Quick Spin

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Quick Spin | Old dog masters old tricks

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth
  • Image Credit: Fiat
  • 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth
  • 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth
  • 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth
  • 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth
  • 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth
  • Engine
    1.4L Turbo I4
  • Power
    160 HP / 170 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    6-Speed Manual
  • Drivetrain
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    2,512 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    9.5 CU. FT.
  • MPG
    28 City / 33 HWY
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
It's hard to believe, but the raucous little hatchback we know as the Fiat 500 Abarth is nearly a decade old. The 160-horsepower version we get here first appeared in Europe at the end of 2008, and while ours didn't arrive until the 2012 model year, it was mostly the same car.

That's a really long time for a car to be on sale without any major changes or mechanical updates. So we spent some time with a 2017 model to see how it's holding up. Here's what we learned:
  • It's still a lot of fun for a number of reasons, not least of which is the exhaust. This is by far the best sounding exhaust for the money. It growls, it pops, it's generally a riot. Sure it can drone a bit on long highway jaunts, and you might annoy your neighbors in the morning, but it's worth it. Other manufacturers could learn a thing or two about making their cars more exciting to hear. (I'm talking especially to you, Honda, because the Civic Si is too quiet).
  • The turbo 1.4-liter engine will still nudge you back at full throttle and pull you through corners quickly. The boost comes on very smoothly, too, making it easy to work with. Just make sure you have the car in Sport mode. Boost is limited in Normal mode, so if you want to enjoy everything the car has to offer, hit that button the moment you fire up the Fiat.
  • The seating position is the closest thing this side of a Smart ForTwo to feeling like a road-going motorized bar-stool. The very tall driving position and short, narrow body make for one of the most unique driving feelings on the market. It's not good, it's not bad, just different. And fortunately, you don't feel like the car is going to tip over. In fact, it feels pretty secure...
  • ...most of the time. The short wheelbase does make the Abarth feel a tad nervous when driving through long, fast corners such as freeway ramps. It probably wouldn't bite you with the driving aids on, but you'll find yourself concentrating a little harder in some corners than in cars longer than a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.
  • Steering is a bit of a mixed bag, too. It's the same electrically-assisted rack the car has used over the years, and it's still vague off-center and slow. Maybe this was on purpose to keep people from unsettling such a short little car. Hints of torque steer show up, as well, and the car does like to follow the contour of the road. On the upside, the steering is weighted well, and the car doesn't lean much and grips well. The short size makes it absurdly easy to hustle down tight streets and corners, too.
  • Also on the driving experience side of things, the ride is perfectly acceptable for a sporty car. It's firm, and large bumps can be a bit uncomfortable, but compared with the similarly retro and sporty Mini Cooper S, the Abarth comes out pretty well.
  • The shifter and its gourd-shaped shift knob feel good, and it doesn't take much effort to find the gates and slot into a gear.
  • The interior is where the Fiat 500 Abarth is really starting to show some age, or at least its bargain basement origins. Every plastic you see is very hard, and some of the pieces have unfinished edges that are unbecoming of any car nowadays. Fiat has tried to keep the car reasonably up-to-date with the addition of some new technology that works in some cases, but not in others. For instance, the UConnect system works pretty well and feels modern. The instrument panel, on the other hand, is obviously a rectangular LCD panel stuck behind the old, round instrument surround. It works, but it isn't nearly as slick as the dual speedometer and tachometer needles of older Fiat 500s. The low resolution doesn't help either.
  • The 500 Abarth is a decent bargain, too. The hardtop starts at just over $20,000, and the cabrio is only an extra $1,495. Choosing the soft-top would also allow you to indulge in that sonorous exhaust even more.
When compared to one of our first reviews of the 500 Abarth, not much has changed. Back then, we complained about interior quality and imperfect handling, while praising the raucous noise and fun nature of the tiny hatch. All of that is as true today as when it was new. And while the competition is getting faster and more refined, they haven't nailed the silly noise and fun of the 500 Abarth, and that's the Abarth's advantage. It offers an experience that isn't really available anywhere else.

So if you're more interested in a unique drive, rather than the fastest drive, the 500 Abarth is worth your consideration.

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