Auto Review: Fiat spices up the 500

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Apr. 11, 2013
2013 Fiat Abarth Edition 500 - Contributed Photo

Back in 2011, when we took to the wheel of the first new Fiat to grace these shores for ages, we discovered in their 500 a very charismatic, fun-to-drive little hatchback. This is only the beginning, though, because the 500 line is expanding with additional models including a larger SUV-style wagon, an electric version, and the car we review this week that bears the name of a famous racing concern that’s been in Fiat circles for decades.

The Abarth Edition 500 is an aggressive, high-performance version that’s as fun to drive as it is great at starting conversations in parking lots. The original versions in this long line of Karl Abarth’s “small but wicked cars” enjoyed a reputation for being the ideal racer for a tight budget, and in the ’70s his company became part of Fiat’s racing development concern. The modern version of the Abarth 500 pays homage to this heritage, and it does this while maintaining its fuel efficiency and ability to slide into even the smallest parking spaces.

No mere cosmetic alteration, the Abarth 500 is extensively modified to enhance performance and durability. This starts in the engine compartment (under the excellent Abarth scorpion logo), where the mill is a Turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir Inline Four cylinder that produces 160 horsepower. The front-drive powertrain utilizes a five-speed manual transmission especially reinforced for spirited driving, with a low first gear ratio for quick acceleration and a fairly tall fifth gear ratio for fuel economy. Other reinforcements to the package include stronger constant-velocity axle joints compared to the standard version. Sixty mph arrived in around seven seconds during our testing, helped by a shifter mounted high in the central stack that made quick work out of flogging the spunky little Four (with audio accompaniment by a dual exhaust system that is quite expressive). The suspension is also modified to include higher spring rates, a lower ride height and numerous structural reinforcements. Even the steering ratio is altered for quicker response, and the result is a seriously flickable hatchback that manages to corner flat but gobble up bumps without unduly disturbing your passengers with a harsh ride.

Passengers will also appreciate the supportive seating, especially up front where the optional leather seats offer comfort as well as keeping you in place during enthusiastic cornering. The instrument cluster is interesting and fairly easy to navigate once you learn your way around. Unusual on the Abarth is the optional TomTom Navigation/Bluetooth unit that pops into the top of the dashboard when desired but pops out when you don’t need it (thus getting it out of the way of forward visibility). The rear seats are fairly tight for adults, but certainly acceptable for short trips, and seatbacks fold forward to increase cargo versatility.

All in all, the Fiat 500 Abarth is a truly entertaining compact, and there is now a convertible Cabrio version, as well. The 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth is EPA-rated 28 MPG city/34 highway and has a base price of $$22,000. With options, our MSRP came to $27,100.

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