When Fiat left the US market oh so long ago, I was not happy. By that time I had owned a very used 128 wagon, a new X-1/9 and then a new 131 Brava. Each one a wonderful little car....as long as you loved sporting little Italian designed automobiles. I did, and I do, so I was thrilled when Fiat returned to our market. Then, when they tossed in the Abarth engineering along with a Turbo and strengthened trans, equal length half-shafts etc. I knew I was going to own a Fiat again. Hooray, because I own one now. This Abarth is truly a fun car to drive. Sure, it has quirks, but like Fiats of old, they are endearing to a "Driver".
I have held off on writing my review for a couple of years (so my car is actually a '13) in order to see how it fared over time. I don't think they have made many changes since them to the Abarth. I did not give it a poor rating on things like ride quality and storage simply because the car is great for what it is. The ride quality is very stiff due to the sport suspension, as is the steering. It's what I wanted and what I expected, so it has not disappointed me in these regards. It is also noisy due to the awesome exhaust (which one dealer told me is made by Ferrari). My only "poor" rating is on the visibility. Even looking out the front you have to be vigilant. There just isn't a lot of clarity no matter how you slice it. Two other things I do not like: no Bluetooth connect from phone to audio (unless calling someone) so if you want to listen to Pandora, you have to have cords. This is probably not the case if you get the navigation package. The other thing I do not like: terrible turning radius! Crazy. Feels like driving a boat when trying for a tight turn. These things being said, I thought that when I bought this car I would get tired of it after two months. It's loud, fun, stiff, small, fast, manual. I got it on lease for three years, so it was a gamble. Well, I have not tired of it at all. It has been great. You will get close to 40 mpg on the highway, and I average about 30 in mixed city driving. Also, I fit a Laz-y-Boy in the back! (Only because you can separate the seat from the back with a Laz-y-Boy.) This is not a super fast car, but it FEELS super fast and it is a blast to rocket around. I will say that the turbo lag is a bit much. I hear that it is not so obvious in the automatic transmission. Also, Fiat often offers some great deals. I got this as a lease so had to pay the list price. The same car was on sale for about $4,000 less when purchasing. So leasing may not be the most economical choice. I have noticed that a lot of American reviewers are pretty hard on Fiat. I don't know why. Consumer Reports rates them with awful reliability yet I have not had a single issue. I test drove the VW GTI, and that is a great car, but a whole different animal. The GTI is faster, way more refined in terms of ride quality, but the Abarth feels like it is made for rallycross and wants to chew something up. It is just bursting to go when you put it in sport mode. You can only get a sense of the Abarth by driving it and really pushing the pedal. Again, I'm not sure why it doesn't get amazing reviews, but I am not a car expert. One person described the driving experience as "driving an angry hornet." That is right on. On the highway, it holds very firm. I have driven it fair distances and been very comfortable, but again, it is quite loud. I would seriously consider getting another Abarth when my lease is up in 2016, but the girlfriend is not in favor. She says it makes her dizzy and it is too loud for us to talk on a road trip. Also, the racing seats are not conducive to her reclining to take a snooze while I drive. So....a word to the wise. In a nutshell, if you test drive this car and finish by getting out and telling yourself you feel like you just got out of a cocktail shaker, this may not be the car for you. If, on the other hand, you get out and you find yourself eager for more, then you know you have found your next car. It will not disappoint.
My 2012 Pop was a wonderful car and I enjoyed getting into it every day but I knew in the back of my mind that an Abarth would eventually end up in my garage. I waited for the 2013 model to arrive and then I went for a test drive - don't do this unless you are ready to buy one. The Abarth is everything I liked about the Pop raised to the tenth power. Comparing the Abarth to the Pop is like comparing an Alpina to a base 3 series BMW - you know the cars are related, but so many components have been upgraded that it is a completely different car. If you appreciate what FIAT has accomplished with the 500 you are going to love the Abarth.
Fiat was a sponsor of the US Grand Prix in Austin and had some Abarths on display. I really liked the look of the thing. Nice interior but not as quirky as a Mini Cooper. For such a tiny car it just looked mean. A week later I test drove one. I decided that buying the car just didn't make sense for me. A week later I bought one. Sense had nothing to do with it. This car is loud, raw and rides like an ox cart. It is also FUN! I traded in the best car I ever owned, a 2012 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI, that averaged 40 mpg. The Abarth seats look great but hurt my back. The shifter is rubbery. It could use a sixth gear. It only holds 10 gallons of gas. Go drive one. You will either get it or not....
Up front I'll say that I love this car and it is great for my needs. But this is absolutely a niche vehicle that is lots of fun as a run-about but gives up a lot in utility/flexibility. There is no way I would have bought this as an only car in the household--something like a GTI would make way more sense or a Focus ST if you wanted more edginess. That said, I felt the Abarth had way more character, was more fun, and was more unique for a hot hatch. It feels a more raw and simple than the competition--which I like. It gets me to work every day, puts a smile on my face when I drive it, gets good gas mileage, and for short trips fits a family of three and groceries for a couple of days.