They're pretty darn similar. And yet our views are oh so different.

If you guys could read the transcripts of our editors' chat room, you'd know that we're a pretty argumentative bunch. It's always good-spirited stuff (well, usually), but when we're not obsessively covering this or that, we're usually fighting about one car being better than another. We're all enthusiasts here, and our automotive tastes run the gamut from the weird and unusual to the decidedly mainstream – we all feel strongly about specific cars in a given segment. While it usually makes for good conversation, if we're passionate enough, it can turn into a tomato-throwing showdown.

I'm pretty well-known 'round these parts as the hot hatch guy, and anyone who's listened to the Autoblog Podcast recently has heard me rave about lovely little turbo cars like the Volkswagen GTI or Ford Fiesta ST, specifically. But I'm not the only one with a burning desire for some functional, affordable performance goodness – every one of us can find a hot hatch or two to really get behind.

In that spirit, we're kicking off our new This Or That segment with a discussion about my favorite class of car. For my money and thrills, nothing beats the Ford Fiesta ST. But ask managing editor Jeremy Korzeniewski the same question, and he'll cast a vote for the Fiat 500 Abarth. I think he's dead wrong, of course, but on the contrary, Jeremy scoffs at the level of my love for Ford's pint-sized puncher.

So, who's right? Read through our arguments below, vote in our poll, and sound off with your own opinion in the Comments.
Fiat 500 AbarthFord Fiesta ST

By The Numbers

Before we get into the debate, let's introduce our contenders. In one corner, the Fiat 500 Abarth, offered in both hardtop and rollback softtop variants, with starting MSRPs of $22,195 and $26,195, respectively. Under the hood is a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four, good for 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, mated to either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Weighing 2,533 pounds, it'll sprint to 60 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds with the manual 'box, and is rated at 28 city and 34 highway miles per gallon.

At the other side of the ring is the Blue Oval champ, the Fiesta ST, at $20,915 (add $1,995 for the optional Recaro seats, because we consider them an absolute must-have). It only comes as a five-door hatch here in the US, powered by a 1.6-liter turbo-four with 197 hp and 202 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is the sole cog-swapper on offer (save the manuals!), and at 2,742 pounds, it'll do the 0-60 thing in a scant 6.7 seconds. Fuel economy comes in at 26/35 mpg, city/highway.

So, yeah, they're pretty darn similar. And yet our views are oh so different.

Fiat 500 Abarth
Fiat 500 AbarthFiat 500 Abarth

Collective Soul

Jeremy starts the debate by describing the Abarth as having "the perfect balance between performance, personality and soul." But it's that last word that really got me.

Ewing: Okay, let's talk soul. I'll give the Fiat credit for making its Abarth sound wonderful. But that's just shouting. Soul is emotion. Soul is what you feel, not what you hear. And in the Ford, you feel a car that allows the driver some of the best involvement I've felt in years – you sort of become one with the car, working all of the controls like they're extensions of your own being, whereas in the Fiat, I've never felt this well-connected. I never really felt like I fit.

Of course, there was a rebuttal.

Korzeniewski: Soul is indeed emotion, and that's exactly what I find just slightly lacking in the Fiesta ST.

There's something particularly soul-stirring, to me, that I feel when driving the Abarth, that I don't get from its hot-hatch compatriots, and it's that kind of emotional connection I'd be willing to pay good money for.

"I'd argue that the Fiesta is better to really flog like a hooligan." – SE

My next step here is to bombard Jeremy with facts. Can't argue with those, right? As I outlined above, by the numbers, the Ford is the better performance choice.

Ewing: Not only is the Fiesta more powerful and quicker than the Abarth, it's far nicer to drive with better handling chops and a more engaging manual gearbox. I've driven both on the track, and where the Abarth starts to show its flaws, the Fiesta remains sure-footed and agile through corners. And when it comes time for squirrely, hot hatch playfulness, I'd argue that the Fiesta is better to really flog like a hooligan – way more forgiving, and far better equipped to handle anything the driver throws at it.

I'll also point out the less-sophisticated suspension geometry and the Abarth's larger tendency to not only understeer, but oversteer, when driven hard. You call this soul, but I call this sloppiness. I get that, in a way, it's more involving to drive a vehicle that you really have to work. But the Fiesta is a car that can be worked just as hard, and the result is better performance and a more rewarding experience.

Immediately, Jeremy offers his opinion, pointing out that it's once again the soul of the Fiat that makes it so special. For him, it's not just about sheer track prowess and performance data. It's about the Abarth's relationship with the driver. I get that, totally. And I think he may be onto something here.

Korzeniewski: Yes, yes, you are correct that the Fiesta ST is more powerful than the Abarth. It's 197 horsepower easily trumps that of the Abarth, at 160. I'll grant you a more linear power delivery, too. But what I won't agree with is the Fiesta being more fun to put those ponies to the ground. In the Abarth, there's a constant game being played between the driver and the car when driving at even eight-tenths of its limit, and what that means in the real world is that its performance envelope can be explored on real, actual roads that people drive. In other words, it's endearing.

And that noise. Oh yes, the noise. The music – a symphony of internal combustion, if you will – sung from the Abarth's tailpipes betters that of anything costing twice as much. You offer statistics; I counter with soul.

Ford Fiesta STFord Fiesta ST
Ford Fiesta ST

Form vs. Function

Going back to my "I never really felt like I fit" line, that's a pretty literal descriptor of my relationship to the car. The thing I love most of all about hot hatches is that there isn't much to sacrifice – you get great driving dynamics with any of the offerings, and a usable, functional cabin. But here again, I feel the Fiesta handily trumps the Abarth.

Ewing: There's an awkward seating position in the Abarth, though I understand taller drivers don't necessarily have this problem. There's also the too-big, oddly angled steering wheel. And that seating position places the driver higher up in the vehicle, making you more susceptible to being tossed around when the Fiat dives into corners.

"There's something particularly soul-stirring, to me, that I feel when driving the Abarth." – JK

But my issues with the Fiat could just be short guy problems (I'm five-foot-seven, remember). My taller coworker, however, praises the Abarth's cockpit.

Korzeniewski: The driving position gets no demerits from me. I stand in at six-feet, two-inches tall (or thereabouts) and the 500 fits me just fine. The relationship between the pedals, steering wheel and my butt in the seat may be a little bit different than many other cars, but not objectionably so. Being tossed about in corners is an overstatement, I think, of the fact that the Recaro seats in the Fiesta ST are exceptional, while the thrones in the Abarth are merely excellent.

Yeah, those (optional and costly) Recaro seats are pretty great, aren't they? But that's not the only reason why I prefer the Fiesta from a livability standpoint.

Ewing: It's not just the driving position that gets me about the Fiat. The interior overall is an issue here – it's cramped, the rear seats are pretty much unusable, and there's barely any trunk space. Compare that to the Ford, and you've got a car you could easily live with as a daily driver – it's comfortable, has tons of technology onboard, offers reasonable rear seating, and has a usable rear cargo area. I know the MyFord Touch system is sort of terrible at times, but it's at least a genuine infotainment interface, something the Fiat doesn't even offer.

Ford Fiesta STFord Fiesta ST

Am I Wrong?

In a way, Jeremy kind of agrees that, technically, I'm right. (Glad he figured that out.)

Korzeniewski: You have adequately explained why the Ford Fiesta ST is the more logical choice to this particular argument. If we were to perform a comparison test between the two, I have little doubt that the Fiesta ST would pull out a well-earned victory. Yet, if I were opening my own pocketbook and writing the check, I'd be writing it for the Fiat 500 Abarth.

But I can't argue with Jeremy's description of how the Abarth feels, and how it communicates to the driver. It's certainly a valid point, and an argument I've made with fellow editors about other vehicles in other classes.

Korzeniewski: Does the Abarth gets a bit squirrely when driven fast? Yes, and thank heavens for that. As you yourself say, it's more involving to drive a vehicle that you really have to work, to which I'd counter just slightly – it's not work to drive the Abarth, it's quite the opposite, really. It's fun. And that, to me, is what a hot hatch is all about. A tenth of a second here, a barking mad slip of the rear end under hard braking there, bothers me little. Because the smile on my face is bigger behind the wheel of the Fiat 500 Abarth than any other car it's cross-shopped against.

The Ford Fiesta ST may be the better car – on paper, and in the minds of many shoppers – but I can't shake the feeling that a unique swath of drivers might prefer the blend of performance, attitude and character offered by the Abarth. And I think they'd be the ones with the biggest smiles on their faces.

So now I invite, you, the Autoblog Commenteriat, to make your voice heard. Vote in our poll, tell me I'm right, or tell me I'm wrong. Or heck, tell us we're both wrong. After all, with so many lovely hot hatches to choose from these days, I can totally see the arguments for other fun little flingabouts, as well.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 188 Comments
      Nick
      • 4 Months Ago

      I own both. I have a 2013 500C Abarth and a 2014 Fiesta ST. The Abarth is a lot more fun to drive, period. However it's wearing especially on long drives, the suspension is hard and it has a jarring ride (especially with the 17 inch wheels). The fiesta is much easier to drive and very hardly makes a noise unlike the abarth which sounds like an angry diesel on startup. I don't feel like the fiesta st is a performance car, but it definitely feels up market when driven back to back. If I want to have fun I drive the fiat, if I want to commute I drive the fiesta. Fuel economy between the two is nearly identical, even though the fiesta is heavier, has more power, and has more space.

      amge5.5
      • 4 Months Ago

      If you need the room a FiST is fantastic.....But the Abarth has so much character that it is the one for me.

      yyz
      • 4 Months Ago

      I shopped the Fiesta ST @ 22k, Focus ST @22k, heavily discounted Fiat Abarth @ 18k and the heavily discounted VW GTI @ 22k last October. I bought the GTI. But I think I would have gone with the Abarth as my second choice.

      The GTI was just so much more car than the Abarth and was worth the extra money. But against the no discounts Fiesta ST @ 22k, the Abarth was a no brainer. Especially when comparing apples to apples, needing to get the ST2 seats to compare to the Abarth's stock seats, an even better deal.

       But we are splitting hairs here. I can see someone preferring the Fiesta. We should all be incredibly thankful that we have so many great cars to choose from in today's market.

      Competition is great.

        masteR_Potter
        • 4 Months Ago
        @yyz


        I also chose the GTI.

        Philip Floyd
        • 3 Months Ago
        @yyz

        Loved the GTI. Way more car than the Abarth, Again, I believe that the GTI and Fiesta ST are not in the same class as the Abarth. The Abarth should be compared to the Chevy Sonic Turbo not the GTI or Fiesta ST. The GTI has weight and power numbers more like the Focus ST and should be compared to it more than the Fiesta ST. The Fiesta ST is really in a class of its own. But that does not make for a very fiery AB discussion.

      ilmhmtu
      • 4 Months Ago

      I'm 5'4" and really love the seating position on the Fiat. I can easily reach the pedals, wheel, and stick shift. Plus, sitting higher in a small car helps me see traffic better.

        reattadudes
        • 3 Months Ago
        @ilmhmtu

        ah, 5'4".

        now that explains your homophobic "faggot" comment in a later post.....yet you still have a Fiat. you're just a little gay bundle of contradictions, aren't you?

      Phontsolo
      • 4 Months Ago

      Hopefully there will be a MAZDASPEED2 to enter this comparison real soon.

      superchan7
      • 4 Months Ago
      This is a very good debate.  On paper, the Ford ST cars (Focus and Fiesta) tick a lot of boxes.  The Fiesta is especially lightweight and fun, and has a fabulous mechanical connection with the driver.  It's all-around excellent.
      The Abarth has things that are lost on most other modern cars--FLAWS.  Americans are taught to eliminate flaws, when Italians dismiss them as "character."  The odd driving position, the straight-pipe noise, the ironically cheeky styling.  Where they aren't deal-breakers, flaws make the car memorable.
      The Fiesta ST does everything so well that to some people it may not stand out the way an Abarth does.  For some people, mechanical perfection IS soul, and those will love the Ford.  For others, the ridiculousness of the Abarth make the car memorable, and that's still worth something in an era of designing away flaws to maximise target market.
        Dean Hammond
        • 4 Months Ago
        @superchan7

        I think thats the nail on  head....the Fiesta is head and shoulders the more refined, however the Abarth is pretty raw, something some will refer to as "memorable character"....isnt it great that BOTH are avail to the public...awesome! 

        Dean Hammond
        • 4 Months Ago
        @superchan7

        your dscription of the Abarth reminds me of the ORIGIONAL Cooper S, had one, LOVED it but service nightmare, but it too had character through quirks....moreso than the Fiesta ST. 

        Michael Pristave
        • 3 Months Ago
        @superchan7

        It's always funny how people try to excuse their purchased because "flaws are character" they are not, they on a car are flaws. Call it what it is. What the Abarth does have, however, is a better looking car. That is what the italian companies do. Don't excuse their poor quality for quality, that is nonsense.

          Kenya
          • 3 Months Ago
          @Michael Pristave

          it seems to me that flaws many times are a subjective thing . take the exaust on the abarth . you probably would consider that a flaw while I would call it fabulous . the seating position is perfect for me but others , mostly people 6foot three with a 40 in inseem ,  would consider that a flaw.  so maybe you should define a flaw !

        Pat
        • 4 Months Ago
        @superchan7

        That's a great point ... I used to never keep my cars very long because they had flaws ... then I got a Jeep!  I has more flaws than I can list but I love it anyway!  And since dealing with their service ranks up there with a dealing with a cheap dentist, I don't even bother getting them fixed!  I just park it on a slant when it rains and I'm good!

        Philip Floyd
        • 4 Months Ago
        @superchan7

        Agreed. I drive the Fiesta ST. My brother drives the Abarth 500. I think that we need to swap for a week just BECAUSE. You are dead on accurate when you describe Italian engineering as "Art". Art has flaws. The Fiesta ST is a German car. Germans consider the elimination of flaws to be true "Art". Fiat has an uphill battle in the US because of the problematic quality and past artistic flaws in the beauty of Italian "Art". I really wanted to buy a Fiat, but waited for the Fiesta because I consider real performance and function as well as reliability to be paramount in a major purchase. The fact that the Fiesta is a crazy fun car to just throw around like a video game whenever I want to cut loose is a major BONUS!!!

      Pinhead
      • 4 Months Ago

      Some guy at work has an Abarth, and that thing does sound pretty awesome.

      Dean Hammond
      • 4 Months Ago

      As an ST owner, and with a little help from mountune, I cant keep the grin off my face, and after an outing at fords Octane Academy,beating the crap out of them at miller Motorsports, i can assure you the car is hard to beat from a fun factor, i can also attest a buddy of mine ( after an Ortega Highway stint ) who owns a Cadillac V wagon, has newfound respect for a car $60000 cheaper......couldnt stick with him on the straights though...that said I LOVE the Abarth as well, and would buy one in a second, but I had the choice, and Im happy I made it...

      Neutral President
      • 4 Months Ago

      REALLY tough choice. I haven't driven either yet, but both are on my shopping list for the next car. I love the compact dimensions of the Abarth… and that SOUND! But i also appreciate the two extra doors and slightly more accommodating back seat and cargo area. No kids, but i do have an aging golden retriever. ;)

      If the exhaust on the FiST were tuned to sound like the Abarth, it would win for me, hands-down. But i don't think i could choose until i drove both, for exactly the reasons outlined here. The FiST looks better on paper, but the Abarth tugs at the heartstrings. The logical choice vs. the emotional choice. 


      Nicholas
      • 4 Months Ago
      I think that the Fiesta ST is a delightfully fun little hatch.  People who argue that its big brother can be had for just a few thousand more are entirely missing the point.  The Fiesta packs usable performance that one may exploit without going to jail.  In some ways it's a spiritual successor to the Mk1 GTI. 
      Ryan
      • 4 Months Ago

      As a single guy who doesn't need to carry a dog or car seats I'd choose the Abarth for sound alone. The exhaust on that little car is neck snapping. 

      genzox
      • 4 Months Ago

      It's all wrong. THE real hot hatch kitchen king is the Mini Cooper S. 

        Dean Hammond
        • 4 Months Ago
        @genzox

        disagree, had one, Fiesta ST improves in pretty much every area, AND is more livable, those run flat jar fillings, and the ST rides pretty hard, just not bone jarring.

          genzox
          • 4 Months Ago
          @Dean Hammond

          Well. I guess I might be biased. I own a modified one, I just think when you look at a car with such personality and history. Combine that with 34 mpg, predictable BMW handling and a fantastic cult following. The ownership is more rewarding.  You can talk to anybody and they have a mini Cooper story. 

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