After a hiatus of almost 30 years, Fiat has come back to Canada with the newly redesigned 500. However this is no ordinary Fiat 500, this is the “exhilarating” and “whiplash inducing” Abarth version… or at least that’s what the brochure says. Is it true or is Fiat trying to hype up something that shouldn’t be hyped up? Read on…
Performance – On paper the performance figures are not very exhilarating to look at. A 1.4L turbocharged engine producing 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque is what powers this little car and the keyword being is little. The curb weight of the Abarth is just over 1000kg so the low horsepower figure doesn’t seem that low in a relatively light weight car. The tiny turbocharger spools up very quickly and gives you all of the 170 lb-ft of torque at just 2500 rpms. Obviously the acceleration is not as quick as other sports cars or hot hatches at almost 7 seconds to 100km/h, but there is a sense of drama and theater as you see the turbo boost gauge jump to 20+psi and the speedometer needle trying to catch the tachometer needle. Further adding to the excitement is the exhaust note of the engine which sounds like a Maserati or a Lamborghini as it slowly accelerates from a stop. Another plus for the Abarth is the gearbox, manual gearbox that is. It seems like the manual is well on its way into the history pages but it’s nice to see that Fiat didn’t opt for a dual-clutch or automatic transmission in this 500 because the 5-speed manual is a lot of fun and adds to the excitement.
When the roads get twisty, the Abarth drives somewhat like a traditional hot hatch. On corner entry the tires squeal for mercy but on the way out the clever limited slip differential sends the engine’s power to the wheel that has the most grip which allows for quick exits from corners. The feel of the tires through the steering wheel is very good considering the 500 has electro-assisted steering which in most cases can make the steering feel numb and unconnected to the wheels in the front. All in all I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun and excitement the little Abarth could deliver despite its compact size and underwhelming power figures.
Comfort – The interior cabin is typical Italian with red stitching all over the seats, dash, and steering wheel. The instrument cluster has to be one of the most intricate and complex designs I have ever seen. As mentioned before, the outer ring houses the speedometer then comes the tachometer and in the center is a digital display for fuel, coolant temperature, and other relevant information.
The interior space is quite good despite the car’s exterior size. There is just enough room for taller adults in the front seats and there is ample room for children in the back two seats. There is also a little bit of trunk space, with the rear seats in the up position, for a couple of small bags. It may not sound like much but it’s better than what the Mini Cooper can offer which is no trunk space with the rear seats up. On the down side, visibility when shoulder checking is pitiful and I’m told that head room is severely compromised if you opt for a sunroof.
Odds and Ends – The theme of “drama and theater” is clearly visible on the exterior of this Abarth. It seems as though there are Abarth Scorpion decals on nearly every body panel and the bright red painted brake calipers stand out like caged animals behind the dark grey 17” wheels. There are also a few details that can be easily overlooked such as the “500” engraved in the headlight housing or the rear diffuser.
The standard Fiat 500 has a stereotype of being a cutesy girly chicks car but the Abarth version is anything but that. The Abarth is a snarling, fun, and exciting hot hatch for only $22,000 CAD and that makes it one of the bargain cars of the year.
Thank you to the owner for the test drive and if you have an interesting car or motorcycle that you’d like to see reviewed and photographed, contact me via the Contacts page.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.