One last go in Fiat’s fun and spirited city car

The reborn, retro-chic, Fiat 500 first graced North American shores back in 2011 and now, eight years down the line, we got behind the wheel of the peppy Abarth version to get one final sting from the scorpion as the entire 500 range is being discontinued by Fiat-Chrysler. Prepare for some top-down driving as we assess whether we’ll miss the 500 for what it is or for its vibe akin to an endless summer holiday in the rolling hills of Tuscany.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Exterior Design

  • Cute design with retro curvy lines
  • Sporty air dam
  • Diffuser in the rear
  • Blacked-out elements
  • Big wheels complete the sporty Abarth package
  • Drop-top version
  • Maybe the best-looking car in the subcompact segment
2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872177

Happily for us gearheads, saving fuel isn’t your main priority when behind the wheel of a Fiat 500 Abarth and this you’ll notice from the first moment you lay eyes on this pocket rocket. Those 17-inch, multi-spoke wheels hugged by low-profile tires, the bigger air inlets, the stripe along the lower part of the doors, the blacked-out mirrors, and the chromed exhaust tips all hint that it’s consuming gas rather than saving it.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872221
In the front, the 2019 MY 500 Abarth sports a grinning inlet in the lower bumper complemented by two side inlets separated by the blacked-out bars that host the fog lamps.

The round headlights with one main beam are almost unchanged, apart from the darkened background. Below them, you’ll find the equally round indicators while the Abarth logo takes pride of place in the middle of the car’s bulging nose, right where you’ll find the Fiat logo on a standard 500. A standard 500, however, doesn’t come with that rectangular inlet with four ducts.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven
- image 872288

We’re happy to report that the mesh covering the grilles in the front bumper, as well as those in front of the front wheels, is real, so no fake meshes here. It’s also nice of Abarth to have fitted a black chin spoiler to the lip of the 500’s bumper. It’s not a diffuser per se, as this lilliputian machine lacks a flat floor with venturi tunnels that would require air to be managed via the front air dam to reach the diffuser, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.

The hood still comes with no added vents - not even the hottest European Abarth versions have pierced hoods.

Apparently, that tiny 1.4-liter four-pot gets enough cool air through the existing inlets.
2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872213

The black mirrors along with the decals across the doors and rear quarter panels complete the sporty profile of the 500 Abarth that’s sensibly lower to the ground than a run-of-the-mill 500. In fact, the 500 Abarth’s ride height is lower than that of both the Mini Cooper S and the Ford Fiesta ST by about 0.8 inches. The rims on the car we tested are the optional cast aluminum 17-inch dark grey 12-spokes. They’re a $1,395 option and come with Pirelli P-Zero Nero (205/40R17XL) rubber.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872183

While not cheap, the rims do look a lot better than the standard ones although it does make the car less forgiving over bumps. If, by any chance, the sporty add-on parts we’ve mentioned thus far don’t make an onlooker come to the realization that this is, indeed, an Abarth model, you can rest assured that he will once he notices the added Abarth crests on the rear quarter panels, placed in line with the chromed door handles, below the car’s waistline.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872220
In the back, the 2019 Fiat 500 Abarth still comes with the pre-facelift taillights, namely those that aren't hollowed in the middle.

The fourth Abarth logo on the outside as well as a pair of inlets on the sides of the rear bumper and the diminutive diffuser that hosts the exhaust tips further emphasize how mean the 500 Abarth is. The grille in the middle of the diffuser is real and the exhaust pipes do end with those tips, they aren’t trying to fool you like on some much more expensive Audi RS models and other high-end stuff.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872216

Our car was painted in Laser Blue Metallic, a darker tint of blue that looks stunning in the sun and you can pick it for your 500 Abarth for free. In fact, the only color option that comes at an additional cost is the $500 Perla White as it’s a three-coat tint.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872211

Having said that, the decals and the black mirror caps are extras, coming as a package for $295 and the same goes for the soft-top roof that makes for fun summer driving while not transforming the 500 Abarth - in our view - into a ’cabriolet’ (as Fiat markets it) since the pillars stay in place. If you want the soft-top with a spoiler located above the rear window, be prepared to pay $1,495 over the MSRP.

How Big is the 2019 Fiat 500 Abarth?

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872208

The Fiat 500 is big, but only when parked next to its forefather from the ’50s. By modern car standards, the 500 is really small.

So small, in fact, that it makes a Mini Cooper S or a Fiesta ST seem quite large.

A Honda Fit is also longer than a 500 but the keychain size comes at a cost: the interior is quite tight.

Looking over the numbers, the differences aren’t that big but are, nonetheless, noticeable. A 500 Abarth measures 144.4 inches from end to end with a 90.6-inch wheelbase. It’s just 64.1 inches wide and 59.2 inches high. By comparison, a Cooper S is 158 inches long, less than an inch longer than a Fit and about two shorter than a European Fiesta ST. The Mini is also wider with a total width of 68 inches, about the same as the Ford sub-compact. Finally, both the Ford and the Mini are lower by a couple of inches than the Fiat 500 and this is something you do notice as the 500 has always been a tall and narrow car. It’s actually seven inches taller than the original 500 that only measured 117 inches in length or, in other words, just big enough to fit in your backpack after you’ve already packed in your tent.

Fiat 500 Abarth vs competition - exterior dimensions
Fiat 500 Abarth Mini Cooper Hardtop S Ford Fiesta ST
Length 144.4 158 160.1
Width 64.1 68 67.8
Height 59.2 56.1 57.2
Wheelbase 90.6 101.1 98
Ground Clearance 4.6 5.3 5.5
Front Track 55.4 59.1 57.7
Rear Track 55 59.1 57
Curb Weight 2512 2855 2742

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Interior Design

  • Interior subpar for premium segment
  • Dated cabin
  • Single gauge behind wheel still looks quirky
  • Shifter coming out from its elevated position is practical
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • Cramped cabin
  • Few safety features
  • little cargo room
  • The body-painted dash panel makes a statement even today
  • Sporty bucket seats offer better side support than standard 500 seats
2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Interior
- image 872215
The cabin of any Fiat 500 is not a place you'd want to find yourself in ahead of a long journey and it's no different in the case of the 500 Abarth.

Truth be told, the Abarth version is actually even less advisable due to its sporty enhancements that make the ride a tiny bit stiffer even on smooth and even road surfaces. It’s not something that we would ever call out the Abarth for as you’d expect an Abarth product to be peppy and more track-focused but, in short, this car mainly bodes well for city driving.

The seats feature extra side bolstering and a cut-through headrest as well. They’re wrapped in leather if you’re willing to pay $1,195 for that option. In exchange, you get leather with red stitching, like on the gear lever and the flat-bottom steering wheel. The high-back seats are, otherwise, wrapped in cloth.

We can argue that, in a car such as this one, you'll always feel you're sitting a bit too high up and we reckon this feeling might be less of an issue in a European 500 Abarth 595 Pista, for instance, that comes with some proper bucket seats.

but we never got any 595 Stateside and we never will, now that the 500 is headed for the chopping board.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth Interior
- image 768020

Looking straight ahead between the spokes of the wheel, you’ll notice the unmistakable multi-functional round dial. It encompasses a digital screen in the middle separated by a chromed ring from the speedometer on the left and the fuel gauge on the right. The whole thing, in fact, is digital and there’s one extra gauge to the left: the boost gauge that also informs you of the driving mode you’ve chosen.

The plasticky center panel on the dash is still there and, in our car, it was blue.

You could say it cheapens the look of the cabin but, anyway, there are acres of plastic inside the tiny interior confines of the Fiat 500 - too much for a car that wants to make you think you’re the owner of a premium model. The tiny digital screen in the middle of the dash, between the two air vents, is too small and the circular controls for the heater and ventilation in the lower dash look painfully outdated. Practical, but a true throwback to 2007 for sure.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth
- image 872312

A pair of cup holders and sockets are placed lower down between the seats. You also get two individual armrests.

Our car came with the $995 optional six-speed automatic transmission, and that's fine if you only plan to drive your car around town and, thus, leave it to do its thing in automatic mode.

If, however, you want to shift gears yourself, you’ll have to use that shifter sticking right out of the center console as the 500 Abarth doesn’t come with flappy paddle attached to the wheel. This makes driving the 500 Abarth fast quite hard with the automatic so we reckon the manual is the better overall option here and it also saves you some money (and weight!). Also, if you don’t pay almost a grand for the automatic, you can direct some of that cash towards the $695 Beats sound system.

The 500 Abarth still comes with rear seats and they’re as practical (or impractical, depends on how you want to put it) as ever.

You'll read almost everywhere that only small children fit in the back but we can attest that even 6'1" adults can ride in the back of a 500.

It’s not a particularly comfortable ride and the driver/front passenger does have to jerk his seat forward quite a bit, but it’s doable. Of course, ingress and egress in the back are no easy task but, again, it’s doable if you really have no choice and you have to ride in the back of this thing.

Fiat 500 Abarth vs competition - interior dimensions
Fiat 500 Abarth Mini Cooper Hardtop S Ford Fiesta ST
Front Headroom 38.9 39.9 39.1
Front Shoulder Room 49.4 51.2 52.7
Front Leg Room 40.7 41.4 43.6
Rear Head Room 35.6 37.5 37.2
Rear Shoulder Room 46.4 49.6 49
Rear Leg Room 31.7 32.3 31.2

How Much Cargo Room Does the Fiat 500 Abarth Have?

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872196
As you'd expect, the 500 Abarth comes with a small trunk and even smaller storage spaces inside the cabin. 9.5 cubic feet is the official cargo capacity, 3.7 cubic feet less than in the wider and longer Mini and 0.6 cubic feet less than in a Fiesta.

You can fit some airplane cabin-sized luggage in the back and some backpacks but little else if you don’t plan to fold seats. The Abarth comes with split-folding rear seats that are easy to operate: you must push a button on the headrests, pull the 50/50 split seatback towards you and the rear seatbacks are down.

Is the Fiat 500’s Infotainment System Easy to Use?

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth Interior
- image 768021

The 500 Abarth is no spacecraft and this also applies to its Uconnect 5.0 infotainment system. You’ll get the grips with it quickly but this will also mean that you’ll figure out it’s quite lackluster in the features department right away. For instance, navigation is optional and there’s no trace of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. All you get is Bluetooth, USB, and an auxiliary port. The screen’s 5.0-inch diagonal means you’ll do your fair share of squinting but hey, at least you won’t have to squint when trying to find a parking place. The Fiesta ST’s SYNC 3 infotainment system is a cut or two above but, after all, it should be as the latest ST was introduced in 2018 as part of the seventh-generation model launched one year before. The Mini, with all that BMW DNA running through its veins, is also more tech-savvy than the antiquated Fiat.

Fiat 500 and Child Car Seats

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth Interior
- image 768017

The Fiat 500 can, technically, take in a pair of child seats but it’s a bit of a chore, especially if you want to fit rear-facing ones in the back. The LATCH system is there but there’s little room and even with a forward-facing seat the passenger/driver will have to move their seat a bit. While some body machinations are surely in order (it all depends on the type of seat and how old the child is, of course), there’s some good news: the trunk is big enough to cram in a stroller. In short, it’s by no means a family car, but you can make it work if you really want to.

Oh, and for the record, it’s not that small. Looking over the cold data, the 500 Abarth lacks a couple of inches in rear headroom while roughly being on par with both the Cooper S and the Fiesta ST in terms of rear legroom. Rear shoulder room is limited at just 46.4 inches, some three inches off its bigger rivals. In the front, again, the 500 is smaller with only one inch less of headroom compared to the Mini and anywhere between two and three inches down in both legroom and shoulder room compared to its peers. Not much, but you can feel it.

Fiat 500 Abarth Performance & Driving Impressions

  • 1.4-liter turbocharged four-pot
  • Features twin intercoolers and a fresh-air induction system
  • 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm
  • 170 pound-feet of torque between 2,500 and 4,000 rpm
  • 0-60 mph in just under 7 seconds
  • 132 mph top speed
  • 300 pounds lighter than a Mini Cooper S
2019 Fiat 500 L - Driven Drivetrain
- image 857460

Abarth was all about performance back in the day when it was making cars under its own banner. Be it sports cars meant for endurance racing, record-breaking cars that would run the oval course at Monza or tin tops based on Fiat models, Abarth cars were renowned for their lightness and nimbleness and the same can be said about the 2019 Fiat 500 Abarth.

It is powered by the 1.4-liter turbo inline-four that now makes 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 170 pound-feet of torque between 2,500 and 4,000 rpm.

This translates to a 6.9-second 0-60 mph sprint and a top speed of just over 130 mph. Nothing about those numbers does justice to the feel you get when behind the wheel of the 500 Abarth, however. That’s because you know that a Mini Cooper S delivers almost 190 horsepower and the Fiesta ST even more, 197 horsepower, and both bring to the table over 200 pound-feet and can exceed 140 mph flat out. But all that doesn’t matter.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven
- image 872191

That’s because Fiat’s turbo four-banger just sounds wonderful. It also responds quickly with the turbo spooling up in no time and, unlike a genuine sports car, you feel you’re going faster than you actually are in the Abarth. That’s because the engine gets loud, the steering is engaging, and it makes it a captivating experience even though, in reality, you’re never surpassing 55 mph. That’s especially cool in an era when cars are great at concealing speed and, thus, getting you a speeding ticket. In the Fiat 500 Abarth, however, you don’t have to worry about any of that.

With Koni frequency selective dampers (FSD) over coil springs and MacPherson struts in the front, and a twist-beam axle with coils, as well as stabilizer bars at both ends, the 500 Abarth can handle a track day rather effortlessly. Yes, it’s front-end heavy with 64% of the weight hanging in front of the cabin but, with such a short wheelbase, understeer isn’t that big of a problem if you get the hang of really leaning on the brakes as you begin to turn in and get the rear to rotate slightly.

Trail braking is the way with a 500 Abarth and it'll make you grin once you get it right, forever ignoring the paltry output that will never match the bigger hot hatches out there.
2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872189

So, for sheer driving fun, the Fiat 500 Abarth should be on your shortlist.

We think it's great you can enjoy spending time behind the wheel without actually having to go fast in it thanks to the engine and the responsiveness of the controls.

Oh, and it’s anywhere between 200 and 300 pounds lighter than its nearest rivals. It would’ve been even better if we had the manual at our disposal. Also, the biggest flipside of dumping money on the Cabrio is that you get more of that aural bliss coming from the engine, enhanced by the exhaust system.

Fiat 500 Abarth specifications
Engine 1.4-liter turbo Inline four-­cylinder
Transmission five-­speed manual
Horsepower 160 hp  @ 5,500 rpm
Torque 170 lb.-­ft. @ 2,500-­4,000 rpm
Driveline FWD
Fuel Gas
Fuel Economy 28/33/30
Suspension Front: MacPherson suspension, coil spring with KONI frequency selective damping (FSD) twin-­tube struts and stabilizer bar Rear: Rear twist-­beam axle with coil springs and twin-­tube shock absorbers with 0.86 (22 mm) solid stabilizer bar
Steering Power rack and pinion with electric power steering (EPS) column
Turning Circle 37.6
Front Tire Size 195/45R16XL
Rear Tire Size 195/45R16XL
0-60 MPH 6.9 seconds
Top Speed 132 mph

Can the Fiat 500 Abarth Tow?

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872207

A Fiat 500 Abarth’s recommended towing limit (braked) is 1,763 pounds. For most Fiat 500s, the unbraked limit ranges between 881 pounds and 970 pounds. This means you can’t tow a camper van with the Fiat 500 and it’s not advisable to try your luck with a trailer either unless the trailer’s gross weight is under 1,000 pounds and the tongue weight doesn’t go over 100 pounds. To put it into context, the heavier Mini Cooper can tow up to 2,000 pounds and this means you can pull even a small boat with a Mini.

Fiat 500 Abarth Fuel Economy

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872176

The Fiat 500 has always been about fuel efficiency but, truth be told, the 500 Abarth isn’t the most economical of the lot (that’d be the 500e).

Fiat tells us you can get up to 28 mpg city and 33 mpg highway (30 mpg combined) even with the Abarth version (the standard model gets into the 40s combined).

That’s not entirely true, however.

We only managed about 22 mpg during our time with the car but we can't lie about the fact that we employed the 'Sport' mode quite a bit.

On paper, the Fiat is more economical than both the Mini Cooper S that gets no better than 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, and 26 mpg combined, and the Fiesta ST with a fuel economy of 32 mpg highway and only 25 mpg city. It depends on how light your right foot is...

Fiat 500 Abarth Safety

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872219

The Fiat 500 Abarth is lagging behind its main competitors in the safety department but, frankly, this isn’t news for anybody. Fiat’s not been too keen to update its long-standing sub-compact model and it shows. Standard safety features include stuff like a rearview camera and rear parking sensors which would be all right if this were 2007 but it’s not. Systems like Stability Control (SC) and Emergency Braking Assist (EBA) don’t make up for the lackluster safety offering when lane-keeping assist and collision warning assist-type systems are a must in today’s automotive world (among many others). The Fiat 500 doesn’t even have too many airbags coming with dual front side-mounted airbags and front and rear head airbags. That’s that.

Fiat 500 Abarth Pricing

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872218

The Fiat 500 Abarth is a rather cheap car in comparison to some of its rivals, but the price can go up surprisingly quick and, to add insult to injury, the resale value is disappointing.

The base price is $20,745 but, as we've mentioned before, stuff like the soft-top or the automatic gearbox push the price up in a jiffy.

The 500 Abarth we had on hour hands cost about $26,420, almost $6,000 more than a standard Hatchback. This isn’t good news when a standard Mini Cooper S comes in at $28,400 and a bog-standard Fiesta ST at little over $21,000 in Europe.

Fiat offers a Mini-matching 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with roadside assistance and a 3-year/36,000-mile no-cost maintenance package. Sadly, the reliability record of the 500 is below that of the Mini. Residual values for the 500 fall considerably short of the Mini’s but around the same ballpark as the Fiesta’s.

Fiat 500 Abarth Competition

2019 Mini Cooper S

left right

The Mini Cooper S is the more upmarket option to a Fiat 500 Abarth in that it actually follows up on its promise of being a premium car with superior fit and finish throughout and better materials inside the cabin. That’s also because the 2019 Cooper S is based on the third-generation Mini Cooper introduced in 2012, five years after the Fiat 500 was released and one year after it finally reached our shores.

The German Mini is powered by a 2.0-liter inline-four with a pair of turbochargers pushing the output to 189 horsepower (but the Cooper Works versions deliver in excess 220 horsepower). Unlike the Fiat, you sit really low in the Mini and this makes you feel like you’re controlling a proper sports car, although it’s still just a hatchback on steroids. The engine, besides the extra dose of oomph, is flexible and smooth and, with the six-speed manual, you can really have some fun. Not that the optional six-speed automatic is bad, quite the contrary, but the manual is the one to go for if spirited drives are on your to-do list after you buy a hot hatch.

While the Cooper S is bigger - and Mini even offers a five-door version - the back seat is still tight but not as tight as the 500’s, although tall folks won’t have an easy time getting themselves in there. The Mini’s 6.5-inch digital display is not that big in the grand scheme of things but, at least, Mini decided to make Apple CarPlay and wireless phone charging available for 2019. The Harman/Kardon surround sound speakers are better than what you can get in the Fiat but, all things considered, you shouldn’t forget that the Cooper S starts at $25,900, and the John Cooper Works Classic starts at $31,900.

Mini Cooper S specifications
Engine TwinPower Turbo, 2.0-liter, inline 4-cylinder direct-injection engine with double VANOS 
Transmission 6-speed manual
Horsepower 189 hp @ 5000 rpm 
Torque 207 lb-ft @ 1350 rpm 
Fuel Economy 23/32/26
Steering
Front Tire Size 195/55R16
Rear Tire Size 195/55R16
0-60 MPH 6.6 seconds
Top Speed 145 mph

Read our full review on the 2019 Mini Cooper S

2019 Ford Fiesta ST

left right

The big problem with the Ford Fiesta ST is that you can’t buy it. Well, at least not in the U.S. since Ford decided to focus on selling only crossovers, SUVs, and trucks Stateside, the Mustang notwithstanding. However, if we could’ve gone to a Ford dealer and pick a Fiesta ST, it’s a strong chance we might’ve because the latest Fiesta ST is a fine little car.

It’s powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder with cylinder deactivation technology for more fuel-saving when needed. It also comes with some trick suspension with directionally-wound "force vectoring" springs. While the Fiat’s soundtrack is mostly genuine, the Ford’s three-banger needs an active exhaust and some digital aid to sing but one can’t complain about such things in a pocket rocket that goes from naught to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 144 mph. Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber is standard and we think this is the only component that will really get used up quickly if you own a Fiesta ST. Otherwise, the car’s consuming fuel as if it hasn’t seen a gas station in a decade and maintenance costs are below those of the posh Mini.

But that’s the thing. The Fiesta ST is the car you choose using your head. It’s not a style icon, it doesn’t set you apart when driving through the busy downtown streets, and it’s not the heir of a rich heritage. At least, not in the way that the 500 and the Cooper S are. But, what the Fiesta ST’s got going for it is the sharp handling, comparatively low price, and satisfying amount of tech & safety features that make it a top choice in the world of small sporty hatches. If only we could get our hands on one...

Ford Fiesta ST specifications
Engine 1.6L EcoBoost
Transmission 6-speed manual
Horsepower 197 @ 6,000 
Torque 202 @ 4,200 
Fuel Economy 25/32/28
Turning Circle 35.5
Front Tire Size P205/40R
Rear Tire Size P205/40R
0-60 MPH 6.9 seconds
Top Speed 143 mph

Read our full review on the 2019 Ford Fiesta ST

Final Thoughts

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth Driven Exterior
- image 872223

In 2019, it’s a bit hard to justify buying a Fiat 500 and Fiat knows that since it’s axing the model. Having said that, in a weird way, justifying to part ways with little over $20,000 for a 500 Abarth seems to make, as far as we’re concerned, more sense than paying $17,000 for the standard model. The engine notes, the sporty good looks, the better seats, the better suspension and steering, all make the 500 Abarth a better car than any other 500 version available here in the U.S. It’s also one of the few cars to deliver on its promise of driving enjoyment without asking you to mash that loud pedal until you’re in danger of breaking the law.

  • Leave it
    • Lackluster, outdated cabin with sub-par safety features
    • True performance only comes with the sportier not available Stateside
    • Cramped inside and not particularly comfortable
Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read More
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