PRO’s: High style, great price, killer exhaust note.
CON’s: Twitchy handling, not a great interstate cruiser, useless rear seats.
FINAL THOUGHT: A great little city car that offers style, decent performance and economy for a fair price.
The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is one nifty little roller skate of a car. It looks the business, makes all the right noises and comes from the land of pasta and pizza. However as with all things Italian it’s not free of quirks. Even though the 500 is relatively new to the American market, it’s been around in Europe for over 5 years and in that time has developed a cult-like following. It’s compact, relatively fun to drive and pretty good to look at if you dig hipster fashion and overpriced coffee.
The Fiat 500 Abarth is a city car. It’s small enough to park anywhere, quick enough to squirt in and out of traffic and it will look good anywhere you park it. From the aggressive stance featuring smoked out 17-inch wheels, to the black leather seats with red trim, to the wicked little Scorpion emblems, the Abarth has the looks of the giant killer, but only as long as that giant resides in a metropolitan area. Styling on the 500 is aggressive and is the one thing on the Abarth that the Italians nailed right out of the gate.
Powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, the 500 Abarth puts out 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, good numbers for a car of this size, and really good when you consider it only weighs 2,533 lbs. With a 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds the Fiat 500 Abarth is right on par with cars like the Scion FR-S and Mini Cooper S. Acceleration is brisk and with an intoxicating exhaust note, you’ll find yourself running the little 1.4-liter mill up to red line every time you drive it.
Handling is decent, but not spectacular in my opinion. Turn-in is VERY quick, however with such a short wheelbase the car exhibited a twitchiness that I wasn’t overly comfortable with. Aside from decent power the Abarth also employs a tweaked chassis, performance brake pads and special Koni shocks and springs that help deliver a much sportier ride over the base 500 without being overly harsh or uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, it handles pretty well, but it’s just not as refined as say a MINI Cooper S or VW GTI. Ride quality is stiff but not uncomfortable and if you’re buying an Abarth than this is something you should already know.
Now while some testers complain about the 5-speed shifter being mounted up on the dash, I for one enjoyed it. Being easy to reach and throw, the shifter was actually a lot of fun to push around. Shifts, although a bit long were concise and never once did I feel like the transmission was notchy or sub-par. A 6th gear however would be a welcome addition.
As mentioned, this is a car that’s better suited to around town then out on the interstate. From a power perspective it’s fine, but this is a narrow little car which means road imperfections, high winds and larger vehicles can upset the 500’s composure if they pass at speed. From the economy side of things the Abarth put up good numbers with a combined mileage of 30 mpg on premium fuel. However I was wishing for a larger fuel tank (stock is 10.5 gallons) because even with great economy numbers I was only achieving around 250 miles before the light came on.
Climb inside and you’re greeted by an interior that is every bit as hot as the model in the Fiat commercials. The high back seats are comfortable and performance oriented providing plenty of bolstering.
Combine that with black leather and red double stitching and you can see that Fiat has gone through great pains to infuse all the sportiness they can into this car. Back seats do exist but they’re more for show than anything else. Put them down however and you’ll find there’s plenty of room for luggage in case you and a friend want to get away for the weekend.
The dash is a love it or hate it affair with a concentric gauge cluster, however I have to say that the separate boost gauge with shift light was a nice sporty touch. The steering wheel is flat-bottomed, leather wrapped, thick and provides a nice place for your hands to be. Other dash components include a large plastic fascia that is body colored, a decent BOSE stereo, and well placed automatic climate controls.
Where the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth really shines is in the price department. A base Abarth starts at $22,000.00 which is not a lot of money for a fun little car. By comparison a base Mini Cooper S starts at $24,000 and a base Ford Focus ST comes in at just under $25,000. My tester came with the optional performance trim package (package 25X) that includes leather seats, automatic temperature control, navigation and an alarm as well as the optional 17-inch wheels, bringing the price to $26,200. Not super cheap, but not terrible either.
All in all the 2012 Fiat 500 is a great little city car that offers high style, good performance and economy for not a lot of money. However if you do a lot of interstate or highway travel you may want to look at something that’s a bit more composed on the open road.