There is absolutely nothing sensible or practical about the Fiat 500 Abarth. It’s too small. It’s too loud. It’s too aggressive. It’s too silly looking. And, none of that matters because it’s also too much fun to drive.
I like the standard Fiat 500, though its size makes it an impractical purchase for me. At 6’3″, with knees rebuilt out of necessity after years of football and boxing, I don’t belong in a car less than 12 feet long. However, I recommend the base 500 to everyone looking for small urban transportation. Sure, they could buy a Yaris, a Spark or a Mazda 2 and be perfectly well served by their choice. But, why not opt for something with a little more flair, a little style and a lot of playfulness? That’s the Fiat 500.
Of course, the straight up 500 is not the most masculine of vehicles. It has a little “Barbie Malibu Dream Car” vibe to it. It also isn’t known for its overall performance. It’s a tiny car intended to get two people (They say four, but who are we kidding?) in and out of traffic around city streets and into tight parking spaces. Otherwise, the car’s speed and handling are limited.
That’s why the Abarth version drives onto the scene. This variation comes out of the Abarth shop tuned for higher performance. It has the same basic engine (1.4 liter, 16 valve), but the Abarth folks turbocharge it to 160 horsepower. They also drop in a tight manual gearbox and a loud, angry, spitting exhaust system that leaves the little car barking like a rally racer. In fact, the 500 Abarth is so like a classic rally racing setup that I remain mystified as to why the car (or at least the body frame of the car) isn’t well represented on international rally circuits or at touring car race events.
I ran the 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth around for a week recently, and I can report the car is much the same as previous modern incarnations. It’s endlessly zippy thanks to the extra charge Abarth pumps into the Fiat 500 engine. Its tightened up suspension and frame allow it to bite off corners and whip in and around traffic — keeping you away and out ahead of the other drivers as they wonder what the hell is under the hood of that little buzz bomb that just blew by them.
The real treat of driving this silly little hatchback is the wonderful, impudent exhaust note. It grumbles loudly on startup and — when you set it up in Sport Mode with a tough of a button — yowls a little louder with each subsequent shift. If you manage to run up the revs and really push it before shifting, the Fiat 500 Abarth will give you a mini backfire explosion — just like its bigger, meaner, real life rally racers do on the track. It’s a bang just big enough to frighten dogs and children while making the cruel driver chuckle with delight.
Inside, the Abarth trim offers a boosted stereo system with Alpine speakers. There’s also AM/FM/Satellite, power everything, cruise control, phone connectivity and the other little bangs and whistles a $22,3945 (starting) hatchback needs.
The styling of the Abarth version uses the same body frame as the standard 500, but adds racing stripes and special badges. My test version even had a giant scorpion painted on the roof. Isn’t that silly and immature? Yes. Thank the car gods. We need more silly and immature in the car world.