The Fiat 500 Abarth combines the fun of a sports car with the practicality of a tiny hatchback.
What is it?
The Fiat 500 is a common sight in urban centers; its 139.6-inch length undercuts the Mini Cooper by ten inches, making the 500 a parking champ. And the 500’s retro look appeals to buyers who want to be chic.
Pricing and trims
The 500 has been sold for a few years in the US with minimal revision, and so it makes sense that the prices are coming down for 2017. The tested 2016 500 Abarth’s base price was $22,845, and the 2017 cuts that by $2,850 to start at $19,995.
This 500 Abarth had some appealing options, including the $1,350 Aisin six-speed automatic transmission and $700 Beats audio package. Total for our 2016 was $29,215.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the 500 top crash ratings for all except the small front overlap test, where it fares poorly.
Active safety equipment like forward collision warning and active braking aren’t available on any 500.
The 500 Abarth’s 1.4-liter four-cylinder a turbocharger that gives exciting acceleration; there’s an initial period when the turbo is spooling up, and then there’s the takeoff phase that kicks in just as you’ve crossed the intersection.
The front wheels lay down enough torque that the 500 Abarth’s steering can dart left and right, a condition known as torque steer. Fortunately, the turbo’s boost is easily modulated, so you can feather off the throttle just that little bit to calm things down while still blasting along.
The 500 Abarth’s extroverted exhaust adds to the fun, although an expressway can turn its cheeky burble into a hollow drone.
The Aisin six-speed automatic in our 500 Abarth test car snapped off crisp shifts. The disappointment of this 500 Abarth showing up with an automatic instead of a manual was cured by the fact that the Aisin unit was a ready partner in the Abarth’s adventures.
Sport mode is a big help in keeping an edgy feeling in the automatic-equipped 500 Abarth. Throttle response is sharper, and the transmission waits to shift until the engine revs up higher.
Ride and handling
Compared to larger performance cars like the Chevrolet Camaro or Ford Mustang, the 500 Abarth can be flicked around like a go-cart. Its light weight and turbo thrust puts its performance in your hands at legal speeds, and so the 500 Abarth is a car you can enjoy without endangering your license.
The 500 Abarth’s firm suspension keeps it feeling nailed down, and the ride is still civilized enough to keep harsh road impacts at bay.
Despite the 500 Abarth’s small size, its front row is more than accommodating. Doors open tall and wide, and the seats are generously proportioned. They seemed to be 7/8-size for a six-footer – the lumbar support rode low, and the headrest tip tapped the back of my head – but I was able to find a workable driving position, even with the typically-Italian long reach for the non-telescoping steering wheel.
It’s impressive that the Fiat 500’s rear legroom is almost one inch greater than the longer Mini Cooper’s, but the 500’s 31.7-inch measurement is still confining for all but the most petite passengers.
Fiat lists the 500’s trunk room at 9.5 cubic feet, and the Beats subwoofer bites into that a bit. You’d expect a small hatchback to have limited cargo room, but at least the 500’s is usably shaped.
Infotainment and controls
The 500 Abarth’s standard five-inch screen is so small that it’s a little silly, but the Uconnect operating system backing it up is solid, with a logical control flow and quick responses to your taps. The Beats Audio package sounded terrific when tuned to satellite radio, but Spotify streaming via Bluetooth was much less vivid.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available, a definite ding considering the 500 Abarth’s youthful appeal.
The 500 Abarth continues with its own brand of bawdy muscle-car fun. Little hatchbacks are rarely this engaging, especially when they’re equipped with automatic transmissions.
Fiat is wise to lower the 500 Abarth’s entry price for 2017, because while it’s still enormously appealing, the 500 series isn’t keeping up with the latest active safety and smartphone connectivity technologies that small-car buyers might want.
But sports cars are rarely practical, and the 500 Abarth combines scintillating driving fun with hatchback practicality. The 500 Abarth is a car that never fails to entertain.
2016 Fiat 500 Abarth Hatchback
Base price: $22,845
Price as tested, including $995 destination charge: $29,215
Beats Audio Package: $700
Popular Equipment Package: $975
SiriusXM satellite radio with one-year subscription
Auto Temp Control Air Conditioning with Micron Filter
Heated Front Seats
Nero (Black) Seats
Aisin Heavy-Duty 6-speed Automatic Transmission: $1,350
includes Leather Wrapped Shift Knob
Nero (Black) Trimmed Lights: $250
Nero (Black) Mirror Cap with Body Side Stripe: $450
17-inch x 7-inch Forged Aluminum Hyper Black Wheels: $1,400
includes 205/40R17XL BSW 3-Season Tires
Rear Park Assist: $250
- Turbo thrust, hot-rod exhaust
- Sports-car handling
- Automatic transmission doesn’t kill the fun
- Awkward driving position
- Tight rear seat
- Fuel mileage like a mid-sized car’s