A few days ago I was lucky enough to drive a 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth, and it is an absolute hoot. Here is my review of the best value performance car you can buy new.
I drove the Abarth around Tyson's Corner during rush hour, which is pretty much the perfect environment for the car.
(Full Disclosure: Safford Fiat of Tyson's Corner was nice enough to offer me a test drive out of the blue. The very nice folks there were very knowledgeable and welcoming. If you're in the DC area, give them a tweet at @FIATofTysons or stop by and check the cars out yourself. It's worth it, and they've got some killer deals right now.
Let's be straight here. The Fiat 500 is a "cute" car. It has trim levels named "Gucci" and "Pop." Everything about the standard 500 is fashionable and trendy, and Fiat's marketing reflects this. When was the last time you saw a commercial for a normal Fiat that was not marketed towards the fairer sex?
But the Abarth is a different breed of 500, and the exterior shows this. It's lower. It's got bigger brakes with red calipers. The Abarth scorpions replace the standard Fiat badges. It has alloy wheels that match the door mirrors. The front fascia has additional vents that provide additional cooling, and the rear has vents in the bumper, different pipes, and a more aggressive diffuser. The spoiler looks great, and definitely adds visually to the car, as do the side skirts. The Abarth decal on the side conveys speed and forward movement. All of this combines to make this car significantly less "cute" and more importantly, much more appealing to people who want a performance car.
Performance and Handling
This car is fun, plain and simple.
For a tiny city car, the Abarth performs fantastically. It accelerates pretty well, and 60 mph comes in 7.2 seconds. The Turbo provides 150 ft-lbs of torque in Normal mode, and 170 in Sport. Most importantly, you start to get that torque around 2600 RPM, which is absolutely perfect for driving around the traffic congested streets of Northern Virginia. This car was designed to put a smile on your face during your commute through the city, and it does this job well.
The Abarth handles much better than the standard 500, as is to be expected. The suspension has been stiffened, but surprisingly, it's not uncomfortable. This does mean that there is a bit more body roll than you would expect, but it's manageable. The manual transmission has pretty long throws, but it's not bad at all. The steering wheel has a great feel, well weighted and precise. The traction control is able to be turned partially or fully off, and it has a cool torque transfer system that distributes the torque between the wheels to minimize understeer and torque steer (which in my drive did not rear its ugly head).
Also, Fiat offers the Abarth Track Experience to all Abarth owners. $500 gets you a full day of professional driving instruction on a race track, and this can be rolled into the price of the car. That's pretty cool.
Practicality is an interesting concept when it comes to the Abarth. It's highly practical when it comes to driving around town, as it takes up so little space. Parking is very easy in this car. The turn radius is miniscule. Driving in traffic is a breeze. It gets a combined gas mileage of 31 mpg, with 28 in the city and 34 on the highway, which is pretty good.
On the flipside, this car is a tiny car. If you have friends who have legs, they are not going to fit in the back seat comfortably, and they will absolutely refuse to go in your car for anything further than 10 minutes away. The back seat makes a Mustang's look spacious. There is a surprising amount of rear head room, but no one could fit behind my seat.
The trunk has a lot more space than I expected. As you can see above, my laptop bag easily fits in it. The rear seats also fold down, which means you can carry some Swedish build-it-yourself furniture. However, if you need to move an apartment's worth of stuff, you'll want to rent a van.
Comfort and Interior
This car is perfectly comfortable for driving around town. The heated front buckets are well bolstered and comfortable, and have a pass through for racing harnesses. Driving around the beat up roads of Northern Virginia did not bring any shocks to my vertebrae, which is a remarkable thing. I don't think I would want to take this on an extended road trip, but it seems perfectly suited for daily driving.
The interior is quite a nice place to be. The leather steering wheel looks and feels great, with a flat bottom and hand positions at ten and two. Controls and displays seem very driver oriented. The materials of the car do not feel cheap, but rather quite classy. Nothing really seems flimsy. I particularly like the red dashboard, which is finished in a high metallic gloss. It is quite loud, but the engine note is very nice, and it sounds like few other things on the road. I'd much rather hear the engine than road or wind noise. One thing I did notice was the handbrake is big and beefy. "Perfect for sweet handbrake turns," I thought.
As for toys, you don't get a ton. There is a boost gauge that tells you when to shift, and it was pretty easy to ignore. There's an upgraded audio system that provides premium sound, and you can get Bluetooth. There's a USB plug for your phone or mp3 player, and the radio will tell you what's playing on the radio. A built in Navigation unit is not available. I asked the sales person about this, and he told me that they used to have it, but people just didn't want it. I'm okay with that.
This is where the Abarth really excels. This car has character in bounds. It's so eager in everything it does, and tries its best to be like its Italian big brothers. The engine note is unlike any other city car out there, and I know it's been beat to death, but it sounds fantastic. It burbles at idle, and it really defines the car. Jeremy Clarkson described it as a small terrier, and I think that is right on. Furthermore the car is just funky. It doesn't look or feel like accountants played a part in its design. It feels like a passion for cars went into the Abarth's creation, and that's a very good thing. This is the most important category for a car to excel in, and Abarth hit a home run here.
Dealers are selling these off at significant discounts because a new one is coming soon. You can get a fully loaded Abarth 500 for around $23,000, including taxes and fees. Some dealerships are even offering base Abarth models at around $15,000. A comparably equipped Fiesta ST will run around $24,000. That's a fantastic value. Plus, you can get the Abarth track experience, which is something that no one else is really offering at that price point. One thing to keep in mind is that this car does use premium, so your gas bills will be a bit higher.
The Fiat 500 Abarth is a great car. It's the perfect city car for enthusiasts, and it will absolutely put a smile on your face every day. I definitely recommend it, especially with the price specials that are currently going on.
I also asked the salesman there about the new Alfa Romeo 4C. Apparently there is already a pretty long waiting list for it. I'm not surprised at all.
I love racing and cars. I talk about those subjects a lot on Twitter. Feel free to follow me at@willkinton247. If you want me to look into a particular series or topic, have any feedback, or want to let me take a test drive like the fine folks at Safford Fiat of Tysons Corner, let me know!