It’s been a few years since we’ve driven the Abarth version of the Fiat 500; in the intervening period there are a few new things with Fiat and the Abarth to look at. The last time I drove the Abarth there were only two Fiat models available in the US; you had the 500 and the 500 Abarth, and that was it.
Today, beyond the base 500 and Abarth we have we also have the 500c, 500e, 500L, and 500X. David Boldt recently drove and reviewed the 500X, and I also had a chance to drive it during our annual Truck Rodeo. We both see this as a good vehicle for the Texas driver, even though it didn’t take home a trophy at the event. Of course a driving enthusiast (like myself – and many of our readers) are looking for something with a little more grunt, a little more flash; in short, something with an Abarth badge on it. And that brings us to this new 2015 Abarth.
New to the 2015 Abarth are some improvements inside, along with an available automatic, which is the subject of our test. Driving purists are obviously going to be disappointed with this – the way to go is a manual transmission, especially in a small, nimble vehicle such as this. Those were my initial thoughts, also, but read on – I’m not often wrong, but there’s always the first time…
New to the interior is a 7-inch fully digital driver information display which presents speed, rpm, fuel level, engine coolant temperature, current time and date, ambient temperature, and mileage. It’s a cool-looking setup, making the interior more modern; it even changes up the display as you switch driving modes. To the left of the steering wheel is an analog turbo boost gauge, which looks good but was mostly ignored throughout the week of driving. The steering wheel itself is beefy with a flat bottom mimicking the look and feel of a racing wheel. This helps get you in the right mood for this sporty little hatch and it feels great in the hands.
One of my biggest complaints with the interior of the 500 when first introduced, and has continued through the other 500 models, is the large plastic dash that extends from the steering wheel to the passenger door. It has always reminded me of the interior of the PT Cruiser. It must have grown on me, though, as I like the fact that the color of the plastic matches the exterior body color.
Our test vehicle had cloth seats with red stitching and a red stripe going down the center of the seats. You can have leather but I actually liked the cloth. The seats are comfortable and – surprisingly – there’s a good amount of room in the interior so long as there’s no one trying to sit in the back seat behind the driver. I used the car a few times to haul the kids to school but it just wasn’t practical fitting more than two other people in the car with you, even if they are small children. The rest of the interior was also black with red stitching and red accents and was quite good. Another of my biggest complaints with this car from previous years is the seating position relative to the pedals, although I’ve talked to many people who don’t seem to share the issue. For me, this seems most obvious when driving the 500 with a manual transmission. The pedals are too upright and you fight the seat cushion when depressing the clutch. With our tester being an automatic, though, I didn’t find I was getting any of the frustration or fatigue as I did in the manual car.
We should discuss an infotainment screen with navigation, but there isn’t one. You can get a Garmin GPS which mounts to the dash, but there is no option for a touchscreen being incorporated into the dash. This will also impact hooking your phone up via Bluetooth to the car. It can be done, but without a screen giving you information or feedback it’s not the easiest task. That’s not to say the stereo system isn’t good, though. As a member of the Chrysler/Fiat family, this car is fitted with the obligatory Beats speakers – and includes a subwoofer in the hatch. It actually sounds pretty good in this little car, although the loud exhaust makes it hard for the sound system to compete.
The Abarth’s exterior offers your basic 500 styling, with just a little more aggression and (of course!) those incredible Abarth badges all over the car. Depending on what you’re going for, this car could look great or too cutesy. I kind of like the looks overall but prefer the more aggressive styling from vehicles like the Veloster Turbo or Fiesta ST.
Under the hood is the same 1.4-liter 16-valve MultiAir Turbo engine pushing 160-horsepower. Obviously, our car was equipped with the automatic transmission, and I prefer this, but only because it’s so hard for me to get comfortable with the manual pedal setup. You get decent power from the small turbo engine, although most of it is pretty high up in the rpm range. The 0-60 time won’t impress anyone and is up to 2-seconds slower than the likes of the Golf GTI.
What does the Abarth do well? Taking corners and feeling like a really fun car to drive. There is a little bit of body roll coming around the corners – to be expected for as tall as it is with such a relatively narrow track – but the car sticks well, brakes well, and has good power to pull you out of the corner. And if you want more power – and who doesn’t? – a growing number of aftermarket companies (such as Los Angeles- based Road Race Motorsports) are producing a veritable smorgasbord of mods for both the base 500 and its Abarth sibling.
The sticker price on our car was $27,925, good for a car that drives, sounds, and looks like this, but it’s not the only small, sporty car on the market today for under $30k. Although a fun car, I don’t think it’s the best in its segment. The Ford Fiesta ST is quicker and feels more agile, and the Golf GTI – also much faster – has more utility and a more grown up feel. On the flip side, if you’re just looking for a small car to tool around in the city you may just want the base 500 or even the 500X. The Abarth seems like almost too much of a toy – with its loud exhaust note – to be a great everyday driver in town, and just can’t hold its own as a sporty hatch.