The Fiat 500 is a hot hatch in caricature: small, nimble, and visceral. But like any good caricature, the most prominent features are accentuated to the extreme. Among its counterparts, it’s rather small, darty, and very vocal. I mean loud. Disturb the neighbors loud. It’s all part of the Abarth’s character. This is the thinnest slice of Italian automotive passion you can get. Think of it as baby’s first exotic. Our brief exposure to the Abarth had us hooked. Would more exposure bring us the same level of excitement?
In the waning weeks of summer, we wished for something a bit extra. Our tester isn’t a 2015 with its new driver display screen and optional automatic transmission, but it is a convertible. Why not enjoy the sun while we can? Within minutes of jumping behind the wheel, the rain passed…but not before leaving us with one of summer’s rarer spectacles. The 500C Abarth lies somewhere between the Ford Fiesta ST and the Mini Cooper S Roadster. It’s not truly a hatchback, but it isn’t a full convertible either. It might be the best of both worlds. The fabric roof has 4 positions. From its locked position, it can open like a sunroof, retract to open the entire roof, or fold the rear glass away and fully retract. The later setting hinders rear visibility but provides almost 100% of the true convertible experience without the loss of structure.
Under the hood, Fiat’s 1.4L MultiAir engine has been turbocharged. When the boost gauge peaks at 18psi, the tiny mill churns out 160 hp and 170 lb-ft torque. A push of the prominent Sport button weights up the steering and removes boost restrictions in low gears. Less restriction equal more power. There’s enough to chirp the tires and make the steering wheel go light, but there isn’t any torque steer. There isn’t much audible evidence of the large turbocharger. The Abarth’s sound is 100% exhaust. From the drone at idle to the angry buzzing at the 6,500 RPM redline, the Fiat draws most of its attention from its two exhaust tips. A well-timed shift from first to second or heel-toe shifting down yield pops and barks to accent the experience. At times, the noises this car makes are just plain rude. The Abarth is simultaneously raucous and endearing. You can dance across the pedals, saw at the wheel, and row through the gears until the tank is dry without breaking the speed limit. Going fast in a small car is one of driving’s simple pleasures.
A short wheelbase and sport suspension means that the 500 Abarth is quick and nimble. The electric power steering has a great weight through the thick wheel. This is a car that loves to be pushed around. The Abarth’s gearshifts are quick and precise, but drivers used to a 6-speed layout may find themselves trying to engage reverse at highway speed. There are other ergonomic problems as well. The seating position seems high. You sit on the Abarth rather than in it and that doesn’t build confidence behind the wheel. The pedal positioning also feels awkward. There’s two different reactions to driving the Abarth and they depend on timing. By Wednesday or Thursday, the novelty has worn off and commuting to work or arriving at a public event become a chore. The back seats aren’t really usable and the trunk is basically a cabinet. But after work on Friday or a clear Saturday afternoon, all the joy and charisma comes flooding back into the equation. There isn’t another car that can put a smile on your face quite like the Abarth.
The Abarth Cabrio adds $4,000 to the base price of the spicy Fiat. The first 500 Abarth we drove priced out at a reasonable $23,400. This week’s tester arrived with nearly every box checked, driving the as-tested price to an uncomfortable $33,104. Many of the options add flair to the diminutive white cabrio. Others add creature comforts. And some just don’t make sense. The black trimmed lights, red mirror caps and body stripes, and white 17″ wheels work with the red brake calipers and bright red leather-trimmed high-back seats. This 500C has a unique identity. The Comfort/Convenience group adds heated seats and satellite radio, two great options for a convertible. The superfluous $609 wifi hotspot and $600 TomTom navigation options left us scratching our heads. Not only are they not needed, the TomTom’s unique mount is awkward and unnecessary. In the age of smartphones with built-in GPS, storing your navigation unit in the glove box seems archaic. You can have just as much fun without any of the trappings. We’d still opt for the 17″ wheels, though.
The Fiat 500 Abarth suffers from tiny dog syndrome. When people are around, small dogs are always the loudest and most rambunctious. They yip and jump and generally annoy everyone. But when its just you, that small furry demon is your best friend. Such is life with the Fiat 500 Abarth. It’s not the car you want to show your family or bring to an important meeting. It might just be a bit too vulgar for that. When its just you, the Fiat, and a few miles of open road, you wouldn’t trade it for the world. Flaws and all.
|2014 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio
|Performance Leather-Trimmed High-Back Bucket Seats||$1,200|
|Beats Premium Audio System||$700|
|Electronics Group by Mopar||$609|
|Black Trimmed Lights||$250|
|Red Mirror Caps w/ Body Side Stripes||$450|
|17″ Gloss White Wheels||$1,400|
|As Tested MSRP||$33,104|
Seeing Red: 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth