The Fiat 500 may be a relatively new vehicle to the U.S. market, having swam across the pond for the 2010 model year, but the little hatchback can trace its clear roots to the original Fiat Nuova 500 of 1957. The little car was pure Italian with character to boot. A ragtop, suicide doors, and a two-cylinder engine that produced a modest 13 brake horsepower and displaced — you guessed it — 500 cc. For U.S. buyers, the latest 500 comes in a cute Italian wrapper powered by a modest four-cylinder. The Abarth edition that showed up for 2012, however, eats the cuteness and spits it out its sport exhaust. The 500 Abarth might be small, but it packs a wallop.

I recently got a second stint in the Fiat 500 Abarth, though this one had a solid roof. You may recall my previous 500c Abarth review. Surprisingly the roof was nearly the only difference between the two cars. Even the paint matched. This gave a great comparison of the differences between the hatchback and cabrio versions.

But first, let’s look at what sets the Abarth apart from the standard 500. Most notable is the engine. The Abarth replaces the 500’s 101-horsepower, 98-pound-feet of torque 1.4-liter four-cylinder with a turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine making 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is swapped for a heavy-duty, five-speed manual. The ride height is dropped 0.7 inches and includes much stiffer shocks, the front brakes are an inch larger in diameter, the appearance is upgraded inside and out, and of course, that loud exhaust system is added.

Click past the jump for more on the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth

  • 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven
  • Year:
    2014
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    five-speed manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    160 @ 5500
  • MPG(Cty):
    28
  • MPG(Hwy):
    34
  • Torque @ RPM:
    170 @ 2500
  • Energy:
    Port Fuel Injection
  • Displacement:
    1.4 L
  • 0-60 time:
    7.3 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    130 mph
  • Layout:
    front engine, FWD
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

TopSpeed Garage


Exterior

2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The Fiat 500 is a very unique car. Its tall greenhouse, super-short wheelbase, minimal overhangs, and expression-filled face give it clown-car proportions. The Abarth portion of the equation brings a more playfully aggressive stance that includes the lowered ride height, 17-inch “Hyper Black” wheels ($1,400 option), more aggressive scoops and vents in the bumpers, and black racing stripes running down both sides. It’s the manliest cute car there is.

Of course I have to address the differences between the 500c and the hatchback 500. Basically nothing changes except the roof and back glass. The 500c enjoys a nice cloth soft top that retracts back via a simple button push. Three preset stopping points give the driver a choice of a sunroof-style, full roof style, or a full convertible style opening. The last setting drops the back glass window down for the full effect, leaving only the A-, B-, and C-pillars sticking up.

The hatchback version foregoes all the drop-top fun by offering a full-metal roof. It also foregoes the added $4,000 price tag for the soft top. It’s a case of “pick your poison.” The hatchback offers a touch more interior serenity from road and exhaust noise, but lacks the outright fun of hearing that sport exhaust scream and having the sun kiss your skin.

Interior

2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven Interior
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2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven Interior
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2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven High Resolution Interior
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Things inside the 500 Abarth are interesting. Occupant space for both the driver and passenger are quite good. Leg, hip, and headroom are outstanding. Exit the confines of those two seats and things are cramped. The center console and cup holder area are tiny. Less than two inches separate the folding center arm rests between the seats. Rear passenger comfort is minimal, so trips with more than two should be kept short. It does fit a car seat, however.

Back to the center console. The cup holders are arranged where theoretically three drinks can fit. Perhaps Coke cans would work. The standard medium-sized drink from the drive thru doesn’t. There’s room enough to make the cup holders larger, but it’s wasted.

Otherwise, the interior is a fun place to be. The body-colored dash adds character while the layered gauge cluster adds interest. It does take a second to get accustomed to the gauge arrangement, but it’s a small learning curve. The boost gauge brings even more excitement. An updated, more configurable digital readout would also be appreciated.

The Radio works well enough though the buttons are on the small side. It also lacks the infotainment-style features coming standard on most cars. Order the optional navigation system, and Fiat throws in a dash-mounted TomTom unit for $600.

Last but not lest are the sun visors. They’re simply too small. Compared to the large windows, the visors lack the real estate to properly block sun coming from extreme angles. Bring your polarized sunglasses.

Powertrain

2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven Drivetrain
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At the heart of the operation is Fiat’s turbocharged engine. While it displaces the same 1.4-liters as the standard engine, it produces far more horsepower and torque — 59 horses and 72 pound-feet, to be precise. In total the 160 horse, 170 pound-foot engine produces enough grunt to get the 2,500-pound car moving to 60 mph in roughly 7.2 seconds. It might not sound fast on paper, but like driving a go-kart, the experience says otherwise.

Pressing the dash-mounted “Sport” button is required for the full effect. Without it activated, boost is limited and horsepower is maxed at 150. A shift light in the center of the boost gauge flashes brightly, encouraging better driving habits. Steering and throttle inputs are also put on ice. Pushing the button eliminates all that.

Then there’s the noise. The engine has little in the way of an exhaust system, dumping its spent air into dual pipes that trumpet loud enough to warrant complaints from the neighbors. I did find it interesting that though my two 500 Abarth test cars’ powertrains were identical, the 500c had a more racy sound — and not because of the missing hardtop. The 500c spurted out more blats, cracks, and pops in overrun situations between gears and on moderate-rpm downshifts.

In practice, the engine pulls hard, especially above 3,000 rpm when the boost is rolling on. Revs come quickly and fall effortlessly. The heavy-duty, five-speed manual transmission works well, but craves shorter throws and a sixth gear. Seventy mph means 3,000 rpm in fifth gear and premium fuel leaves the 10.5-gallon tank rather quickly. The EPA does rate the Abarth at 28 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined. I saw just under 30 mpg over my week, so hitting the estimates is possible, but more careful driving is required.

Driving Impressions

2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven Interior
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The Fiat’s short wheelbase, low-profile tires, and stiff suspension give it a very purposeful ride. A moderately heavy steering rack means the car isn’t twitchy, but the chassis does transmit body motions to the cabin with ease. Surprisingly body roll is well-managed. Visibility is superb and the large side mirrors nearly eliminate blind spots. The ride plus the great outward vision makes the car feel very tossable. The high seating position and active participation needed to drive the car makes a simple grocery run feel like a track-day event. The car is simply a blast to drive. The Fiat 500 Abarth is pictured beside the old adage that states, “I’d rather drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.”

Pricing

2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven Emblems and Logo Exterior
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In comparing my two Abarth testers, this is where the main differences lie. The 500c commands a $26,195 base sticker while the hatchback pictured above starts at $22,195. Both cars came equipped with the same options, minus one. Those include the Comfort and Convenience Group ($900) which includes the auto A/C controls, heated front seats, and SiriusXM radio; the TomTom navigation system ($600); black trimmed lights ($250); black mirror caps with the body side stripe ($450); and the beautiful 17-inch forged aluminum Hyper Black wheels ($1,400). The hatchback did include the Autonet Wi-Fi system ($609).

Add the $800 destination fee and the price totals $27,204 for the hatchback — a full $3,391 less than the 500c.

Competition

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI High Resolution Exterior
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The Golf isn’t quite the same compact, upright city car that the Abarth is, but it still offers plenty of competition for the Fiat. Improvements for 2015 include an upgraded suspension for back-road bombing. A turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder brings the motivation with 210 horsepower. Sixty mph comes in just 6.4 seconds. A six-speed manual comes standard and a six-speed dual clutch is optional.

Pricing begins at $24,395 and grows to the lower $30,000 range.

Ford Fiesta ST

2014 - 2015 Ford Fiesta ST High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Larger still is the Fiesta ST. Four real doors and room for five provide a more sedan-like experience but the car’s overall compact size and peppy drivetrain keep it competitive. Under the hood lies a turbocharged, 1.6-liter four-pot making 197 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual does the shifting. Despite its extra size, the Fiesta hits 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and has a top sped of 130 mph.

Prices start at $20,915 and crest just over the $25,000 mark with the optional extras added.

Conclusion

2014 Fiat 500 Abarth - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Despite all its flaws as a daily driver, (lack of center console space, poor visors, etc.) the Fiat 500 Abarth somehow overcomes those negatives with a heaping helping of attitude and character. The Abarth’s mechanical and driving attributes simply outshine any negatives. Would I recommend the Abarth? Sure — but to those living in a place where small cars make sense. Conversely, the car would work perfectly as tow-behind for those with an RV. But open roads and highway cruising aren’t its forte, so you’ll want to stay close to home.

  • Leave it
    • Almost too small for its own good
    • Needs a short-throw shifter with a sixth gear
    • Needs more cubby spaces and larger cup holders
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