Vital Stats

Engine:
1.4L Turbo I4
Power:
160 HP / 170 LB-FT
Transmission:
5-Speed Manual
0-60 Time:
7.2 Seconds
Top Speed:
130 MPH
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,533 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
34.7 CU-FT (max)
MPG:
28 City / 34 HWY
Perfectly Imperfect Pint-Sized Pocket Rocket



You can learn a lot about a car by the way it sounds. Fire up a Lexus LS and you'll hear practically nothing. Rev the snot out of a BMW M3 and your ears will be beaten by high-pitched traces of Formula One; do the same with a Dodge Challenger SRT8 and you'll be taken back to 1970 with a low, burbling rumble.

Bear in mind that all of these machines mentioned are powered by V8 engines, long the bastion of beastly automotive soundtracks. Clearly, each car's designers tuned all eight cylinders, their assorted valves, camshafts and exhaust tracts, to produce a specific sound, and to good effect.

Imagine our surprise, then, when the ignition clicked in our tiny 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth and an aural symphony not unlike a Dremel shredding a Fender Stratocaster into tiny little specks of bass and treble emerged. And it makes all this sweet-sounding music with just 1.4-liters of displacement from its four turbocharged cylinders.

We had a feeling this was going to be fun.
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth side view2012 Fiat 500 Abarth front view2012 Fiat 500 Abarth rear view

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's talk style. As befitting an icon from Italy – and nevermind that Catrinel Menghia, the ridiculously beautiful model forever linked to the 500, is from Romania – the Fiat 500 Abarth is a shapely beast. Where the standard 500 could best be described as cute, the Scorpion-badged Abarth model is significantly more menacing... though it's still a bit cute, sort of like an oddly cuddly miniature pitbull puppy.

While the standard 500 is available in a wide range of pastel hues, the Abarth is offered only in white, gray, black or red.

The Abarth sits 15 millimeters closer to the ground, and our tester's wheel arches were filled with 17-inch, 12-spoke wheels wrapped in 205/40-series Pirelli PZero Nero tires. This rolling stock gives the car an aggressive stance that's appropriate for a hot hatchback from Europe. The front fascia sits a few inches further into space than on lesser 500s, due to the turbocharged engine beating underhood. Large ducts feed air into the engine bay, and the sporty effect is carried through to the rear via a large spoiler.

While the standard 500 is available in a wide range of pastel hues, the Abarth is offered only in white, gray, black or red. Further customization is provided by optional gloss white or black wheels. Along that same limited color pallet, mirror caps and body-side stripes (the latter of which are optional) are offered in black, white or red. The somewhat monochromatic look is carried inside with either cloth or leather in – you guessed it – black and red.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth logo2012 Fiat 500 Abarth headlight2012 Fiat 500 Abarth wheel2012 Fiat 500 Abarth graphics

The seating position and relationship between the pedals, shifter and steering wheel is a little bit odd in the 500.

Inside, there's a combination digital/analog gauge cluster directly in front of the driver that includes a large circular speedometer in the center. Off to the driver's left is another round gauge that houses the tachometer. In comparison to the Mini Cooper, another small and stylish hatchback that will surely be cross-shopped with the Abarth, the 500's interior isn't nearly as stylized and unique, but it is at least ergonomically functional. Interior plastics and switchgear remind the driver that the Abarth is based on an inexpensive platform, though important touch points like the steering wheel and shifter lend a more upscale feel.

The seating position and relationship between the pedals, shifter and steering wheel is a little bit odd in the 500, putting the driver into a posture akin to that of a kitchen chair. The Abarth is no different. Some of our staff has found the interior positioning problematic; others cope with it easily. Your mileage may vary.

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It makes lovely music, as you can hear in our Short Cut video.

Now, finally, it's time to twist that key. Then turn it off. And then turn it back on again. Yep, sounds great. Blip the throttle; the little MultiAir engine sounds mean as it spits out 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, good for a 0-60 run of 7.2 seconds. And you'll only get the full 170 lb-ft if you remember to hit the Sport button, which, assuming you bought the Abarth on purpose and not just because you thought the Scorpion badges were cool, you'll want to do every time you drive the car. In Normal mode, the engine is tuned to put out 150 lb-ft. In either case, it makes lovely music, as you can hear in our Short Cut video above.

A 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds is not particularly quick these days, but at least it gives you some extra time to enjoy the sound. The four-wheel disc brakes easily stopped the 2,500-pound car in every situation we found ourselves in, with adequate control and easily modulated power.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth engine

It's more comfortable than we expected based on its overtly sporty intentions.

Putting the car in Sport mode further benefits the driver with tighter steering and throttle response. The Abarth's short wheelbase, somewhat stiff suspension and tiny tire sidewalls combine to make the car a bit twitchy whether in Sport mode or not, but we certainly prefer a little dartiness in place of any hint of wallow. We also love the fact that the Abarth is so easy to rotate using a little steering input along with the gas and brake pedals – sometimes it feels like the car is getting squirrely, but it's always controllable. And even better, it's fun.

But the Abarth's lively demeanor doesn't equal a harsh ride. Nobody outside of a tank operator would describe it as plush, but it's more comfortable than we expected based on its overtly sporty intentions.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth interior2012 Fiat 500 Abarth shift light2012 Fiat 500 Abarth navigation system2012 Fiat 500 Abarth sport button

One solid knock against the Abarth is its decidedly old-fashioned five-speed manual gearbox.

One solid knock against the Abarth is its decidedly old-fashioned five-speed manual gearbox. Not only is it missing the sixth gear that each and every one of its natural competitors boast, it also doesn't have particularly short throws (despite apparently being fitted with a short-throw kit) and doesn't slink into gear the way we'd like. It's not a difficult or malcontent shifter, it's just not crisp.

Similarly, the steering feel of the 500 Abarth could use some work. It's a bit numb and doesn't deliver much in the way of feedback to the driver. At 15.1:1, the Abarth has a 10-percent quicker steering ratio (16.3:1 in the 500 Sport) than lesser 500s, and the wheel itself is a nice piece, which is good, because we found ourselves making constant corrections to keep on our intended path.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth rear 3/4 view

It's so full of character that the things it gets wrong sort of become endearing.

Fuel mileage is decent, as well. The EPA estimates that the 500 Abarth will manage 28 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway. We found that it's not terribly difficult to achieve those figures, so long as you don't constantly blip the throttle and run the engine to redline. Of course, that's a good portion of the pleasure of driving the Abarth to begin with. And it really is a hoot – in fact, perhaps it's the most fun you can have for $22,000 (plus $700 for destination). That's about $4,000 less than a comparable Mini Cooper S, though it's very easy to push the price of both European hatchbacks considerably higher. Our test car wore a sticker of $26,700 and included a sunroof, leather seats and a tacky aftermarket TomTom GPS system that plugs into a receptacle in the dash. We'd pass on the navigation and opt for a smartphone.

Almost every aspect of the Abarth is flawed – from the steering to the shifting and everything in between – and yet running the Fiat 500 Abarth up through the gears is one of the more oddly pleasurable events in the automotive realm. It's quick and nimble, as you would expect, but it's also so full of character that the things it gets wrong sort of become endearing. If its offbeat seating position doesn't immediately knock it out of contention for your hard-earned dollars, the 500 Abarth is an extremely fun car to drive, almost in spite of itself. Plus, for the autophile audiophiles among us, it's price-per-decibel ratio is simply unmatched.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 113 Comments
      Dean
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have a 500 Lounge and Jeremy's comment, "It's so full of character that the things it gets wrong sort of become endearing." is spot-on for any Fiat 500. An Abarth makes no sense for me in NYC, but the driving position, vague steering, buzzy engine, etc are still true for my car. After a week or two I was in amore with my Fee Yacht!
      Fidgell
      • 2 Years Ago
      Youve failed again.... 1.6 liter engine??? Laziest of lazy journos will get THAT bit right!
      The Tourmaster
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Off to the driver's left is another round gauge that houses the tachometer." Please correct this. To the left is a boost gauge. How can the writer miss something so obvious and important? How did the proof-reader miss this?
      Nick
      • 2 Years Ago
      This car's sound at idle is unmistakably evocative of the neon and caliber SRT-4 engine's, especially at idle. I wonder if this was done purposely....
      derekwilkinson
      • 2 Years Ago
      For the price, you can get something faster and with better build quality. This car makes no sense at all.
        Quen47
        • 2 Years Ago
        @derekwilkinson
        If we took emotions out of our automotive purchases and bought on pure logic we would all be driving Camcords.
        lasertekk
        • 2 Years Ago
        @derekwilkinson
        Nothing wrong with build quality. See German ADAC report where the 500 beat the homegrown products.
        Stirling Matheson
        • 2 Years Ago
        @derekwilkinson
        I've driven all of those faster cars, and the Abarth is the most fun. It's like the Subaru BRZ. You're not going to win races but you will have a big goofy grin on your face.
        patoseba
        • 2 Years Ago
        @derekwilkinson
        because, of course, an euro-sized citycar with 160 horsepower should make a lot of sense.
        johnnythemoney
        • 2 Years Ago
        @derekwilkinson
        While it's definitely not cheaper, I'd argue its being slower or not being well assembled. It's also smaller and lighter than many other cars, so it's simpler to get it around town, sharper on the twists, and easier on gas. Price is mainly a matter of what people are willing to pay for it, rather than what its real cost is, and that's true for everything but even more for "cool" objects and cars. Quality? I have seen quite a few Minis not ageing up well, and while that doesn't apply to all Minis at all, it's true for all cars in the world. The 500 is on sale in Europe since 2007, they have yet to start to fall apart.
          Shiftright
          • 2 Years Ago
          @johnnythemoney
          Every Fiat iI've seen up close seems very well finished and put together, and is very well equipped for its price. Minis are not exactly the bastion of durability. All the interior aluminum paint finishes are welll worn off on just about everyone I've seen older than 3 years.
          icbmdud
          • 1 Year Ago
          @johnnythemoney
          i totally agree with this, thank you!!
      prighello
      • 2 Years Ago
      You fanboys or Fiat plants need to piss off and quit down voting every comment with a whit of criticism. People are entitled to their opinions and just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean the other person is wrong. IMO, this car isn’t much of a performance car for $26K.
        ZenDriver
        • 2 Years Ago
        @prighello
        Pipe down prik hello.
        aatbloke1967
        • 2 Years Ago
        @prighello
        Prig hello, comments such as "not a sports car for the money" and the likes are usually the words of someone yet to even reach the legal driving age.
        Gordon Chen
        • 2 Years Ago
        @prighello
        You think anyone who doesn't agree with you or laugh at your jokes is a Fiat plant. The sad cold truth is you're just too close minded. And unfunny.
      Classic_Engr
      • 2 Years Ago
      People don't get Fiat 500 ("Cinquecento") until they start driving it. First there's the start-up. Hmm, nice. Then you hit the gas and a small grin forms on your face. Then you shift and press harder on the accelerator and the smile gets bigger. Then you reach your first turn, cut the wheel, and back on the gas. Your smile turns into a devilish grin. You hit redline, shift, and take the next curve even faster. Repeat. Now you start laughing. You can't believe how much fun this little car is! You arrive at your destination with a silly s* it-eating grin on your face you just can't wipe off. Your friends look at you and wonder, what did you just get away with? It's that much fun.
      Wetstuff
      • 2 Years Ago
      Another Beetle Face. Derek.. I don't get it either?! Little Tikes car - no matter how much Anibol you feed it. Jim
      protovici
      • 2 Years Ago
      Cool car, Ugly price.
        Shiftright
        • 2 Years Ago
        @protovici
        Look at how it's equipped and you'll realize it's well priced. What else can you get for $22k that's this much fun and characterful? It's also way cheaper than any comparably equipped Mini and has a better, less toy like and fussy interior.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Shiftright
          [blocked]
          protovici
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Shiftright
          How its equipped?? Really?! Think of how small this car is. Material cost alone have got to be much cheaper then what a $26K. Ford and Honda for example produce better vehicles for $26K. Itialian names dont always need to be so expensive!.
          EXP Jawa
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Shiftright
          I think you'd be surprised how little "material cost" actually deviates between, say, an A-segment car and a C-segment one. When you consider the sheer quantities of scale that are being dealt with in automotive production, the material that goes into a little body shell or more moderately sized one are minor. For that reason, it doesn't really cost much less to build said little car compared to the moderately sized one. They both still have to contain all the same basic components and complexities - and those are what drive most of the cost. To think different is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of automobile manufacturing. That's why something like, oh, a Camaro or Mustang have base model versions in the low twenties and high end models in the high fifties. The actual basic material cost is relatively cheap. The content that's added to it (and the volume in which that content is produced) dictates the cost of the assembly. You see the same thing in all sorts of consumer products. Bicycles are another good example,
          aatbloke1967
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Shiftright
          Can't get past the old American "price should equate to the amount of pig iron" syndrome can you?
      Phontsolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      People keep bringing up the Fiat has bad quality. Like's it's the 80's again. What are you talking about? Fiat's quality is as good any anyone's now a days. People just talking out of there asses.
        reattadudes
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Phontsolo
        quality issues? as a 500 owner myself and having 15,000 miles on the clock, perhaps you should ASK a 500 owner, or better yet, go by the service department at a FIAT dealer. the only time mine ever sees the service department is for oil changes. the service manager says they'd starve to death depending on warranty work on 500s. mine has had ZERO problems (nothing), and I've never talked to a single 500 owner that has had problems of any kind.
      aatbloke1967
      • 2 Years Ago
      You buy an Abarth for one reason only ... because it's an Abarth. It's almost a spiritual purchase. A must for any automotive collection.
      desinerd1
      • 2 Years Ago
      Please tell me this is a joke. $26000 for this, just because it makes a certain noise?
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