By the way an Abarth fires up, you wouldn’t expect that a car this small can make noise that big. In a standard model Fiat 500, I imagine being pointed and laughed at; in the Abarth, they’ll point, laugh and somehow manage a violent succession of thumbs up as if your name was Skrillex and you had just “dropped the bass”. That’s how shockingly entertaining and fun this car is to drive. In a time when smaller cars are becoming a popular option for younger urbanites, the Italian-bred Fiat 500 Abarth comes in, not only to join the cool crowd, but to step in as peacocking alpha-male—all thanks to the Abarth legacy that helped drive the Fiat brand in its early years. It didn’t hurt that they put out a mega viral Super Bowl commercial featuring the ultra babe-alicious, Catrinel Menghia to help get the promotion going.
The Abarth name is more than just a premium edition 500, however—the name carries an impressive racing legacy thanks to Karl Abarth, the man who helped transform the original 500 into a winner (literally), by developing parts under the Abarth & C division. To spare you any deep details, just know the man has 10,000 individual race victories, 10 world records and 133 international titles to his name—needless to say, tweaking cars to make them perform their best was his mission. Modern-day Fiat uses the Abarth spirit to create this, and we’re sure it would be something he’d be proud of.
Obviously, the Abarth sets itself apart with more aggressive styling cues over the standard model 500—it’s certainly more aerodynamic with a front end that not only looks great, but serves as an aid to the turbocharged MultiAir motor with intakes to draw in plenty of air for intercooler performance and engine cooling. The side profile shows off Abarth-spec graphics and side skirts while the rear bumper completes the look with twin tailpipes. It’s a clear night and day difference between this and a standard 500; like a before and after shot of someone in a Hydroxycut ad. Inside, it’s still a bit cramped for space; you won’t be hauling furniture home from Ikea or more than one extra person in the back seat. The Abarth comes with cool little interior touches, like a boost/shift light combo gauge on the steering column—something you’ll enjoy winding up from one stoplight to the next. And we did, a lot. This car was so fun to drive, it reminded us of a Dodge SRT-4—similar exhaust note (rumbly and almost too loud at times)—yet packaged infinitely sexier. Besides, girls always smile at you if you’re in a Fiat; the SRT-4, you’re lucky if anyone looks at you—without shaking their head.
What can you expect if you’re one who can’t leave a car stock? Fiat has you covered—through its US connection to Mopar, you’ll have access to factory supported performance accessories. If you crave more of a European vibe, you can also opt for the Euro market parts, as demonstrated on Fiat’s one-off Venom 500, which sports Magneti Marelli-edition components, including carbon-fiber body parts, boost controller, Bombardone exhaust and 17” wheels, just to name a few. Parts interchange easily since this model is a global release, and with a little imagination, the right combination of parts, as the Venom 500 shows, even your little Abarth can inch up to the 200hp mark. Not bad for the little guy…
I have a confession to make. I like driving the Fiat Abarth! But I do have my reservations… The few days I took it home, I was getting more attention than most of the modified and new cars I’ve driven. Perhaps the only other experience when I had people turning heads and pointing at me all the time was when I drove a Gallardo. But back to the car, this little Fiat is an attention-getter, especially in white. While it only packs 160hp and 170 lb-ft into a small turbocharged motor, it gets up and around in a hurry. It also sounds bossy with a prominent turbo spool and burbly exhaust note—not intentionally but I set off a few car alarms in a parking structure! Power does die off towards the top-end but perhaps some software upgrades down the line can fix that. The hardest part about loving this car to death is the mere size and design behind it. Most people don’t look at the car and say ‘badass’. It’s ‘cute’ regardless of the Abarth name or not. I’m also not the biggest guy but even for my size, I found the interior to be too tight. In fact, when Jonathan and I sat in the front seats, it felt like we could bump elbows. At the end of the day though, it’s a nice package for its price. If you’re looking for something compact that packs a punch, this is the car for you. - Sam
I have two words to describe the Fiat Abarth... it’s zippy and cute. This car is a total guy magnet. Ha! It did get a lot of attention on the road. I’m not sure if it was because of the loud engine coming out of such a small car or the white-on-white exterior (I could have done without the graphics). The car handled really well, is definitely roomy enough for a couple and maybe a dog in the back seat. - Bernice
That New Car Smell
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
The Sticker Starting from $22,000
Engine 1.4L MultiAir Turbo engine
The Power 160hp at 5,500rpm; 150lb-ft (Normal mode)/170lb-ft at 2,600-4,100rpm (Sport mode)
Layout Front engine, front-wheel-drive
Transmission C510 five-speed manual transmission with 3.35 final-drive ratio
Footwork & Chassis MacPherson front suspension with Abarth-spec lower control arms and KONI shocks; 22mm rear Abarth-spec sway bar
Brakes 11.1" ventilated front rotors with single piston calipers; 9.4" rear disc-brake with single piston caliper
Wheels & Tires 16x6.5" Abarth cast-aluminum wheels with 195/45R16 Pirelli Cinturato P7 all-season tires; optional 17x7" forged-aluminum wheels with 205/40R17 Pirelli P-Zero Nero tires
At the Pump 28 city/34 highway mpg
The Competition Mini Cooper, Smart Car
Deep Thoughts If you’re a believer in “big things come in small packages”, then you’ll be preaching the Fiat 500 Abarth gospel every day of the week. Let the spirit fill you up.