so those of you that might have caught glimpse of my facebook page earlier this weekend might have noticed there was a new fiat 500 posted on my wall. let me tell ya, its made my holiday weekend 1,000,000x better.
the fiat belongs to a good friend of mine that i've known since high school that also happens to be a fellow enthusiast. however up until this point, his automotive history has only included domestics, which even himself admits are all awful. but, he has always wanted something italian, since he himself is an italian. with ferraris and lamborghinis out of the question, he was very excited that the 500 was coming to the US. he was prepared to settle for a standard 500 until i showed him a clarkson review of the abarth on the top gear test track. sold.
so anyway now that you know the story about how this little guy got here, lets get onto the car itself...
as tested price: $26,450 ($22,000 base)
miles driven on this test: 300 miles
-1.4L 16v Multi-Air Turbo, 160hp/170lb-ft w/dual intercoolers
-limited slip front diff w/Abarth TTC control & equal length driveshafts
-light weight forged-aluminum wheels w/pirelli p-zero tires
-performance tuned suspension by KONI
-larger diameter brakes (rated at 60-0mph in 2.1 seconds)
and just for fun, professional racing lessons were also included with the purchase of the car
now at this point, i'm sure several of you are thinking "yeah that all sounds great but it still doesn't have all that much power" and this is true. however what you really have to take into consideration is the size of the thing -- the 500 is defiantly a bite size car, and it doesn't weigh much at all. for size comparison i'd place it between a mini cooper and a smart fortwo.
the first thing you notice when you approach the abarth is its aggressive body kit. its not as "cute" as the rest of the 500 line -- the thin spoked, dark wheels grab your attention, as do the bright red brake calibers right away. then you notice its much larger front air dam, and its gills on the front and on the side...the sun slightly illuminating those twin intercoolers on either side of the car. the back features a rather sizeable but tasteful spoiler, which sits high above the rear bumper that houses two rather sizeable exhaust pipes for this small car, with a rear diffuser between those two tips.
that body kit is all finished in a beautiful paint job, this particular car abarth was finished in a brilliant black metallic that has a lot of metallic flake that really makes it sparkle -- its set off by the abarth's bright red mirrors and body stripes on the rocker panel.
fiat's attention to detail and the use of quality materials continues onto the interior. the abarth interior is also an upgrade over the standard 500 models. your greeted by a rather beefy pair of high-back sport seats that are wrapped in buttery soft leather with exposed red stitching. the seats are soft, very supportive and comfortable.
from the driver's seat its hard to ignore the steering wheel thats in front of you, branding a rather large abarth scorpion right in the center. the wheel itself in my opinion, is a work of art. it looks great, its chunky, very comfortable and beautifully upholstered in high quality leather with red stitching.
the driving position does take a moment to get used to, but once you got comfortable, its great. my only compaint is something that's rather odd for a european car...the steering wheel does not telescope. this would have been a really nice feature to have for some taller drivers, however even with me being over 6 foot tall, it didn't bother me enough to really care. in the 500, you have a very upright seating position compared to a lot of other cars, therefore the pedals don't require you to push them forward into the firewall, rather you find that you almost push them down more than anything else. sounds a little weird, or a little more like you'd be used to in an SUV but you get used to it quickly. the shifter position is perfect, it falls right under your palm like it should. the dash is nicely designed. its quirky, and has a lot of information.
the gauge cluster is very much like a wrist watch, and the MFA display holds lot of information to look at and cycle through -- it looks great beside the massive boost guage thats mounted along side the cluster. it can look like a bit much at first glance, but i love it. the center console holds the climate control, which is very easy to use with its auto mode...set it and forget it. the bose sound system is also quite good for this little car and also comes with a small sub in the hatch that does a great job.
once you have turned the key to the abarth, you're first response is "woah..." that exhaust note is hard to ignore. it sounds angry. naturally, you blip the throttle because you want to hear more, and you receive the response of a growl with turbo spool right behind it. if it doesn't put a smile on your face, then you don't have a pulse. its a sound completely unexpected by this little car.
the abarth is very easy to drive, esp right off the line. gear changes are a snap an the clutch has excellent feedback. from a stop, the little fiat takes off running, and you won't understand how its doing it so well. the turbo has very little lag and the engine is very responsive. the boost gauge is a lot of fun, it reads up to 24 psi and has a shift up indicator in the middle of the dial that's quite large. as i'm driving around town starting to learn the car, i look on the dash to see the "sport" button. it looks like a boiled sweet. so naturally, i had to push it and turn the traction control off. this button totally transforms the abarth. boost is doubled from 10 to 20 psi, the suspension is stiffened up, throttle response is increased, the steering becomes heavier and it allows for the ESP to be completely off.
the transformation is nothing short of epic. the abarth takes off like a rocket ship and it just begs for more. you cannot help yourself but to drive this thing flat out -- as that turbo spools the fiat just keeps pulling and pulling and it doesn't want you to let up, even all the way into 5th gear. on the highway at 70+, put your foot down and you have no need to downshift into 4th, it just pulls away with enough torque to make you wonder just where in the hell its coming from out of that little 1.4 up front.
you combine that intoxicating power with a beautiful exhaust note and then you start putting it into corners and thats where the abarth really shines. with the pirelli p-zero tires streached as far as possible to all 4 corners of the car, it goes around corners with go-kart like dynamics. minimal body roll thanks to the KONI suspension means this thing feels like it wants to rip your face off.
the most shocking thing for me is just how heavy the steering in the abarth is. for such a small car you expect it to be very light, but it isn't. its heavy, but perfectly weighted and provides some of the best driver feedback i've ever experienced. it goes exactly where you point it, at any speed. throw it into a corner and the chassis just copes and takes it. i found myself going through intersections in the city without having to slow down at all, watching people stopped at the lights looking at me wondering why i'm not headed straight for the curb.
fiat had set out to take dead aim right at the mini cooper s when they were building the abarth, and they defiantly hit the nail right on the head. having driven the cooper s, the abarth is a bit more entertaining to drive. it handles better, its lighter, and even with its slightly lower power output (by 19hp), i would feel pretty confident in saying the abarth would take it off the line. to make matters worse for the mini, this abarth is also slightly cheaper.
what the abarth also does for you is something that is very difficult for many cars to achieve: it puts a permanent smile on your face until it hurts. i could not get enough of the abarth. even when your just cruising down the interstate in a straight line, you can't help but smile. there are few cars that i have driven that have been as exciting to drive as the abarth, namely two: the BMW M5 and the Lotus Elise.
if you've been considering an abarth, you're going to need to get in line for the two year waiting list, so put in your orders now.