The Fiat 500 Abarth is a fun little car to drive. It makes a serious racket, thanks to its exhaust system. But it lacks the fundamentally solid underpinnings of its biggest competitor, the Mini Cooper S, and therefore lacks that car's refinement, feedback and speed, not to mention its quality and functionality.
ComfortThe Abarth's ride comfort is better than a Mini Cooper S and pretty similar to a Ford Fiesta ST. Overall, considering its sporting intentions, the ride quality is decent. The seats certainly aren't cushy, and the exhaust sound is either obnoxious or hilarious, depending on your viewpoint.
The seats are comfortable enough but lateral support is lacking for a car with high cornering limits. The short seat bottoms may bother taller drivers and the lack of a telescoping steering wheel will be a problem for others.
Surprisingly, the 500 Abarth is a reasonably comfortable car. It can get a little bouncy over cracked pavement, but that's the price you pay for small-car performance.
The Abarth's exhaust is quite loud, but it adds character and doesn't drone too miserably on the freeway. Road noise is prevalent, when you can hear it over the exhaust, that is. This is not a quiet car.
InteriorInterior details are a bit flashy and have a decidedly retro flavor. There's a level of character here that can otherwise only be found in a Mini Cooper. But there's also a lack of functionality, which gets annoying.
Order the optional automatic climate control and there's not a single knob on the Abarth's dash, which is a big mistake. Radio controls are cryptic. Non-telescoping steering wheel and close pedals will put some drivers in a bad position.
Wide-opening doors are a good thing, as are the high seat bottoms. The front seats are easy to get into. Rear seat access is, as expected, a huge pain for adults.
Sunroof-equipped cars compromise headroom and rear seat space is extremely limited. The hard center console protrudes into the side of the driver's knee in a very uncomfortable way.
Tall, upright seats and large windows give the Abarth good outward visibility. The rear view is compromised by some thick roof pillars, but it's still easy to back up.
There's room for soft bags in the 9.5 cu-ft space behind the rear seats, but anything larger will require folding the seats down. Interior storage is minimal, with shallow door pockets and cramped cupholders.
PerformanceThe Abarth model is considerably quicker than lesser Fiat 500 models. It's relatively engaging to drive and remains well-behaved when driven aggressively. Still, it shows its subcompact roots when driven to (and over) its limits. The five-speed manual transmission is a bit indirect and sloppy.
With a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder, the Fiat's got enough power to spin the front wheels easily. Power delivery is a bit peaky, but it pulls hard. Zero-60 mph takes 7.1 seconds, versus 6.3 in the Mini Cooper S four-door.
The Abarth squirms around on its all-season tires more than we'd prefer during full-ABS stops, but it remains stable. In daily driving, the brakes are light and easy. The 123 feet it needs to stop from 60 mph is on the long side.
Sport mode firms up the steering, but doesn't add any more feedback. The Abarth is an easy car to throw around, but it lacks precision.
Good enough to hang with its primary competition in our instrumented tests, and it's pretty fun out on the road. This car likes to be pushed hard, but it lacks the finesse and grip to keep up with other sporty hatchbacks on the truly twisty bits.
In normal mode, throttle response is lazy. Pair that with a short clutch uptake and you've got a recipe for a jerky ride. For best gas pedal response, press the Sport button. Although the manual tranny isn't perfect, it makes better use of the power than the automatic.
ValueWith a starting price around $24,000, value is an Abarth shortcoming. In this price range, you can get either better performance or a nicer car. You'll buy the Abarth simply because you love the way it looks or sounds. Maybe both.
Build Quality (vs. $)
The Abarth doesn't look or feel like a premium car inside the way the Mini Cooper does. Hard materials abound, yet the surfaces feel flimsy and have a tendency to creak.
You'll have to pay more if you want features like 17-inch wheels, navigation, automatic climate control and Abarth badging. Standard features include power door locks, Bluetooth, cloth seats and a tilt steering wheel.
Fully optioned, the 500 Abarth can hit nearly $30,000, which is simply too much for this little car. Especially since competitors are larger, offer more refinement and, in the case of the Ford Focus ST, cost less.
An EPA rating of 30 mpg combined (28 city/34 highway) is encouraging, but we only averaged 22 mpg while the car was with us. On our 116-mile evaluation loop we managed a respectable 31.8 mpg.
The basic and powertrain warranties cover the car for 4 years/50,000 miles, both of which are typical for cars in this class. Extended coverage is offered at additional cost.
Roadside assistance is offered for four years with unlimited mileage, which is slightly above average. No free maintenance is available. Mini comes standard with three years free maintenance.
Fun To DriveBeing fun to drive is the Abarth's biggest selling point. The manual transmission is better than the automatic. It makes good sounds and manhandles traffic. Still, you'll probably have more fun in a Mini Cooper S or Ford Fiesta ST.
If the Abarth felt quicker out on the road it would be easier to justify the raucous exhaust note. It looks and sounds the part, yes, but it doesn't deliver a great driving experience, whether on canyon roads or the daily commute.
There's planty of personality here. It's quirky, unusual, fun and loud in every way. Plan on being looked at in the Abarth. The exhaust note gets people's attention, while the car's visuals hold their stares afterward.