There are some cars that generate a smile just moments after getting behind the wheel. The Fiat 500 Abarth is one of those cars. It may not be the most attractive vehicle on the road, but this diminutive Italian runabout is great fun to drive. And it is tiny — about 7 inches shorter than a MINI Cooper, but it also weighs about 250 pounds less than the MINI.
The 500 Abarth resides at the top of the Fiat 500 lineup, offering higher performance than the standard version. Our test car had an MSRP of $22,975. Competitors to the 500 Abarth include the MINI Cooper S, Ford Fiesta ST and to a lesser extent the Subaru BRZ / Toyota FRS and the Mazda Mazda3.
A Blast to Drive
Driving the 500 Abarth is akin to getting behind the wheel of a go-kart. It’s small and agile, which makes it easy to toss around without losing control. Normally a front-wheel-drive car wouldn’t be very responsive but — at least in dry conditions — this Abarth variant is simply point and shoot.
The Abarth draws power from a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that produces 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. On paper these numbers don’t really impress, but on the road when peak torque comes in at a low 2500 rpm — and the car weighs in at only 2,500 pounds — drivers can have some good fun. The 500 Abarth scoots around quickly thanks to strong acceleration, which seems amplified in such a small car.
Great Gear Shift Location
The manual shifter is located on the lower dashboard, which looks odd at first but suddenly feels right after a few minutes of driving. Quick, light shifts add to the fun.
Big Exhaust Note
The 500 Abarth may be a small car but it makes a big noise. Emanating from the dual pipes is a raucous roar that can be heard a block away. It’s amusing that a car of the Abarth’s size mimics the clamor of a much more muscular machine.
In addition to its sporty nature, the 500 Abarth is also easy to live with around town. Its diminutive size makes tight maneuvers in dense traffic a breeze, and it parks with ease in seemingly impossible spaces.
There’s not a lot of space in the 500 Abarth’s cargo area. That said, folding down the rear seats creates a surprising amount of space in back.
Tiny Rear Seat
Not that everything is perfect with the 500 Abarth. Granted, it has a rear seat, but it is more usable for storage than for people. It also has odd hard head restraints that are not very comfortable.
This is completely subjective, but we’re not big fans of the 500 Abarth’s exterior styling. It’s a bit squat and bug-eyed — pretty much the opposite of sleek. But for some this look is considered quirky, which makes it appealing in a car that has more performance than one would expect.
While we love the sound of the loud exhaust most of the time, for long trips it becomes more of a drone than a cool sound. But given the choice, we’d keep the big sound.
The Fiat 500 Abarth is certainly unique in the U.S. market, both in size and style. But it offers great fun and surprising handling, especially given its low starting price. It’s worthy of consideration if you’re looking for a little joyride that stands out in a crowd.