm even after the turbo spools up. The Abarth’s song isn’t remotely as refined as the FF’s, such that “song” seems an ill-chosen term, but what it lacks in quality it strives to make up for in quantity. Some will find its boom, snap, and crackle overly raucous, but for me the Abarth’s drone is reasonably low when cruising and its exhaust doesn’t bark loudly on deceleration the way the Dodge Neon SRT4’s (tuned by some of the same folks) did. The five-speed’s shifter is mounted oddly high, its shift feel is slightly sloppy, and the clutch vaguely grabs at the very top of its long travel. Despite this iffy execution, a conventional manual remains the best partner for the Abarth’s engine. A good thing, as no automated option is offered. The front wheels are driven all the time, the rears never. As in the Ferrari, the engine’s testa is dressed in rossa.

For a mere $1,445 you can get the FF’s massive calipers (which squeeze 15.7-inch rotors) in red.

The Abarth has red calipers as a standard feature (perhaps because less paint is needed). Its smaller brakes are charged with retarding far less curb weight, 2,512 vs. 4,145 pounds.

Both cars have reasonably raked windshields and so no need for extra-deep instrument panels. But here the similarity of their driving positions ends. To achieve a 47/53 weight distribution, Ferrari mounted the FF’s long engine entirely behind the front axle, yielding a very long hood. For less obvious reasons, the FF also happens to be very wide. Consequently, while the FF might feel lighter than it is, it doesn’t feel smaller than it is. Instead, it feels at least as large as a Panamera, and similar in overall character. The tape measure reports similar dimensions (193.2 x 76.9 x 54.3 inches vs. 195.6 x 76.0 x 55.8). The FF has less length abaft the driver but more inches ahead, and you sit a little lower behind a taller instrument panel and longer hood. But, compared to the driving position in one of the science fiction experiments from Lamborghini, the FF’s is downright practical.

The Abarth’s driving position occupies the opposite extreme. You sit so high that the car feels tippy even though, once the firm suspension takes a set, it’s not. Seat adjustments are far more limited than in the Ferrari, and unless you’re in the left tail of the bell curve you won’t be using the one for height. There’s far less hood ahead of you, and you don’t see the little there is. Excellent for forward visibility, not so good for sporting character.

During my test drive, where the FF’s suspension remained well within its capabilities, the car felt every bit as balanced as one with a 47/53 weight distribution should. The throttle can be used to nudge the rear end around, and the FF feels more lively than the typical all-wheel-drive car, perhaps because in balls-short-of-the-wall dry road driving the front wheels are declutched. The FF’s steering is light yet fairly communicative and shockingly quick (perhaps even too quick for such a large car). Compared to a Porsche Panamera, it takes longer (and longer than I had) to become acclimated behind the control-festooned wheel of the FF. The Porsche, while also feeling like a super-sized sports car, is a more intuitive car to drive quickly. But even in casual driving the FF engages. Once everything is tweaked to taste (a mind-boggling number of adjustments are available, but unlike in the FIAT the settings appear to be retained when the car is turned off) and the Ferrari becomes familiar it would no doubt be the more satisfying car to drive.

Simply due to its could-hardly-be-more-different dimensions, proportions, and weight distribution (64/36), the Abarth handles much differently. Contrary to some other reports, understeer isn’t excessive, but you’ll never forget that the FIAT is a tall, nose-heavy, front-wheel-drive car. Despite its much more compact dimensions and lesser weight (1,600 vs. 1,950 pounds) over narrower front tires (205/40ZR17 vs. 245/35ZR20), the Abarth’s steering is less communicative and lacks the quickness I expect in a tiny hatchback. No surprise given its much shorter wheelbase (90.6 vs. 117.7 inches), higher center of gravity, and far less sophisticated suspension, the Abarth also doesn’t ride nearly as smoothly as the Ferrari. The FF might also have the Panamera beat in this last aspect.

The FIAT 500 Abarth starts at $22,700. The 17-inch wheels add one grand. Leather adds another. A convenience package, nav, and red mirrors plus stripes (a box I’d uncheck) bumped the tested car’s price to $26,200. On the one hand, this seems a little steep given the car’s size, performance potential, and amenities. Another thousand will get you a roomier, much more capable and considerably more enjoyable MazdaSpeed3. On the other hand, the Abarth’s price is well under one-tenth of the Ferrari’s. The FF is theoretically available for just $298,750. But options added over $60,000 to the car I drove, and over $100,000 to another in the showroom. Air freight (not included in the sub-300 price) added $5,000 to a car that had been shipped to Michigan, $9,000 to one that had originally deplaned in Arizona. It’s not clear if the gas guzzler tax is included in the base price or buried in a substantial “other options” figure (both cars included far more items than could fit on the window sticker).

So, which Italian hatchback is the best one for you? The FF is an exercise in what happens when cost isn’t much of an object and the sheet starts clean. You fit a highly-tuned, naturally-aspirated V12 for seamless power, mount it far back for balance, pair it with an automated manual for quick responses, and employ all-wheel-drive on an as-needed basis for traction. The apparently unavoidable downsides of all this optimization are size, weight, and cost. Enough money fixes the last, and the second isn’t terribly evident, but the first doesn’t ever go away. The FF is very much the ultimate expression (until its replacement arrives) of the GT concept. For similar performance in a smaller car, you’re going to have to give up some cylinders, the rear seat, a lot of luggage capacity, or all of the above.

Perhaps you want a tidier hatchback that can be more fully exploited on public roads at legal speeds. Or your budget simply doesn’t extend north of $300,000. But you also want Italian style complete with red highlights everywhere the Ferrari has them and tricolor fender badges. Then the Abarth is the obvious choice.

Cauley Ferrari in West Bloomfield, MI, provided the FF. For those with smaller budgets, Cauley also operates a used car dealership with its heart in the right place—you’ll find no boring cars on the lot. They can be reached at 866-353-8629.

FIAT provided the 500 Abarth with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, a provider of car reliability and pricing information.

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33 Comments on “2012 Fiat 500 Abarth Versus 2012 Ferrari FF...”

  • avatar

    The FF has to be the ugliest Ferrari, ever. It’s like a 1st Gen Z3 hatch mated with Stretch Armstrong.

    • 0 avatar

      Saw one in the flesh for the first time yesterday…just like the one in this pic (black on black). Guess what? It looks worse in person. How the hell Ferrari let this dog come to market is a mystery to me.

      • 0 avatar

        Seen ir, like it, but I do like cars that are a bit against the grain when it comes to expensive hardware.
        Black on black – imo – is a shitty color combination for a Ferrari, looks like what somebody that harbor dreams about membership in a rap group or the Russian mob would buy.

      • 0 avatar

        Neither FF was black on black. The one I drove had a tan “Daytona style” interior, as partially seen in the front quarter shot. Another inside the showroom was red/black. I photographed the interior of that car to match the Abarth. As with any ultra-premium make, though, they’ll build the car in any color combination you want, even something crazier than black/black.

  • avatar


    So are they just stickers on the fenders on other Ferraris?

  • avatar

    You know, I actually like the way the FF looks. I’d love to drive one if it were anywhere near a halfway sane price range. But perhaps that’s due to this beautifully made video:

    So here’s a question for Bertel and anyone else in the ad biz.

    I must admit a burning curiosity – any idea how much it cost to produce? It looks like it must have been horribly expensive with top-range talent, wildly diverse locations, a long helicopter rental or two and no doubt lavish stays at pricey hotels. Almost like the good old days, right? :)


  • avatar

    You drink WAY too much Diet Coke, Michael. :)

  • avatar

    If this lovely lady comes with the Fiat, I will take it over the Ferrari any day.

  • avatar

    If this lovely lady comes with the Fiat, I will take it over the Ferrari any day.

  • avatar

    Gorgeous pics for this post. Tongue in cheek hilarious post too, reads like a passive aggressive protest against the “one car review limit”.

  • avatar

    I wonder if Cauley will get in any trouble for allowing a car reviewer to have access to a current model Ferrari without factory supervision.

  • avatar

    Well, I guess this all depends on the persons tastes. To be honest if we’re just gonna talk about the OEM looks, yeah that’s gonna be hard for the FF, I’d take the Smaller guy hands down. However, for ride and conform, space between the two it would be the obvious FF. Price range….both are too pricey…I think buyers are not buying the materials and labor cost of the car, its mainly the name of the company.

  • avatar

    You know what? -2 things.
    1) This might be the first MK review I actually liked.

    2) I have this sneaking suspicion that MK might actually have a sense-of-humor. -hrm,…

    • 0 avatar

      Did you miss this one?

      These two are clearly more the exception than the rule, though. If I find someone able to take some of the load off with TrueDelta (working on it) I’ll lighten up a bit more. Now that Brendan McAleer has a kid, and my three are increasingly self-sufficient, maybe we’ll swap roles!

  • avatar

    I love the high end European GT coupe/sedan hatch form factor, too bad they are all way outside of a normal price range. Tesla model S might just be the most affordable one made. Mazda could make a fine looking one one out of the new 6, combined with AWD as it’s unfortunately FWD otherwise, would be a fun car to own.

  • avatar

    Please, please, please continue the multiple reviews of the same cars. They are one of the best features of this site. Widely and wildly divergent points of view are a good thing.

    Personally, I would take the Fiat over the Ferrari any day. It is no fun at all to drive an insanely fast car slowly. Actually, I’d rather have a base Pop than the Abarth as it is even more fun to cane within an inch of it’s little life. With new ones being discounted down to pocket change levels, I am seriously tempted to get a 5spd Pop as a toy to run around town in.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been driving my Protege5 again recently, as I’m between press cars (back from a vacation and VW canceled a Golf R at the last minute), and it’s considerably more fun than the 500 and any other moderately powerful car I’ve driven lately.

      I can’t quite put my finder on what’s been lost in the last decade. (Well, aside from steering feel, agility, and immediately responsive throttles.) But it’s very much lost aside from some remnants at Mazda and Mitsubishi. Now I’m going to hold my breath until some manufacturer finds it. The trick is providing a visceral driving experience without the level of NVH present in the Protege.

      With the FF, I do personally like how it looks (aside from the optional dark tint), and the engine is truly magnificent. But Ed’s breadbox is much more the size I prefer.

      • 0 avatar

        Speaking of your Protege5, I haven’t seen too many of the used car reviews that used to pop up from time to time. It’s always entertaining to look at older cars with the benefit of hindsight and see how their modern counterparts compare.

        At least with cars that sold well or received consistent praise from the press at release. After all, if a car sucked when it was new, it probably still sucks. No sense in revisiting those.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I wasn’t aware of the new rule limiting reviews to one per car. TTAC continually points out that one of its strong points is each editor brings a unique talent and perspective to the review. If you limit reviews to one per car, you forfeit that advantage.

      Seeing the same car reviewed by Jack, Brendan, Alex, and Michael is like having viewpoints from four separate publications all in one place. Please return to that practice.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree on the discounting, but don’t agree on the Pop being more fun to drive. It just… it just isn’t.

      I’m not saying it’s NOT fun.

      I’m saying the Abarth is WAY more fun.

      I don’t think how fun this car is to drive is something MK really touched on adequately here. It’s a riot.

      I’ve driven a 500C pop. a 500 Sport, and an Abarth. The Sport is pretty fun, but not after driving the Abarth

      • 0 avatar

        To each his own. I test-drove an Abarth, and it IS a ton of fun, but it is just too much commotion. The base Pop is just right for me, the limits are pretty low, and it is slow, so you can cane it without getting into trouble. I find that much more fun. I like its friendly roly-polyness, and refinement, though I would probably get a slightly louder exhaust. The twin-cylinder would really be right up my alley.

  • avatar

    Awesome review, Michael. “Unlike in the Ferrari, cruise control is standard.” Hahahahahahahaha! Love it! Keep up the great writing! PS my brother once owned a ’65 Alfa, and let me drive to high school for 6 months, back in the day– nothing quite feels like an Italian stallion!

  • avatar

    Cheeky! Wonderful!

    ps You might want to check the caffein level in those Cokes.

  • avatar

    FIAT: Ferrari In Affordable Trim.

    Looks like you’re on to something here.

  • avatar

    Those FF’s are a brave car for Ferrari to make, and kind of follows the tradition of their back-seaters: Odd cars that are hit-and-miss.

    I think the FF could grow on me. But then again I’ve always dug 456’s and nobody seems to like those. Everyone thought the Scaglietti was fugly. Mondials, 400’s, and GT4’s are some of the cheapest used Ferraris you can buy.

    Nobody has really liked Ferrari 2+2’s for years and I suspect the FF will be another addition to the quirky, unloved-over-time lineage.

  • avatar

    Really Ferrari?

    A hatchback? *facepalm*

    Hey I need to pick the kids up and then drop them off to go to the grocery store. I know I’ll take my Ferrari hatchback!

  • avatar

    I really wonder why the powers that be would make such a rule- I, for one, enjoyed reading multiple takes on the same car. Not everyone appreciates the same things in a car. Meanwhile, reviews like this are patently ridiculous (though I understand and appreciate the intent behind it!).

  • avatar

    I like the way the Ferrari looks. Were I in a position to own one, I’d buy it and tell everyone with a Toyota and an opinion that when they had $350k to drop on a statement car, they could certainly choose to go in a different direction. And until then, they could shove it.

    Also, count me among the TTAC readers who finds both value and entertainment in having a car viewed through more than one lens.

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