By on March 4, 2015

Is there a car enthusiast whose pulse does not quicken when he or she hears the brrrap brap of the exhaust  when the North American spec Fiat Abarth fires up? TTAC’s managing editor Derek Kreindler is correct, the Abarth does indeed sound faster than it actually is, but it still sounds glorious. Don’t tell me that an inline four can’t sound as exciting as a V8 or even a V12. Saying that an eight or a twelve “sounds better” than a four is like saying that a big band sounds better than a trio, as if you can’t enjoy both Duke Ellington and Cream.

Not only does it sound good when you start it up, I suspect that the ECU on the Abarth’s turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4 liter motor may even be deliberately dumping a little unburned fuel into the exhaust manifold on throttle overruns. You start looking for tunnels and concrete walls just to hear the sound reverberate. Of course, while the Fiat Abarth playing the  Rice Krispies Symphony may bring a smile to the face of just about any car enthusiast, to worshipers of Gaia I fear that the little Italian car by way of Auburn Hills and Mexico sounds like the death rattles of a million baby polar bears. Well, as they say, one person’s music is another person’s turn that crap down. That exhaust isn’t the only thing about the little car that will make you smile.

Besides an exhaust that will never ever let you sneak out of the house at night unnoticed, the Abarth would never be described as inconspicuous. Rosso red paint, worthy of an Italian car, and large Abarth logos and scorpions all over the joint (it’s hard to find a Fiat logo on the Abarth), added to the big wheels, wide tires and aggressive stance will surely get you noticed.

For a car with two Italian brand names, it might come as some surprise that, as alluded to above, the U.S. market Fiat Abarth was developed by Chrysler’s team in the Detroit area and assembled in Mexico. While that might seem ironic for a car marketed with Italian brio, I think the car’s global background fits the history of Carlo Abarth well. Born Karl Abarth, to a Jewish family in Austria, he made a name for himself tuning and racing motorcycles. Injuries from a racing accident and the Nazi Anschluss in Austria stopped his racing career and life in Austria. He spent the duration of World War II in Yugoslavia. After the war, he moved to Italy, where he had ties dating to the early 1930s. He had great connections. Abarth personally knew the great racer Tazio Nuvolari and was friends with Ferry Porsche, Ferdinand Porsche’s son. As a matter of fact, Abarth married the secretary of Ferry Porsche’s brother-in-law Anton Piëch. In Italy he was one of the founders of the influential Cisitalia company. When that firm dissolved, he started Abarth & C. S.p.A in 1949. In 1952 the Abarth firm started a relationship with Fiat, tuning and racing their cars and selling performance accessories, that culminated in the automaker’s acquisition of the Abarth company in 1971.

While Carlo didn’t have much to do with the development of the car that bears his name, the team in Auburn Hills produced a car that’s great fun to drive in most real world driving situations. Though I have a fondness for the large American sedans of my youth, I’ve always loved little cars. One of the first cars that I drove was my brother’s ’63 Mini Cooper. In many ways the Fiat Abarth is a spiritual descendant of that car, a car that took the inherent goodness of a FWD econobox and made it even better. When I drove the base Fiat 500 as a rental car, I enjoyed my week with it, though it was obviously a cheap car. Tossing it around a corner, even getting the rear end to wag a little, you could tell the base Fiat wanted to handle. The Abarth iteration of the 500 fulfills that promise.

The Abarth version turns up the wick on how the 500 sticks. It has all the grip you’d ever need for any kind of enthusiastic street driving. Much of that can be attributed to the 205/40R17 Pirelli PZero “three season” tires, but there’s also been some careful attention to suspension tuning. The Abarth feels both more dampened and more supple than the base car. Also, considering that the Fiat has a very short wheelbase, the Abarth had a better ride than the Dodge Dart GT that I drove the week before. Since both the Dart GT and the U.S. market Fiat Abarth were developed by Chrysler’s team in Auburn Hills from Italian platforms, it’s somewhat surprising that the larger Alfa Romeo based Dart has a more bone shaking ride than the Abarth.

Though the Abarth has power steering, it’s not a car to one hand it around town. Make the shift and put your right hand back on the wheel. Steering feel through the chunky steering wheel was uniformly heavy. Speaking of chunky steering wheels, if I can be allowed a slight digression, just because a car is intended for driving in a sporting manner doesn’t mean it needs a steering wheel whose rim is two inches in diameter. Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, but along with the proliferation of flat-bottomed steering wheels, we’ve seen the grips on steering wheels getting fatter and fatter, so much so that someone like me, who has relatively small hands, sometimes finds some of them, like the one on the Fiat Abarth, a bit too chunky to handle comfortably, sort of how I feel about a Glock 9mm.

You had better have a good grip on that chunky steering wheel because, as mentioned, the Fiat Abarth is not a car to casually drive with one hand lightly on the wheel. The steering is fairly heavily weighted, though it lightens up a bit on the highway. Actually, on the interstates the Abarth is relatively comfortable for a short wheelbase car that’s bound to be pitching up and down. Another reason for keeping a firm hand on the wheel is that, as with some other front wheel drive based cars of European origin, the Fiat Abarth has a tendency to follow linear road irregularities. It dances a bit on grooved pavement and it will track asphalt that has been worn into wide grooves. That phenomenon is exaggerated with heavy braking or if you manage to elicit some torque steer when accelerating.

For the most part, though, torque steer wasn’t particularly noticeable. I also didn’t notice much turbo lag as some have reported. It’s there if you’re the sort who redlines a lot but it really wasn’t an issue in normal around the town driving. I like small cars and I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of front wheel drive since I first drove that ’63 Mini. Combine small size, good handling and sufficient power and you have a perfect tool for the cut and thrust of urban and suburban driving. If the hole in traffic is big enough for the Abarth, the 1.4 turbo will get you there.

While it’s not the fastest car on the street, not as quick, let’s say, as the Ford Fiesta ST, my personal feeling is that it’s fast enough for just about any kind of enthusiastic driving outside of the track. Whether you end up preferring the Abarth, the FiST,  or the Toyota/Scion/Subaru sports coupe is a matter of taste and driving styles. No matter which you would choose, though, you’d have fun with the Abarth.

It’s fine in the city and out on the highway you can cruise all day long at just about any speed that’s prudent, and even some imprudent speeds as well. Top speed is specified as a governed 129 mph and while I didn’t get the Abarth that high on the 160 mph speedometer, the indicated 117 I reached at Schreiber’s Secret High Speed Test Facility let me believe that the specs are accurate. The engine was losing some steam as it wound out in the top gear of the upgraded 5 speed transmission, but it still should be able to see 129 if the straightaway is long enough. I should report, however, that after the high speed run I did notice some odd odors from something heating up under the hood.

For the most part, I genuinely liked the Fiat Abarth, so much so that as the week with it wound down and I used up the free tank of gas that it came with (see below for observed mpgs), I ate the expense of buying premium gasoline for it, rather than use my daily driver, which takes 87 octane. It’s an eager puppy of a car that’s quite easy to like.

There were some things, though, that I didn’t like. Most of them had to do with the fact that it’s based on a cheap economy car that’s getting a bit long in the tooth. The modern day 500 was introduced in Europe in 2007, a couple of product cycles ago. I don’t like the way the concentric instrument cluster is laid out, and while it’s nice to have the auxiliary boost gauge that lets you know that the convenient Sport mode button on the center stack really does make a difference how the engine is mapped, the indicator light telling you to shift up doesn’t seem to follow any logic that I’ve learned in over 40 years of driving a stick shift.

Also, the arm rests for the front seats are located so that when both of them are down, you can’t reach the parking brake, a hassle in a car with a manual gearbox. I don’t know if it’s a design feature or a flaw, but the driver’s side arm rest has sagged a bit on both Fiat 500s that I’ve driven, which adds to the impression that the Abarth is based on a cheap car.

Speaking of manual transmissions, the dash mounted 5 speed gear selector on the Abarth has fairly short throws, but the low mileage press car’s shifter was not ideal. Trying to downshift from 5th to 3rd was an iffy proposition and I even had a hard time finding 3rd on an upshift or two. On the other hand, the clutch was very smooth and easy to use. So easy that I used it to start teaching my daughter how to drive a stick (note the indefinite article, “drive stick” gets you a demerit in Language Arts) and she was able to get the little car rolling around the parking lot without stalling it on only the third try.

Can I say that the bass from the Beats by Dr. Dre audio system sounded had some coloration?

Can I say that the bass from the Beats by Dr. Dre audio system sounded like it had some coloration?

As stickered out on the Monroney sheet, the test car was a tick over $30K, $30,004 including an $800 destination charge. The base Abarth is $22,095 and in my estimation much of the $8,000 in options wouldn’t be well spent, at least if I was buying the car. The $1,200 “performance” leather trimmed high back bucket seats are best left unchecked on the options list. They don’t provide you with enough side bolstering for the car’s handling abilities. They were less effective in that regard than the seats on the Dodge Dart GT. Save the money and buy an aftermarket performance driver’s seat instead. The audio system was $700 and comes with the Beats brand. After VW’s deal to label Panasonic stereo systems with Fender’s brand, I’m not so naive as to think that Dr. Dre had anything to do with that sound system beyond getting paid to put the Beats brand on it. Both of the Beats audio systems in Fiat Chrysler cars that I’ve tested have been unimpressive and please don’t call me a racist if I say that there was more than a little coloration in the bass (besides, I think Dr. Dre sold that business to Sony for really big bucks). The $600 tacked on TomTom Blue&Me nav system also didn’t seem like a prudent purchase in light of what you have on your phone already. It also was not easy for me to use. On the plus side, my Android phone reliably hooked up to the car for both phone and music.

A half century of high performance minicar progress. The Abarth's 17" rims are about as big around as an original 1963 Mini Cooper's tire's (with 10" wheels) were.

A half century of high performance minicar progress. The Abarth’s 17″ rims are about as big around as an original 1963 Mini Cooper’s tires, and that brake rotor and caliper would never fit inside the Mini’s 10″ wheels.

I also wouldn’t pop for the $1,300 power sunroof, but I concede that if you’re going to drive a car that is supposed to represent Italian spirit, you might want some al fresco driving. For an almost fully open air Abarth experience, the model is available as a cabriolet (the Fiat 500 convertible retains the side roof rails). The 17 by 7 inch forged aluminum “hyper black” wheels are an easier call. They cost as much as the sunroof does, but they probably contribute to the Abarth’s fine handling, so they’re probably worth the price. Just for grins I dug the spare tire out of the boot of the Mini Cooper (which my brother is storing here). In half a century, the wheel size on a tiny car has grown from 10″ to 17″. The rims on the Abarth as as big or bigger than then original Mini Cooper’s whole wheel and tire assembly.

IMG_0182

The Abarth has a proper and substantial false pedal that comes in handy to brace yourself with the Fiat’s enthusiastic handling. Full gallery here

The upshot is that for less than $25,000 (A/C is standard) you can get a decently equipped Fiat Abarth that is likely to put a big smile on your face. It may be based on a cheap car, but the Abarth is not an economy car. I got a pretty consistent 24.7 miles per gallon of premium gasoline. That’s fine for a performance car but far from what the base 500 can get.  As an aside, why do they sell cars that require 91 octane while all the gas stations around here only sell 93? Okay, so filling half and half with 89 and 93 gets the right R+M/2 rating, but it’s either the hassle of dong the math and pumping twice or paying more for fuel than you really have to pay. In addition to requiring premium fuel, the Fiat Abarth requires the use of synthetic engine lubricating oil.

Full gallery here

You can haul your little ones around in the back seat but they won’t have much leg room. Full gallery here

Like the Dodge Dart, the Fiat Abarth doesn’t come with a spare tire, but rather an electric pump with it’s own can of tire sealant, in this case stored under the driver’s seat, taking up some of the rear seat passenger’s already not very generous foot room.

IMG_0196

An electric tire pump and ‘fix a flat’ sealant replaces the spare tire and it’s stored under the driver’s seat. Full gallery here.

In conclusion, the Abarth is just one of a number of fairly desirable enthusiast cars that cost less than $30,000. Offhand there’s the aforementioned Fiesta ST, its big brother the Focus ST, the Toyobaru GT-86/FR-S/BRZ siblings, and I’m sure you can suggest a few more. While they may not be muscle car quick off the line, they all have enough pep to be fun to drive on the street and they all have competent chassis, steering and braking systems that make them fun to drive. They’re not perfect, you can find something to criticize with all of them. They are, after all, built to price points. However, they’re all great fun to drive and if you can’t find one that you could live with and enjoy, either you’ve gotten used to much more expensive cars, or you’re not much of a car enthusiast. Actually, since some of the highest praise for the current generation of entry level sporting motor cars has come from people who get exposed to a lot of very pricey, very high performance automobiles, like some of my colleagues in the car writing biz, I’d say that price doesn’t really matter. There are lot of cars that are great fun to drive, including the Fiat Abarth, and it’s a great time to be a car enthusiast.

The model that I tested was from the 2014 model year. Since then FCA has made the Fiat Abarth available with an automatic transmission.

FCA supplied the car, insurance and a tank of premium gas.

Disclosure: It’s the policy of The Truth About Cars is to reveal to our readers any damage that we do to press cars. Our former editor in chief pro tempore even published an editorial on the topic. I’m not sure if he tempted the fates with that editorial, but I’m sad to say that I damaged one of the Fiat Abarth’s 17″ rims. I’d like to at least be able to say that I went into a corner a little bit hot and clipped the apex, but the truth is that I was lazy and inattentive on a street on which I’ve driven thousands of times before and managed to scrape a curb. The damage was likely just cosmetic but in any case I reported it to our editors and the car company, and now you. You can never be too sure of yourself and you can always learn something that will improve your driving.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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93 Comments on “Review: 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth...”


  • avatar

    While it’s definitely cooler than a SMART FORTWO or Mini, I was disappointed by the interior.

    I’d rather have a loaded Dart GT.

  • avatar
    319583076

    I sat in one of these on the showroom floor last year. Our local Fiat dealer was blowing them out with significant rebates, but I didn’t like the upright seating and the weird, dash-mount shift.

    I was happy to see Ronnie’s impressions of that feature following his first interior picture.

    It would be nice to hear krhodes impressions of the dash-mount shift in his Abarth. If you’re reading this, please comment.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I find it to be perfectly fine. It’s a cable shifter on a front-wheel-drive car, I don’t expect perfection out of it. I like the location. That said, I think in some ways it is superior to the shifter in my BMW (less stiff and notchy), but decidedly inferior to that in my Triumph Spitfire. I may have gotten lucky with the production variances though, as mine is decidedly better than a couple other Abarths I have driven. One was particularly bad.

      I very much agree with Ronnie that the value proposition of these cars goes down rapidly as the price goes up. Mine has only the heated seats/Auto HVAC/Sat radio option, so was something like $23400 MSRP in ’13, and I paid ~$22K for it. Not an amazing deal compared to some of the incentives FIAT has put on them since, but fine with me.

      I’m not sure what Ronnie was doing to the poor thing, as I get ~31-33mpg driving mine in my suburban “around town”, and 35-36mpg on the highway on a trip. 40 is attainable on a long 2-lane trip, like up the coast of Maine in Rt 1 or to the White Mountains and back.

      I’m very sad to be selling it to make room for an M235i. If anyone is interested, I’m asking $15,500, it has 11K on it. Black on black cloth, no stripes. If you are “from away” as we say in Maine, I’ll toss in a plane ticket to Maine to come and get it. I really wish I had room to keep the little bugger.

  • avatar
    threeer

    While I’m a largely American-made (for whatever that means these days, I know…) purchaser, I grew up in Germany and have a major-soft spot for small European-style hatches. I’ve driven numerous Abarths and just smile every time I do. Its frivolous, impractical and slightly off-beat…but that sound! Oh, that glorious sound! A lightly used one runs in the $15,000-$16,000 range and makes me do a double take whenever I’m considering which car to buy when I return from my assignment in Saudi Arabia.

  • avatar

    We had one traded in and it was the most surprising car I’ve ever driven. I really loved it and the sound was awesome. I didn’t like the shifter knob, otherwise it was awesome.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    In other words, the Fiat 500 ain’t nearly as bad as its 40-year-old predecessor. Even the base 500 Pop is a lot of fun to drive and even lively driving gets you 5mpg better than the author achieved with his Abarth.

  • avatar

    My father and I tested one during at Christmas. He literally laughed the entire time he was driving it. It’s theatrical, this car. If I lived in Europe and had interesting roads to drive on, I’d be all over this thing. Sadly, 90% of my personal driving is long 3-7 hour stints across the 401 between Montreal and southwestern Ontario. Even that wonderful brap would get old. One surprising thing: I didn’t find the ride that punishing.

    What a ridiculous, fun car.

    • 0 avatar
      boozysmurf

      Take Hwy7 as long as you can (at least in the summer). I chased a 500 Abarth up 7 between Peterborough and Ottawa on a glorious August day, last year (in my Genesis Coupe) and 7 has become a great drive, since it’s been repaired. Also, following that Abarth was fantastic, the sound of the overrun is absolutely brilliant. Not a car I’d buy, but I’d love someone I know to buy one, so that I could chase it all the time.

      • 0 avatar

        I used to take it all the time in my ’05 Mazda3 HB Sport back in the day. I also recently did that trip in an ATS 2.0T (Shhh, don’t tell DW). It’s a nice way to go, but adds an hour or more to the trip…plus I often stop-over in Kingston.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I laughed, not in a mean-spirited way, but compulsively nonetheless, when I saw some kid driving a standard 500 next to me on M59 in Auburn Hills.

      The car just looked like 22 clowns were going to emerge from each door opening and the hatch if it were to stop.

      Some will inevitably b!tch at me for saying this, but the 500 looks as close to a pure teenage chick car as anything I’ve ever seen.

      There are certain impressions our minds instantly gravitate towards, no matter how objective we try to remain – some of us are secure enough to admit this.

      The Abarth manages to look more mature AND sporty, simultaneously, versus the base 500, which is no easy task

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        Yeah, they look kind of strange, until you see them in context in Paris or Milan. It’s something you can’t un-see, but in a good way.

        Kind of like how The Italian Job (the original) defines Mini for a lot of people.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I bought an Abarth when it first came out and ordered it in completely base form (cloth seats, no sunroof, 16″ wheels, and no nav or “Beats”). I even got it with the stripes deleted and in solid black. I think it looked awesome that way and got a bit less unwanted attention.

    I think the car rode marginally better with the smaller wheels and I couldn’t spot any real difference in handling other than some lower weight and perhaps ultimate grip with all-season tires… but I only drove it on the street. I listened to both stereos and frankly thought the base one sounded better. I was also living in the Central Valley of California and the sunroof’s utter lack of an opaque screen (similar to the Mini in this regard) meant that it would have been an oven in there in the summer.

    Anyway, I loved the car and for a sticker of just over $22k I thought it was definitely the way to go. I owned the car for a year and a half and sold it when I got divorced and relocated to the snow belt. I didn’t have a single warranty concern with the car and averaged about 31 mpg in mixed driving. More importantly, it made me grin every time I started it up and drove it.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    We have one of these in the family. It is frequently borrowed by other family members just because it is so much fun. Most members of my family have much more expensive (and more practical) cars that will out accelerate and out handle it, but the Abarth will out-fun them all.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    While I’d never want to personally own one, I followed an older couple driving their Abarth at the limit through a large roundabout the other night, and must admit that it sounded pretty sweet. At least as musically satisfying as the farty roar emitting from the exhaust of a WRX.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    That was a really good, thorough, interesting review, with excellent photographs, as well.

    You need to write more reviews, RS!

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I agree. It was a great review. However, the pictures made me realize that there wasa point in time where Michigan did not snow. Now I am depressed.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I kept thinking “How old is this review?!” as I saw all the foliage.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks for the nice words guys.

        Tell me about the weather. I have a Scat Pack Challenger this week. Yesterday I had to go back to the Henry Ford Museum for some photos related to my post about their Engines Exposed exhibition. Three inches of snow on the way there, freezing rain on the way home. 485 horsepower, rear wheel drive and fat tires, big fun in low traction conditions. Actually, with the nannies engaged it was pretty safe, though with a car that can break the rear tires loose going 45 in a straight line, you do have to be particularly prudent.

        Still, I learned how to drive in ’60s and ’70s vintage RWD American sedans, so catching a snow induced slide is second nature.

        I have a number of reviews on tap. Right after I drove the Fiat and a bunch of other cars & trucks last summer I got very busy with a couple of new projects. I was offered a book contract and started developing my electric harmonica idea. Now that I’ve figured out how to manage my time better I’m getting the reviews out.

        Reviews to come:

        Scion FR-S w/ automatic
        Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum
        Audi SQ5
        Audi A6 TDI
        Audi A3
        Jaguar XJL AWD
        Toyota Highlander
        Scat Pack Challenger

        I wonder, sometimes, about folks who can’t feel the difference between RWD and FWD, who don’t have a clue what’s happening with the tires in an understeering or oversteering situation. I know that I’m visualizing what’s going on at the wheels whenever I’m sliding.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          That other post today was great too. I love The Henry Ford Museum. We have a membership now and go often. I can let my 2 year old run around by the trains for an hour and she’s happy.

          The weather was brutal yesterday. Driving on the freeway was dangerous just for the chunks of snow/ice flying of people’s cars. I’ve never seen anything like it. Hood and roof sized chunks of ice were flying everywhere at 70 MPH.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I’m not quite sure what to make of this thing. While I rather like the exterior styling for some reason – even moreso in person – the interior strikes me as just awful, like a lurid combination of a toddler’s toy car dashboard and a $14 designer toaster.

    Maybe I’m just getting old.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      No, you’re right. And this version has too much festoonery. I mean, badges next to the door handles? That’s pretty similar to the early 90s Cadillacs with logos under the door handle.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      well, yes…the interior and everything else.
      I just don’t get this car. Is there a reason NOT to have a boot or cargo area?
      Seriously? On purpose? To chose NOT to get more for your money when a Mazda3 or Golf or whatever is available seems to border on idiocy.
      Is there a reason not to have light steering IN TOWN, when most wanted, BUT have light on the highway…when heavier is wanted?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @TrailerTrash

        It’s WAAAY more fun than those cars, and that is why you buy one. Not every car has to be completely practical. The Fiat 500 is silly fun on 4 wheels in all its versions. The Abarth just cranks it up to 11.

        The trunk is big enough for two airline standard carry-on bags and a bit more. The back seat will hold two full-size humans for a reasonable jaunt. It’s not a car I would want to cross the continent in anyway, though I have taken mine on a couple 1000 mile roadtrips 2up. It doesn’t begin to compare to my BMW in that role, but it is not a penalty box either.

        Turn off sport mode, and the steering is quite light. I prefer the throttle response without sport mode as well, and it is plenty fast even with only 130hp. Sport gets you the full 160hp.

        I have said on here before – if I was buying a hatch as my ONLY car, I would not have bought an Abarth. I would have bought a GTI or a FiST or FoST. But as a fun car, the Abarth IS more fun than either of those cars, and cheaper too if you don’t get stupid with the options. Especially if you hit one of Fiat’s crazy incentive blowouts.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      I suspect that you’re not old enough. It reminds me of many of the cheap European cars that I saw back in the early 60s when I was a kid summering in Scandinavia. Back then every cheap car had brightly-painted and often two-tone steel dashboards.

    • 0 avatar
      Internet Commenter

      That painted dashboard looks grotesque. There’s something about large swaths of body colored trim that makes the cabin feel less inviting. Perhaps it’s the extreme juxtaposition of exterior design cues with what should be a somewhat warm space, but it looks particularly awful in this case.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      I think it’s about something called driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I’m an ‘old guy’ myself and if I had anything to complain about with the Fiat 500, it’s the fact that that dashboard fascia can be glaringly bright when the sun comes in over your shoulder from either side. The look itself is appealingly ‘old school’ while still being modern and useful. The concentric speedometer/tach is unique but easy to understand and by no means distracting while the center digital display actually contains the data you really need–including a digital speedometer supporting the outer analogue one.

      The Fiat 500–even the non-Abarth versions–are surprisingly functional and enjoyable despite their tiny overall size. For an ’empty-nest’ couple or a just-starting couple the economy, sportiness and yes, simple interior room is worth considering as it truly qualifies as a “Hot Hatch”. Sure, it may not be for everybody, but the more I drive my 500 Pop, the more I enjoy it. There is a very good chance I’ll be replacing my mid-sized Jeep Wrangler Unlimited for a Fiat-built Jeep Renegade for very similar reasons.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I like the idea of having this as a commuter car. But, I’m worried that it’s wheelbase would wear on my 95% highway commute.

    I sat in one at Carmax recently, someone please let me know if I am out of my mind here, but it felt like the clutch pedal had a REALLY long travel to the floor and felt as if it didn’t go straight back, but sort of turned in to the right. I assumed it was due to the contours of the front of the small car.
    I haven’t driven one, and I should, but am I imagining that?

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      If your commute involves worn expansion-jointed concrete highways, don’t even think about buying an Abarth. Otherwise, the highway ride is far smoother than you would imagine. They have Koni FSDs stock in the front, and the ride is actually very nice for a low, stiff car.

      Can’t say I have noticed anything out of the ordinary with the clutch feel. It IS very, very light. Almost as light as my Spitfire. Smooth and predictable. AS I mentioned before, there seems to be a wide production variance in shifter feel with these cars – I don’t know if there is any adjustment that can be made. Mine is fine, but I have driven a couple that were not nearly as nice.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        @krhodes – I have to disagree re: the expansion-jointed concrete highway ride. I have that on my commute to work as well as whenever I go visit my boyfriend (those on the boyfriend route are after already having driven 120 miles in the car) and I have no regrets or real issues with how the Abarth rides over it, and I actually have the 17s on mine. No it’s not as smooth as my BMW was, but It’s definitely not intolerable.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          @tjh8402

          You might just have a high pain threshold. Even in my E46, concrete highways full of expansion joints leave me wishing I had a quieter, cushier car. In the BMW’s defense, it might help if I refreshed the tired suspension :-(

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Try it on I-78 in Eastern PA and get back to me. I was actually getting nauseous. I suppose it depends on how the expansion joints are spaced and how worn the pavement is, but it was utterly atrocious. It’s not so much the ride, but it sets up a horrendous fore and aft pitching motion. But really the only situation where I have not thoroughly enjoyed the car.

          I can’t say that road is a delight in my BMW either, but it doesn’t make me feel like tossing my lunch.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Now that argument is absolutely hilarious. My own parents drove a Caddy Coupe deVille with a 21-foot trailer over that road over 30 years ago and DID get sick with that fore-aft pitching, the complaint that a Fiat 500 is worse than something longer is laughable because the shorter wheelbase actually makes the pitching less noticeable.

          • 0 avatar
            tjh8402

            @Krhodes and burgersandbeer – I don’t see I78 on the horizon anytime soon. I’ve done I4 through downtown Orlando going to work and a butchered-by-construction I95 through downtown Jacksonville going to the the boyfriend. I definitely haven’t been nauseous over either. With I-4, I do wait till I get on asphalt to try drinking my coffee but that’s about it. The I95 construction is rough, but tolerable. I thought my e46 was sublime. Yes, you felt the road, but I still think that zhp tuned chassis is the best all round compromise between performance handling and every day ride comfort I’ve found. I should add that both the BMW and the Abarth were/are riding on Michelins – Pilot Super Sports (BMW) and Pilot Sport AS3s (Abarth), and they do generally give a nice ride. The BMW came with Bridgestones Potenzas and the Abarth the Pirellis, but both were pretty worn when I got the cars, especially the Pirellis, so not sure how much of the ride improvement was due to the Michelins and how much just to fresh tires. That being said, I’ve rented some 500 Sports, and I almost think my Abarth rides better on its Michelins than the Sports do on whatever tires they come with.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    This is a great review Ronnie. I’m very interested in getting one of these, as I’m almost ready to have a “fun” car again. A few of these have popped up as used in my area, I think I would like to get a five speed version, so long as my ankle agrees…

    I was checking out the Fiat 500L as a possible replacement for my ancient Aztek and I love the fact that they use the drivetrain from the Abarth in the 500L. It has the same raspy sound as the Abarth, but probably won’t be as fast.

    One of these is on my radar for next time around. I’m also glad to hear that the folks who have had them, have seemingly had few issues with them.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Neat little car, but the thought of doing the timing belt in that engine compartment is a complete deal killer.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Fiat schedules the timing belt at 150,000 miles, so there’s no reason for it to be a deal killer. You should have a good idea by that point if you want to sign-up for another 150,000 or trade it in on a 2025 Abarth.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    This is so overwrought, shouting PERFORMANCE from every angle. Too many stickers and badges, and tinted lens and fins, vents, logos all over. Makes me tired to think of driving it any distance at all.

    The only 500 I like is that throwback one in the opaque paint colors, with matching wheel covers. The 1957 Edition!

    http://blog.caranddriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/2014-Fiat-500-1957-edition-placement1-626×382.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The regular Fiat 500 Turbo model gets you (alomst) the same engine as the Abarth, without all the boy-racer accoutrements. IMO that one is the sweet spot of the lineup.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        The Fiats are among the few vehicles I am not familiar with real world (aka “street”) pricing of.

        But, IIRC, can’t one get into a turbo 1.4 multi-air regular 500 manual for around 16k?

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        The 500 Turbo is missing that push near the red line. Better to get an Abarth and remove the stickers if that’s your thing.

        I think that the 500 Turbo’s role is to convince people to upgrade to the Abarth. The Turbo is not a car anybody wants to buy, it’s one they settle for only if they absolutely can’t fund the extra amount for the Abarth.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          I don’t know about that. The Turbo is more of a Q-ship version; not everyone wants the wheels and the suspension and the exhaust and the seats from the Abarth. IIRC, the lower hp is just the ECU opening the wastegate sooner; should be easy enough to chip it back to full Abarth specs.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            @ bumpy ii – Agreed. A high percentage of my driving is redlight/crawl a block/redlight on pothole-ridden streets. An automatic Turbo is the version I’d get. I know Fiat didn’t initially, but I’m glad they have seen fit offer at least six engine/tranmission combos at this point (counting the Turbo’s and the Abarth’s engines as different, which the sort of are and sort of aren’t).

    • 0 avatar

      I spent about five minutes going around the car taking photos of just the Abarth logos.

      That powder blue 1957 edition is a nice looking car, but I would have put a little bit of pearl flake in the paint to give it a modern spin on the retro look.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The stripes are optional. Mine is just plain black on black. I think the red is WAY too shouty.

      Though what I would REALLY like is the lovely light green on brown with the ivory interior accents but with the turbo motor. Best of all worlds.

  • avatar
    Boff

    I seem to be the only one who thinks this car sounds like crap…to me it sounds like a 4-cylinder car with a broken exhaust. I test drove one back when I owned a regular 500…the form factor of the 500 just didn’t work for me (i.e. driving position and pedal placement, despite the fact that I’m a 50th percentile Italian-Canadian) so I would never have sprung for the Abarth anyway.

  • avatar
    John R

    Dr. Dre sold Beats to Apple…as I understand it.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Fact check: Apple bought Beats… making the D R E very rich.

      And really – a 5 speed? I know this car ain’t going to push the limits but with the torque of the turbo I’d bet it would cruise fine on the highway in 6th saving some MPGs.

      While I love small turbo hatches the 500 is just too small to be really usable. Still I fear if my wife test drove one we would be owners. Its just too cute and a blast to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        How do we even offer a 5 speed manual in anything anymore?

        Utterly shameful.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Focus and Golf still have a 5-speed available in their base vehicles. I like both.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            bball, I respect your opinion greatly, but I can’t fathom why we should settle for 5 forward gears. As someone who plies the flat boring highways quite a bit, a tall 6th and then a well spaced 1-5 just works better. One of the primary auto journo hates on the MT Verano is that it has taller gearing for economy vs the auto, but well spaced ratios combined with the turbo torque make it fine to me. Seems to me the 1.8TSI Golf and the Abarth would be similarly able to utilize a tall 6th gear with turbo toerque, while utilizing the lower gears for happy fun times.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @davefrom…: The thing with turbo is that as long as you’re using that turbo torque, you’re using more gas; that ‘tall 6th gear’ needs to be tall enough to keep revs low in order to keep the engine out of the turbo. In the Fiat 500, the automatic’s 6th gear lets the engine rev just over 2000 rpm at 65mph which on flat ground should give you about 38-40mpg. On the other hand, if you could pull the rpm down to 1800 or so, you could save even more fuel–so slowing to even 60mph can boost that fuel mileage. The problem is that here in the US, people simply don’t want to drive that slowly.

            Now, as an example, back when I bought my ’08 Jeep Wrangler, I made a trip that had me running northbound on I-81 through western Virgina through the Appalachian mountains and by setting cruise control to a mere 60mph I managed 25mpg over 650 miles despite the first third of the run being uphill to the pass where I crossed from western to eastern side. Driving sensibly can help you achieve supposedly unheard-of fuel mileage.

          • 0 avatar
            tjh8402

            @Davefromcalgary – According to Fiat, the a 6 speed manual won’t fit.

            http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2012-fiat-500-abarth-first-drive-review

            “We’d like the setup better if the gearbox had six speeds rather than five, but the engineers say that wasn’t in the cards due to size constraints—there isn’t enough space to package six cogs hefty enough to handle the extra thrust. We suspect cost might have had something to do with it, too. ”

            I can’t find another source but the Fiat owners forums say it’s because of extra bracing/structural reinforcements required to meet US crash standards.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          In Europe the Abarth gets a 6spd. The problem is that it doesn’t fit in the US car. Ours has an extra crash brace right where the extra length of the 6spd needs to be. Given the volumes sold, no way are they going to engineer a different transmission for the car.

          I don’t miss it, the engine spins like a turbine anyway, and I doubt it would make a bit of difference to mpg in the real world.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I don’t see how many miles it has on it ? .

    I am curious as I know everyone loves theirs when first they buy it and accompany us on the Road Rallies but now I don’t see them anymore and wonder .

    I too sat in one at The Auto Show and wasn’t impressed but I do so love little Cars .

    Isn’t there any place to stash a regular spare tire ? no spare atall is a 100 % deal breaker .

    Here in La La Land (home to Fruits Nuts & Flakes) I know there’s a cheap low mileage used one just waiting .

    Oh yeah : I love the exhaust note , wish you’d taken it out further .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    superchan7

    I should point out that in addition to the available autobox, the 2015 Fiat 500 (including Abarths) receives an all-new gauge cluster with full-colour LCD display for improved readability.

  • avatar
    Banger

    The opening of this article sounds a lot like my own review of an Abarth some months ago. The sound system sucks, “Beats” or no, and yet, the exhaust is all the musicality a true gearhead could want.

    http://www.technologytell.com/in-car-tech/8955/aboard-abarth-fiat-500-abarth-sound-matters/

    Good review, Ronnie.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …The upshot is that for less than $25,000 (A/C is standard) you can get a decently equipped Fiat Abarth that is likely to put a big smile on your face….

    I was getting excited reading this well written review until I got to the punchline. Sure, $25K doesn’t buy you much in a new car these days – at over $30K the way it was equipped the asking price is INSANE.

    Meh – pass.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      $30K is the “reviewer’s special” with every option. The base Abarth is well equipped, some will want leather and/or heated seats, but everything else is superfluous.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    “why do they sell cars that require 91 octane while all the gas stations around here only sell 93?”

    My guess… I assume the engine is tuned for 91 or 93 octane, so that is the recommended fuel to use. To simplify things they write “required.” If they wrote “recommended” instead, people would complain when the fuel economy, power, and engine smoothness suffered when running on 87 octane (you know… since 93 isn’t “required” it should run exactly the same on 87). And then their’s California and other CARB-impaired states. We basically only get 91 octane here, so if you wrote that 93 were “required” you would have Californians in a panic. So, in order to have the fewest customer complaints and in order to have a car whose user manual is OK for all 50 states, you get “91 required.”

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      93 octane isn’t available nationwide, in many states 91 octane is the “best” available. Accordingly, manufacturers will tune and recommend the lesser of the two, as that is the conservative choice.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Actually, it is “91 recommended”, not required. It runs just fine on 87, you just get less boost. You do get a little more on 93, so they left a little headroom in there too.

  • avatar
    Eggshen2013

    (note the indefinite article, “drive stick” gets you a demerit in Language Arts)

    Thank you for that! Where did this “drive stick” junk come from?

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Nice review. I always appreciate reviews that uncover little details like the location of the tire pump and the impact on rear seat foot room. It’s a solid indicator that the reviewer actually spent some time in the car. I also like your history lessons.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      In the WRX, there’s a stupid amp under the driver’s side seat (if you get the premium factory sound, IIRC), so there’s nowhere to put your feet there either.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Regarding the spec for 91 AKI, 93 is difficult to find in some states (notably California). Recommendations for premium fuel typically mean minimum 91 AKI.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    It looks like in addition to not sounding great, the Beats audio sticks a subwoofer in the hatch robbing you of space that’s already at a premium.

    I was shocked to hear you can option this car to past $30k. The $8k in options is 36% of the base price. Even Porsche would be proud of that.

    From the description of the value added (or not) from those options, if ever there was a car best purchased with minimum features, this is it.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Thanks for the review Ronnie. I just bought a used 2013 Abarth a couple weeks ago. So far, this car has been a blast. You really can’t say enough good things about the sound the of that exhaust. Even people who are not car people tell me how good it sounds. I’ve gotten plenty of comments on the looks too (mine is black with the red trim). It’s actually gotten more attention than my BMW. People who normally make fun of the regular 500 respect the Abarth.

    A few commenters have asked about the console shifter – I’ve found it very quick and easy to adjust to. I had a stick shift e46 BMW before this and am now shifting this just fine. It’s at the perfect height for lazy traffic – you can rest you arm on the armrest and shift just by flicking your wrist. The car is actually surprisingly roomy. I’ve carried a few adult (although not large) guys in the back seat on quick (10-15 minute) rides and no one complained about space. That being said, I usually just leave the back seats folded. I have no children, but carry a lot of stuff around with me, so I treat it as an extra spacious two seater. Perhaps like the old BMW Z3 breadvan? If you’re concerned about space, do what I did – rent one for a week and try it out. They are pretty common in rental car fleets.

    Ronnie, is your gas mileage due to the weather? Perhaps the lack of break in? I’ve yet to see a tank below 27 mpg only running 87 octane, and I do a lot of city and stop and go driving. I have to work to get it below 28. The highway mileage is a bit disappointing, perhaps thanks to the stubby aero and short gearing. At 75 mph, I’m showing around 30 mpg. I figure after a few tanks of 87, I’ll try a few at 93 and see if there’s an appreciable difference.

    Ronnie, you’re right about the surprising suppleness of the ride. In two weeks, I’ve 2 overnight round trips to Jacksonville (over 300 miles) and a same evening round trip to Lakeland (about 140 miles) and have found the car to be quite comfortable on the highway. The exhaust isn’t obnoxiously droning either. When I got mine, the OEM Pirellis were quite worn. I swapped on some Michelin Pilot Sport AS3s and while I did lose a bit of edge on handling (and the steering effort decreased), the ride really smoothed out.

    One note for anyone looking at one – if you intend to get the roof rack, do not get one with the sunroof. You cannot have one with the other. I got lucky with mine buying used since it’s harder to find one spec’d out how you want, and I intend to carry my kayak, so finding one without the sunroof was important. The Beats Audio is a bit disappointing – I mostly listen to alternative rock and can’t seem to find a sound mix that I’m happy with.

    Editors, I emailed you when I got the car, but if you want me to do a long term test of mine, I’m happy to keep you guys updated on how it goes. I bought a lifetime bumper to bumper unlimited mileage warranty on mine and anticipate doing 18-20k miles a year driving on it.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Thanks for your truncated review here in the comments, I appreciate it!

    • 0 avatar
      daviel

      How much was the warranty? Is it a FIAT/Chrysler offering? The only thing that would keep me from one of these is bad reliability stats.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      @319583076 – Thanks! Any questions feel free to ask. I should’ve added that I do notice some turbo lag. That being said, it’s really not an issue once you get going. Just treat it like the Italian car it is and keep the engine on low simmer if you’re at low speed in traffic and you’ll never be lacking for power. My parents have a 500C Lounge and I guess it feels like their car off boost. Luckily it isn’t that hard to keep the boost up. I can be creeping in traffic at 30 mph in 5th gear, find an opening, and accelerate up to 55 without downshifting.

      @Daviel – It was $3200 and its from FCA. My parents have it on their 500C and just bought a Town & Country with it as well. We all keep our cars till they fall apart on us, with the exception of my BMW (I originally intended to keep it as a second car till I did the math on what it would cost me to own it over the Fiats 6 year loan even only as a weekend car). I know it anecdotal, but FWIW, my parents have had great luck with their 2012. They have 93k miles on it and it has been more or less trouble free for them (According to the two dealers in this area, theirs is the second highest mileage example in Central Florida). It probably helps that in an effort to ensure the warranty keeps its coverage, they have been on top of all the car’s scheduled maintenance and have had every service done at the dealer. When they got that warranty, I warned them that when the car needs a $3000 repair at 200k miles, they will need the dealer service department to back them up and help keep FCA from trying to void the warranty for inadequate maintenance.

  • avatar
    duncanator

    “…why do they sell cars that require 91 octane while all the gas stations around here only sell 93? ”

    Where I live in California, or anywhere I’ve traveled throughout the state, I’ve never seen 93 octane. I see it occasionally when I go to the East Coast, but never out here.

  • avatar
    DAC17

    I would get a Fiesta ST without a doubt. With the money you save, you could buy an exhaust that perfectly suits your taste.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    DAC, yeah. After all is said and done, that would be the better bet, wouldn’t it? Although they seem to discount Abarth occasionally.

    Still, a fine, straight-forward review. This and the Ford Raptor review are two of a kind that way.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    I drove a ’13. It was a fun car, tossable with a great exhaust note. However, after driving a nearly 300hp WRX daily driver this car felt weak and underpowered. A new WRX can be had for under $30K too and it much much more car than this with awd and extra 100hp out of the box. The Fiat makes for a great city car but I think the base 100hp one is better at it than this.

  • avatar
    heybulldog

    I have a ’13 abarth with 20k on her…runs like a scalded dog. Although, I’ve added a CAI, and a remapped, over flash for the ECU. Pushing around 196 horse. This car is a “drivers car”. A high end econo-box that serves a distinct purpose…you drive the heck out of it… One isn’t worried about armrests, cup holders, or stickers. You understand it’s about grip, heal-toe, cornering, power to weight ratio, and glorious speed. It’s impractical, loud, boisterous, flagrant, comical, and seriously fun. It does everything that it’s supposed to do, be enjoyed by a driving enthusiast. Comfortable? No. Take the kids and the dog? No. Move your mother in law and her crap? No. Interstate thru Kansas? Nada.. fill her up with gas and hit a twisty canyon/mountain road? ALL DAY LONG, and with zest. I live in the mountains of east tennessee, I’ve yet, to see a car that can hang with me thru our seriously insane roads. With the new obd11 flashes coming out, the power is ridiculous for a small car, and the aftermarket parts are too numerous to mention. Wanna go get groceries with your mom? Get a camry. I can’t mention the times I’ve had people take pictures, ask questions, and generally GAWK..everywhere I go. I’ve become an impromptu ambassador for the car. I’m in love, and it’s color is red.

  • avatar
    rreichar

    I had a 2013 Abarth for 18,000 miles. It was really a fun car. I liked the Beats audio but hated the head unit. To change sat radio from channel 2 to channel 200 requires you click for each channel unless you have it as a pre-set. It has some degree of voice command bur mine never really worked for channel changing. The other issue I had with it was the tiny fuel tank. I usually got around 24-25mpg but with a long commute I often had to fill the car every other day. It didn’t take long but was still annoying. According to the build sheet I had the optional large fuel tank. It would help if th car had a sixth gear. Next year is supposed to have a modern Uconnect head unit. I no longer have the long commute so I might consider another Abarth. The only problem is that a well optioned Abarth is close to the price of a well optioned GTI. Of the two I think I’d rather have the GTI but the Abarth sounds better and likely is more fun. In th time I had mine it had no issues and seemed well put together for what it is. To me the hot ticket is to buy used. Low mileage Abarths with every option can be had for $16-18,000.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    I get a little miffed every time an automotive reviewer whines about a performance car which requires premium fuel. If you own a performance car, premium fuel is part of the price you pay for…performance! On a small car like this with a ~12 gallon tank, you’re probably talking about $3-$4 on a fill-up. How about skipping Starbucks for one day a week and stop whining?

  • avatar
    Specfour

    The key with this car isn’t “miles per gallon” but “smiles per mile”. My other car is a Lotus Elise so to me the Abarth is a luxury car. I got mine for $4K off sticker and with all the major options I financed around $22K. Recently I’ve seen dealers in the DFW area offer $5K off sticker so the comparison of the Abarth with $30K cars is unfair since you’ll probably only pay $18-23K


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