Vital Stats

Engine:
Turbo 1.4L I4
Power:
135 HP / 150 LB-FT
Transmission:
5-Speed Manual
0-60 Time:
8.1 Seconds (est.)
Top Speed:
130 MPH
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,477 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
9.5 CU-FT
MPG:
28 City / 34 HWY
Base Price:
$19,500
As Tested Price:
$22,350
Diet Abarth



Try as I might, I just can't bring myself to stick to a routine of drinking diet soda. Nevermind the fact that I'm trying to cut soda out of my life altogether – every now and then, I just want the high-octane stuff, and diet simply won't do. If I'm already going to subject myself to the sweeteners and caffeine, I'm going to take the calories that go along with it.

Some people feel the same way about cars (go big or go home!), but I'm not one of them – I often see the merit in less-potent machines that automakers offer. For example, while I simply adored the Mini John Cooper Works GP that I recently tested, I still said I'd rather have a Cooper S Hardtop every day. And while the Ford Focus ST may have been crowned the winner in my hot hatch comparison test from last year, my experience in the Fiesta ST a couple of months ago reminded me yet again that less can indeed be more.

So when Fiat introduced this 500 Turbo – a sort of Diet Abarth – I was prepared for the possibility of similar conclusions. But with the range-topping Abarth proving to be an incredibly delicious concoction, would this tall glass of diet quench my thirst just the same?
2013 Fiat 500 Turbo side view2013 Fiat 500 Turbo front view2013 Fiat 500 Turbo rear view

The 500 Turbo is far closer to the Abarth than it is to the standard 500 when you look at the numbers.

Our friends in Europe have been able to buy the 500 Turbo for a few years now... because it's called the Abarth in the Old Country. That's right, the standard European-spec Fiat 500 Abarth is pretty much the same thing that we get in the States with a Turbo badge (or, rather, without any badges). Our Abarth, on the other hand, is better known elsewhere as the 595 Turismo or 595 Competizione.

It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that the 500 Turbo is far closer to the Abarth than it is to the standard 500 when you look at the numbers. Under the hood is the same 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, tuned here to deliver 135 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 150 pound-feet of torque from 2,500 to 4,000 rpm. These numbers fall short of the Abarth by 25 hp and 20 lb-ft (assuming you've pressed the Sport button in the Abarth, that is – in standard tune, it produces the exact same 150 lb-ft), but represent increases of 34 hp and 52 lb-ft over the naturally aspirated 500 hatchback. Likewise, on-paper performance puts the Turbo more on the Abarth side of the spectrum. Hitting 60 miles per hour takes 8.1 seconds in the Turbo, compared to 6.9 seconds in the Abarth and nearly ten seconds in the base car.

2013 Fiat 500 Turbo engine

Like the Abarth, the Turbo is only available with this do-it-yourself shifter.

Visually, the Turbo falls somewhere in the middle, looking like a slightly more steroid-enhanced version of the non-turbo Sport trim. The hatchback's front fascia has been extended by 2.7 inches to accommodate the larger turbocharged engine, and larger air intakes, smoked headlamps and repositioned foglamps are all visual cues to the car's more performance-oriented demeanor. Along the sides, the Sport's 16-inch alloy wheels remain intact, wrapped in 195/45R16 Pirelli Cinturato P7 tires, hiding larger brakes (11.1 inches in front and 9.4 inches out back – an increase of one inch up front, but exactly the same as the standard 500 at the rear. Calipers get red paint, too). Speaking of the rear, the Abarth's dual exhaust has been ditched in favor of a single outlet here on the Turbo, though the more pronounced diffuser remains, as does the Sport's smaller hatch-topping spoiler.

Stepping inside, however, reveals an interior that's very much devoid of Abarth-ness. You don't get the beefier, flat-bottomed steering wheel of the Scorpion, and you don't get the more supportive sport seats with their fixed headrests. Instead, everything is nearly the same as what's offered on the Sport – the only performance cue is the larger five-speed manual shift knob that's found in the most potent of these little Italians. And like the Abarth, the Turbo is only available with this do-it-yourself shifter.

2013 Fiat 500 Turbo headlight2013 Fiat 500 Turbo grille2013 Fiat 500 Turbo wheel2013 Fiat 500 Turbo exhaust tip

The Turbo uses the same engine as the Abarth, just detuned slightly in terms of horsepower.

All of my original complaints about the 500 haven't changed here in the Turbo – the seating position is too high (and while this could largely be due to the fact that I'm on the shorter side, I simply cannot find a comfortable driving position), the materials used throughout the cabin are hardly premium, and all of the switchgear is merely a reminder of the fact that the 500 is, essentially, a six-year-old car.

Again, the Turbo uses the same engine as the Abarth, just detuned slightly in terms of horsepower. But because the torque number is the same as the Abarth when it isn't in Sport mode, you don't really notice a huge loss in low-end power for off-the-line acceleration. When I drove the Abarth last year, I basically never took it out of Sport mode, meaning I had the full 170 pound-feet of twist on hand at all times, but here in the Turbo, less grunt at the low end means there's less torque steer to manage, and when the full torque thrust hits, it's not as sudden.

There isn't a huge weight difference between the Turbo and the Abarth, either. The former weighs a sprightly 2,477 pounds, and the latter only adds 35 pounds to that. To boot, both cars have the exact same fuel economy rating – 28 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

2013 Fiat 500 Turbo interior2013 Fiat 500 Turbo front seats2013 Fiat 500 Turbo rear seats2013 Fiat 500 Turbo rear cargo area

Rev the engine on the Turbo and you can still hear plenty of Abarth aural cues.

What you lose in the Turbo model is the sort of hilarious fun that comes with the full-on Scorpion package. Many drivers will likely appreciate the more linear, better-balanced demeanor of the Turbo, but it just doesn't pull on the heart strings the way the Abarth does. That seriously sinister exhaust burble from the Abarth doesn't completely carry over, largely thanks to the single exhaust versus the more powerful car's dual pipes, but the low, grumbly tones are still there. Rev the engine on the Turbo and you can still hear plenty of Abarth aural cues, it just sort of sounds like the soundtrack is being smothered by a large pillow.

Compared to the standard 500, the Turbo's sport-tuned suspension is fitted with larger CV joints that provide a 53-percent improvement in overall torsional strength, meaning the car is better set up to handle the added power of the turbocharged MultiAir engine. On the road, the same bouncy characteristics of the short-wheelbase 500 are still present, but the added oomph is fun. As a daily driver, I can see why folks would appreciate the softer dynamics of the Turbo compared to the Abarth, but from where I sit, it simply feels like a quicker version of the cute little hatch rather than a detuned version of big brother Abarth.

2013 Fiat 500 Turbo steering wheel2013 Fiat 500 Turbo shifter2013 Fiat 500 Turbo sport button

Those looking for something to stand toe-to-toe with a Mini Cooper S will be disappointed.

Once again, my complaints with the Turbo are exactly the same as they are in the Abarth. Simply put, the steering feel isn't as direct and go-kart-like as you'd expect in a package this small, and the use of the five-speed manual transmission isn't as engaging as it should be. The action of the clutch pedal is light and linear with a clear engagement point, and the brakes work well with solid feel, but those looking for something to stand toe-to-toe with a Mini Cooper S will be disappointed, much like I was with the Abarth compared to a John Cooper Works (though the Fiat's seriously lower price point softens that blow quite a bit). And then there's the tippy feeling instilled by the aforementioned too-tall seats.

The Turbo model starts at $19,500 – a $900 increase over the Sport – and my tester was packed with optional goodies like the $650 comfort and convenience group (automatic air conditioning, heated front seats, satellite radio) as well as the $1,500 Beats by Dr. Dre audio system (that sounds awesome in such a little car, by the way). All in, that's just $22,350 – $1,800 less than a similarly equipped Abarth. And if you want the extra goodies that really make the Abarth an Abarth (larger 17-inch wheels and sport seats), you're looking at $26,550, or a $4,200 increase over the Turbo I drove.

2013 Fiat 500 Turbo rear 3/4 view

Those looking for a properly quick Fiat will find the Abarth a charming little package – I love it endlessly, despite its considerable flaws. This softer Turbo model is still a pleasant little thing to drive, but just doesn't get you as emotionally involved in the whole driving process as the sportier, louder, faster, quicker 500.

If I were shopping 500s, the bang-for-the-buck budgeter inside me knows that the Turbo still provides lots of thrills for a cheaper price – like how I know that diet soda can be just as tasty without all those love-handle-inflating calories. But every time I drove the 500 Turbo, I just kept wanting more. And that full-strength Abarth formula was exactly what I craved.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 76 Comments
      Rob
      • 1 Year Ago
      Polarizing style, mediocre fuel economy and so so performance even though it weighs under 2500 lbs and $22,000? So many better choices out there
        Brewman15
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rob
        I know! You can get a 4000 lb Camaro for just an extra grand! That\'s a much better pound per dollar option.
          dohc73
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Brewman15
          And get better MPG's too. Which makes you wonder what Fiat is doing wrong with only 2500lbs to contend with.
          Brewman15
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Brewman15
          How does the Camaro get better fuel mileage? Chevy\'s website shows the best mileage Camaro as the 2LS with comes with a pathetic 2.92 axle ratio and mandatory automatic transmission that gets 19 city 30 hwy. the Fiat 500 Turbo is rated at 28 city and 34 hwy.
      Rob
      • 1 Year Ago
      Polarizing styling inside and outside, medicore fuel economy with so so performance in a sub 2500lb car and $22,000? So many better choices out there
      Scooter
      • 1 Year Ago
      Im really not liking this new wave of cars touting "TURBO" when they give performance specs of base Camry. Seems like Fiats 500 is a Mini chaser, but your only ever getting 1/3 performance. In the way of small cheap cars your always hearing "Fun to drive", I don't see how this is more fun than a Hyundai Accent?
        drew
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Scooter
        The TURBO labeling is for differentiation within the product line. Any baggage you bring to the party is your own problem.
        superchan7
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Scooter
        I mean, it says "Turbo" because the engine has a Turbo. It didn't really say "more-hp-than-a-Camry," so I'm not sure where the problem is.
          Scooter
          • 1 Year Ago
          @superchan7
          Ok so, I work out daily and I'm a slim toned guy, based on your logic, I can run out now and start calling myself a "body builder" technically I am right? Do you not know that words can have subliminal context associated with them? Turbo is a word in the auto industry that is typically boastful and is placed on monikers to invoke ideas of performance and speed. Technically the Fiat does have a turbo, but it also has 4 tires. Should it be called the Fiat Turbo Quad Tire too? So maybe call it, Fiat 500 W-Turbo, the "w" meaning worthless, since in all technical aspects it DOES have a turbo, but its a crappy slow car for something boasting turbo in its name.
      MacProMan
      • 1 Year Ago
      still cheaply made imo, many better cars out there that get better than 3 star crash test ratings- ouch
        Matt
        • 1 Year Ago
        @MacProMan
        It got 5 stars in Europe, do you know why it got 3 in the US? Because the US is the only country that tests crash safety for occupants not wearing a seat belt. I can't think of a good reason why they test for the idiot who decides not to where their seat belts especially when people like you claim it's not safe due to some procedure that makes no sense.
          over9000
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Matt
          Well if its safe for occupants without a seatbelt, then imagine how much safer it is with one, idiot
          mybora99
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Matt
          I think it makes complete sense to test with a Murphy's Law approach. At least the US is taking full responsibility for their drivers regardless of how stupid they may or may not be, but to turn a blind eye and assume everyone in your country will follow a required law that can really only be stated in black and white is not a good example of a country doing it correctly.
        Rayman
        • 1 Year Ago
        @MacProMan
        Ya, I know what you mean. I must get in two or three accidents a day. Not! I buy my cars to drive and enjoy and if I die so be it, it beats the hell out of dying from cancer!
        theautojunkie
        • 1 Year Ago
        @MacProMan
        ....think of it as a motorcycle with crush panels....
      RetrogradE
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is radio-control, right?
      username
      • 1 Year Ago
      I own a non turbo "Pop" spec and have driven every car in Fiat's range this review is spot on and pretty much exactly what I would have written the "T" is great but you'd kick yourself for not saving a couple extra dollars for full on scorpion "Why don't you have an Abarth then?" well I'm not made of money...
      Justin Campanale
      • 1 Year Ago
      Anyone who has actually driven these types of cars (A and B segment) knows that their EPA estimates are on the conservative side. Short and stubby cars (not very aerodynaimc) will always do worse on EPA tests than they do in real life, which is the opposite with larger cars.
      Basil Exposition
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Like the Abarth, the Turbo is only available with this do-it-yourself shifter" Respect.
        superchan7
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Basil Exposition
        The Turbo, being a more mainstream model, ought to sell in larger numbers and do better for Fiatsler if an Auto were offered. Enthusiasts can always brag that the proper Abarth is still a real shifter.
      ferps
      • 1 Year Ago
      I can't see the point in not spending a bit more for the Abarth. I'm not really sure why they made this model, especially considering that it is also stick shift. That's a pretty small market.
        superchan7
        • 1 Year Ago
        @ferps
        Keep the Abarth stick, but this Turbo really needs an auto option to sell in the US.
      bsetrader1
      • 1 Year Ago
      Want a 4 seat European designed inexpensive car with decent gas mileage? Get the Ford Focus ST(New RS) for just $1500 more. Lets see, the same gas mileage, 4 doors and 4 real seats, +100 HP, 6 speed manual instead of 5 speed, better handling, and about the same interior quality. I cannot imagine why anyone would want a Fiat other than being an admirer of Mussolini (Just kidding).
        48Chevy
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bsetrader1
        I'd much rather have the Fiat. Nothing about it says "family car in fancy dress", though, I do admit the Escort is a fine drive.
        Quen47
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bsetrader1
        Or maybe they live in a city with limited street parking (NYC, SF, Chicago, Seattle, DC to name a few) and the 3 foot difference in length between a Focus and a 500 is hugely important. I live in SF and I see 500's all over the place, and for good reason.
        IBx27
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bsetrader1
        The Focus ST is more like $28k if you get the ST2 with Recaros. The two cars have completely different personalities; e ST is incredible to drive but very cold in its emotional connection.
        gtv4rudy
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bsetrader1
        "I cannot imagine why anyone would want a Fiat other than being an admirer of Mussolini (Just kidding)." Adolf Hitler admirers buy VWs and Bimmers too. (Just kidding)
        Krazeecain
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bsetrader1
        I whole-heartedly disagree about the interior quality. I drove a ford focus not too long ago and the interior quality was absolutely horrid, and it had the worst steering wheel I've ever felt. The Fiat's interior may be on the cheaper side, but it's certainly MUCH better than the Ford's. I'm also a bit confused by your pricing claims. Here in Canada the Fiat 500 turbo starts at $17500. Whereas the Focus ST starts at $30k... The price difference is closer to $15000 rather than $1500!
          Krazeecain
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Krazeecain
          Holy crap, just looked up focus ST on the US site, and it's only $23700?! Why is there a $6k+ price difference here in Canada? I know some cars are more expensive here but geez... that's insane. (Still quite a bit more than a "$1500" price difference though.)
      Ducman69
      • 1 Year Ago
      Really, I fail to understand why a vehicle THIS small with THIS mediocre of performance is not getting at least 4MPG higher fuel economy. And far smarter than this tiny "in between" niche model would have been to offer a turbo-diesel varient with around 50mpg highway.
        reattadudes
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Ducman69
        I've owned my manual transmission, non-turbo, FIAT 500 Pop for almost two years, and my dead AVERAGE economy for my entire ownership sits right at 42.8 MPG. that ownership covers just under 50,000 miles. the lowest I've ever seen was in mountain driving, where it dropped to 38.9 MPG. the highest was on a long trip, and I hit 50.7 MPG. those figures are for normal driving at legal speed limits, without any silly hypermiling, like driving 53 MPH, or drafting big rigs. I have eight vehicles in my garage, and my FIAT sits right next to a 2010 toxic orange Viper convertible. when you leave out the ego stroke the Viper provides the few times I drive it, the FIAT is just as fun. it never ceases to put a smile on my face when I drive it, and I always feel like a 16 year old kid who's taking his first solo drive, right after he got his license. love it, love it, love it!
          TMoody
          • 1 Year Ago
          @reattadudes
          Do you measure at the pump or with an OBC? The latter always overstates mileage, sometimes by quite a bit.
        Quen47
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Ducman69
        Axiomatik is right on. There is a law of diminishing returns with small cars on fuel economy, especially with freeway driving. That said, EPA test procedures are absurd and bear no relevance to the way people actually drive, so maybe that plays a role as well.
        Lab Rat
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Ducman69
        Ya know, I agree. There are cars that weigh WAY more with 2.0L NAs that get better mileage.
      S40Powered
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hot little thing.
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