By on December 26, 2018

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth cover

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth

1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four (160 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 170 lb/ft @ 2,500 rpm)

Five-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive

28 city / 33 highway / 30 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

31.7 (observed mileage, MPG)

8.4 city / 7.0 highway / 7.8 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $21,790 US / $30, 490 CAD

As Tested: $25,510 US / $32,825 CAD

Prices include $1,295 destination charge in the United States and $1,998 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Anyone else fondly recall Sport Compact Car magazine? For over two decades, that dead-tree, updated-monthly blog brought the latest in import performance trends to newsstands and mailboxes. I know that I waited for my copy impatiently, just knowing that this month would be the one where I found the perfect stuff with which I could poorly modify my ancient Accord.

Each issue brought forth little cars with tons of character, but after a while a theme was established — big wheels, big exhaust tips, and a lowered suspension with little compliance became the standard. With the dying of that great magazine, and the de-evolution of the Fast and Furious franchise away from accessible cars, the tuner culture seems to have drifted away from mainstream consciousness.

There aren’t many new truly compact cars that invite this sort of tuning, let alone those that come so equipped from the factory. The 2018 Fiat 500 Abarth is a throwback to those days — days where a loud exhaust and a booming stereo meant fun on Saturday night.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth front quarter

Another nod to yesteryear: the five-speed manual transmission. There are so few cars available these days with any manual that I shouldn’t be complaining, but the low-revving turbo Fiat feels as if a sixth cog would be welcome for highway cruising. Still, the manual shifts well, with somewhat long throws being the only complaint. Clutch take-up is progressive — I can see this being a good choice for introducing manual shifting to a driver reared on two pedals.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth interior

No, I’m not joking. I’m really recommending a turbocharged hot hatch as a first manually-shifted car. Hear me out. The miniscule outside dimensions, paired with the impressively-sized greenhouse and responsive steering all put a new driver at ease — no worries about where the corners of the car are when you feel you can reach out from the driver’s seat and touch them all. The low-end torque afforded by the small turbocharged four-cylinder makes it easy to pull off the line with minimal throttle. At 160 hp, it’s not so powerful that it wrenches the wheel out of the hand should one stab the throttle abruptly. But the Abarth 500 is spritely enough to make the driving properly fun once the driver knows how to, um, drive.2018 Fiat 500 Abarth gauges

Prod that right pedal, and the dual exhaust tips bring forth a snarling soundtrack. Cut the throttle, and racey pops and bangs ensue. It’s raucous and silly, but endearing. The steering is quick and direct, with seemingly immediate turn-in. The ride is about what one would expect from a lightweight, short-wheelbase runabout: it’s choppy on interstate expansion joints, but tolerable. But in the city, the 500 Abarth is easy to place, and on the backroads, it’s non-stop fun.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth front

My tester had, paired with the standard UConnect five-inch touchscreen system, a $695 Beats premium audio package. For branded speaker packages, the price isn’t bad. But the 8-inch subwoofer enclosure does narrow the already tight cargo area — again, something with which drivers of classic modified hatchbacks are all too familiar. You’ll need to crank the volume a bit to compete with the exhaust.

Oddly, the radio went a bit funky one morning. It stopped responding to all inputs. I’d been listening to a football game on Saturday on FM radio, and I got stuck listening to FM sports talk radio on Sunday morning rehashing said game ad nauseum. Pretty much the worst thing ever. It took a good twenty minutes to reset itself, following a few cycles of the ignition.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth rear

Isn’t it odd that both of my prior reviews of Italian-brand cars — the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the Fiat 124 Spider — noted electrical weirdness in the dash? Especially odd on the 124 Spider, as the infotainment is sourced from Mazda. It’s as if Fiat and Alfa Romeo engineered in some, ahem, “traditional” electrical gremlins to endear the cars to “traditional” enthusiasts.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth rear quarter

The interior space is traditional, too. The car is narrow, thus driver and passenger will likely rub elbows if not shoulders. It’s short, so rear seat passengers (if any) will be cramped. For reference, I’m around 6 feet, 3 inches tall with a 32-inch inseam. My four-foot-nine youngest daughter only fit behind me if she slipped her shoes off and sat cross-legged on the rear bench while loudly complaining. But for a moody tween, complaining loudly is to be expected. The Fiat 500 Abarth is a car best experienced by short people, or by but a pair of larger folk like myself.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth seats

It’s not an ideal family car. It’s loud, a bit brash, and yet not overwhelmingly fast. The Fiat 500 Abarth encourages antisocial behavior, in a user-friendly package. I’m kinda in love with it, if only to hark back to my youth.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth badge

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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36 Comments on “2018 Fiat 500 Abarth Review – Clinging To Hot Hatch Tradition...”


  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    Yes, I remember SCC, in fact I probably have every issue boxed up in my basement. I also love the 500 Abarth, and laugh out loud every time I drive one. I don’t want to spend new car money on one, but used examples are getting pretty darn cheap….hmmm…..

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This car hasn’t changed since 2012 – yet another reason Fiat is dying in the US market.

    As for the Abarth, I think it mostly appeals to people who can’t afford it. And I would guess that people who actually buy one tire of it quickly, and trade it for a song.

    • 0 avatar
      cognoscenti

      Looks like (source: CarGurus) you can pick up a 2012 or 2013 Abarth in the 50k mile range for under $9K now after a little negotiation. If you are willing to accept more miles, you can pick one up down around $6K. That could be a fun car for a summer or two, with manageable depreciation.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      I bought one new off the showroom in 2015 and have been daily driving it since. Fun car but time for something else in the spring, its worth what I owe on it. I also know I am going to miss it when its gone, if I had the space I’d park it in the back of a shop and use it primarily for tearing up twisty back roads in the summer.

      For me it was just bought for sh!ts and giggles and it does that in strides. I could have bought better cars for the same money (Ford ST, WRX etc), but I don’t like cars in that price range, so I bought the fun one that made me laugh.

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        I thought about one for the same reason but it wouldn’t do for a thousand mile day on the interstate. Our Focus SE hatchback is barely adequate for that. An Abarth would be good for tearing around town if we had something bigger, more comfortable and more powerful (e.g. Golf R) for long trips.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Brings back memories of a much loved 2014 500c Abarth. Absolute crazy driver’s car, I loved the handling, acceleration was very enjoyable, and the biggest surprised of all is that the build quality was excellent. Fix It Again Tony is something only brought up by those who absolutely refuse to admit these aren’t 1979 cars anymore.

    So why don’t I still have it? It failed it on the one manner that its predecessor Pontiac Solstice also failed: If it’s a gorgeous sports car kind of day, it’s equally so a motorcycle kind of day, and after the sports or seriously sporting cars, I still much prefer the motorcycles.

    Sold it to do a quick payoff on my new Wing, and will finally accept reality and not bother with another sporting automobile until the black days comes that I can no longer ride a bike.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I don’t know. I had some late 90’s, early oughts FIATS that were piles as well so if they have shed that reputation it happened long after 1979. Besides, people still hold their cousin’s neighbor’s Grandma’s Oldsmobille Diesel from that time period up as evidence that domestics suck so…

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        And by piles I mean walked away from them on the side of the Autostrade and never looked back. In one case I did call the Carabinieri. I felt obliged since it was on fire. This and an utterly clapped out Alfa Romeo I paid 300 bucks for remain the only vehicles I’ve owned that caught on fire. The FIAT was waaaaay newer.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      It sounds like you didn’t have your 500C long and you didn’t drive it much. They still have more problems than pretty much anything else, which is impressive considering their relative simplicity. You’re lucky you managed to unload yours. My friend’s wife was lightly rear-ended in her 500C Abarth with mileage in the teens of thousands of miles. The insurance company wanted to total it, since in their opinion it was worth less than a third of what she paid for it.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I have an irrational desire to own one of these.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I do also. If 2018 hadn’t dealt me several unwanted surprises, I may have pulled the trigger by now… Maybe 2019 will be kinder. We’ll see…

      • 0 avatar
        quickson

        Count me in as well. I keep recounting all its reported flaws and all the reasons why it won’t make any sense to buy one, but every time I think I’m out, it pulls me back in (or I see a video/article review).

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Same here. I’ve driven two and I love the little car. I should have bought the leftover 2014 500c GQ convertible (all the Abarth without the boy-racer style at that time) I drove a few years ago, but I didn’t. I kick myself for that.

      In my travels as a pilot, I found a 500c at a CJDf dealer in truck country. Grigio( a whitish grey) with grey roof and bronze alloys. Handsome little car, it sat for a year (almost two) and then was gone.

      My Golf is a superior car, but it’s not superior in fun.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    Are Fiat’s becoming part of tuner culture? I just picture loud, clapped out 500s in the future like I see loud, clapped out Neons today.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I enjoyed the 500 Abarth. Dollar for dollar however the Fiesta ST just made more sense. I love the exhaust note on these however. To just call the back seat cramped however is misleading. It isn’t really usable (same fault with the Mustang…another car I was considering at the end). If you don’t need a back seat, cool. Of course then a 124 Abarth is an even better option.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      And I thought the 5 speed fit it well. It was fun.

      • 0 avatar
        MoDo

        Just today I had my dad and uncle in the back seat of my Abarth, along with my brother riding shotgun. Its funny, with the added weight the car actually rides better and more stable. It tends to be a bit jumpy with just me in it. I also said it was going to be funny with so many people in it and doubted they would fit, but they did and didn’t complain, I asked how they were “back there” a couple times and they said they were fine. More leg room than a mustang or Camaro.

        Anyone that rode in the backseat of my Talon complained the entire time.

  • avatar
    Gedrven

    Yet another review that doesn’t even mention weight, much less put it at the top where it belongs. That’s an especially glaring absence with something modestly-powered and tossable, where the light weight (1142kg or 2512lb, a feather by 2018 standards) is, from a physical standpoint, the defining essence of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Eh, just google it. I am more interested in the subjective stuff that one can only get from behind the wheel. It isn’t hard to get the raw specs.

      • 0 avatar
        Gedrven

        Could just as well Google a review of the car, or the exact RPM at which it makes peak power.

        I too am more interested in subjective stuff like how it rides (check), handles (check), how quiet it is or isn’t (nope), ergonomics (a little), seat comfort (nope), materials/build quality (nope), and general impressions/opinions that are decently well-written (check). But if we’re listing specs or talking numbers at all, weight should be first and foremost.

        Gearheads have traditionally focussed on peak power and 0-60 times. Those with more nuanced understandings talk more about torque and 1/4 mile times. Apart from track rats and engineers, weight hasn’t been given the attention it deserves. I’m trying to encourage that to change.

      • 0 avatar
        thejohnnycanuck

        Isn’t this an enthusiast’s forum? Curb weight is something car guys (and gals) want to know. Why should they have to go to other sites for such basic information?

        I couldn’t agree more with Gedrven. I’d even go so far as to say it’s inexcusable.

    • 0 avatar
      TDIandThen....

      More support for including the weight, torque and ratios prominently. Subjective driving impressions are good to have but not super-informative if I’m not acquainted with the reviewer’s tastes or other cars used in comparison.

      OTOH if you say this has more torque per pound or does the 0-60-0 test x seconds faster than the GTI…thats extremely useful information to me.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    My buddy has a 500 (out of warranty by time but under 50,000 miles) and apparently there’s a check valve in the fuel filler neck that sticks and you can’t fill the tank…he says this is reported as pretty common. And the dealer fix is a new tank installed for a thousand bucks?

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      That’s a crappy design but I wonder if you could still put gas in with a hand held tank like you use for your lawnmower? Or are you just stuck with a large paperweight when that happens?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Fiat 500 is fun to drive — period.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    I owned my 2013 Abarth cabrio from March of 2015 to June of 2018. Bought brand new as a leftover for $18,200. Put 59k miles on it and sold it to Carmax for $7,500…depreciation was surprisingly not awful since I bought it for cheap. I probably could have gotten another $1k but I am not the one to deal with tire kickers for such this type of car.

    Truly fantastic ownership, not perfect, I did have to replace a passenger rear wheel bearing on my own dime ($100 maybe). The driver side rear wheel bearing slipped right under the factory warranty so that was taken care of.

    I just had a kid so it was time for the car to go along with another toy car. I really miss the car, really the best commuter car I’ve ever had. I just wish it had a bigger fuel tank. Build quality was whatever, it’s an econobox. The important stuff you touch felt good, steering wheel and shifter. Just a riot on wheels with just enough power to keep most people satisfied.

    I recommend owning one.

  • avatar
    threeer

    This car makes me roll down the window every time I have one pass me. That exhaust. I’ve been lured into several test drives just because of that sound. I giggle like a school child. I realize it’s impractical, small, built to a price point, blah, blah…I still love the little thing. Of course, my budget and family situation don’t exactly lean towards me owning one as either a DD or a weekend backroad bomber, but I think the roads are better for this still being around.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Darn you, now I’m going to spend all day perusing the Web for used Abarths. I had just kicked that habit.

    I owned a 2013 I bought new. I ordered it as “base” as possible (no Beats, no leather, no sunroof, even deleted the side stripes for a bit more stealth) and I think the price was just about $22k at the time. I never wanted for any of the options.

    I had it for a couple of years and didn’t experience any warranty repairs at all. I only sold it because my life circumstances required raising two kids with only one car and a cross-country move.

    The car never ceased to make me smile. Frankly, I also found the size pretty useful, the hatch and folding rear seats made trips to Costco easy and my 10 and 5 year olds fit in the back well, albeit with very little space behind them. Of course, as 5’6″ there was a lot more legroom left than for the abnormally tall driver who wrote this article, but that’s the case with any car. The Fiat seemed to have a lot more usable space than the Mini Cooper I compared it with at the time. It reminded me of an modern 1st generation GTI in terms of its size and tossability (with more power and more weight).

    The exhaust tuning was also impressive. Granted, my neighbors hated me when I started it at 6 am but on the freeway it seemed to quiet down with no boominess or resonance. My kids loved it when I drove through a tunnel that marked the entry to our town… the windows always came down.

    My son starts driving in a year and I can’t help but think a used Abarth would be a good car for him. He can’t carry too many friends at once, it’s fuel efficient, he can learn to drive a stick, and he wouldn’t be able to sneak out or in by car without me hearing him.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      We went the other way. My wife wanted the 500 Abarth, but as the person who would be committed to the back seat whenever we drove her mother around, I influenced her to go with the Mini Cooper S. Being in my 60’s, getting in and out of the back of the Fiat was not a fun deal.

      Our Mini is the “truck” of the family – it is what we used to pick up a (small) load of fire wood recently. It has pretty good room in the back.

      It did not hurt that at the time we were able to get the used 2012 Mini for less than the cost of a new 2014 Abarth.

  • avatar
    HelloWorld

    Joining the queue of those who just love this little thing and grin from ear to ear whenever they see and hear (!) one.

    “When I’m grown up, I REALLY wanna be a Ferrari” would be the perfect bumper sticker for this thing. :-)

  • avatar
    jasonmcallister

    It’s a unique car that sounds good, can whip around corners, and feels like a sports car. I paid 9k for for a 2013 with all the options (and some minor upgrades, 48k miles and perfect service record and condition. I’ve had it now for 3 months as a 3rd vehicle for fun that I also occasionally drive to work. 5’11 and reasonable comfortable. I would not go on extended trip with it. Goose it quite a bit. I also have a CBR 1000rr superbike and can honestly say this is just about as fun to drive when the weather is bad, as it is often here in Western Washington.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I had a ’13 from new for exactly two years, then sold it and got an M235i. Still one of the top three cars I have owned that I miss the most. I’d have another one in a heartbeat if I had a place to put it. Zero issues with it, and I can’t even complain much about the depreciation. Cheap fun.

    I drove mine from Maine to DC and back once, but if you are doing a lot of highway driving I will definitely agree the Fiesta ST is the better choice. But the Abarth is way more fun otherwise. Just a silly grin-inducing car.

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