Note: Hey guys- sorry for the delay in getting last week’s Verdict posted for TWPC. I was traveling last Friday and was unable to finish the review in time. I’m happy to report, however, that the review is now complete, so without further ado here’s our take on the 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth. Our apologies for the delay – please let us know what you think in the comments below.
It’s a bit of an oddball – a reality that hits you square in the face as soon as you lay eyes on it.
You soon also realize, however, that being odd and standing out, all while being very Italian, is a huge part of the Fiat 500’s charm.
In a world of look-alike, drive-alike vehicles – especially in North America with its aversion towards cars that are outside of the mainstream – these little Fiats swim hard against a tidal wave of conformity.
And if ever there was a car that does not conform, even in the slightest, to North American automotive convention, it is the 500.
This is especially true of the rip-snorter that sits atop the model range, the Abarth, a chipper, bug-eyed little rocket that loves to strut its stuff, your sniggering be damned.
The Abarth is not to be underestimated because, despite its rather cutesy appearance, it comes equipped with some pretty serious performance credentials.
Under the hood, Fiat has selected its 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo four to power the Abarth which, despite its small displacement, cranks out 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft. of torque.
These numbers might not seem all that impressive until you’re sitting in the driver seat and realize the Abarth is a small car – not a micro car, but only a notch above.
Consequently, it is both lightweight (1,142 kg) and rides on a short wheelbase (2,300 mm), which has a way of making those 160 / 170 numbers seem more than adequate.
For frame of reference, a 2016 Honda Civic Coupe like the one we drove last month has a wheelbase that is exactly 400 mm longer (2,700) and 109 kg heavier (1,251) than the Abarth, yet produces less horsepower and torque (158 / 138).
In that light, the published 0-100 km/h times we’ve seen (around eight seconds) may not be exactly earth-shatteringly fast, but are still pretty quick.
Paired with the 1.4 are two available transmissions, a five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic, both of which drive the front wheels.
On the suspension front, the Abarth gets some better kit to help deliver better handling and, yes, a somewhat stiffer ride, thanks to dual-valve Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) KONI front shocks, stiffer spring rates and a 15 mm (0.6-inch) lower ride height.
Other performance kit includes 16-inch cast aluminum wheels, low-profile Pirelli tires and 11-inch vented brake rotors on all four corners that work in concert with red calipers.
Visually, the Abarth is still a Fiat 500, so the upright, triangle profile complete with bug-eye headlights and a short rear end remain although, as I said on Wednesday, plenty of model-specific design details give the Abarth a more commanding presence.
A dual-chrome exhaust with blacked-out diffuser, along with stenciled Abarth graphics along the bottom of the doors and big helping of scorpion badges completes the car’s specialized look.
On the inside, the Abarth is filled with interesting design details that feel uniquely Fiat, from the colour-matched dash panel to the floating buttons above the centre stack for hazard lights, drive mode and rear defroster (?), and mid-dash mounted gear shifter.
Among other details that both charm, and take a little getting used to, are the centre console-mounted window buttons, way-down below cup holders and USB / 12-volt jacks, along with a turbo boost gauge to the left of the steering wheel that lights up with the word ‘sport’ when the car is in sport mode.
Despite some rather unique design / placement choice, the Abath’s interior is a comfortable one. The grippy seats don’t have a great deal of adjustability, but are plenty comfortable and the red-stitched and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter look great and have a nice tactile feel.
On the road, the Abath provides for a lively driving experience. Even in regular mode, the 1.4-litre turbo provide plenty of thrust to hustle the light Abath through traffic and past slower moving vehicles on the highway with ease.
As one might expect with a car with such a short wheelbase, the ride is firm but not jarring and the Abath’s reflexes are sharp, both from a steering and handling perspective. Despite being a tall car, the Abath doesn’t corner like it’s about to tip over – cornering is much flatter than I was expecting and understeer isn’t pronounced.
Maneuvering around other vehicles and squeezing through small spaces in slow traffic is a breeze. And parking is as about as easy as it gets for a car this side of the smart fortwo.
The exhaust note is pretty loud – even in normal driving situations, but I quite liked the sound of it, as it helps to give the car a real performance character.
Overall, the Abath is loads of fun to drive. Despite having to cut my time with it a bit short due to travel plans that required an early return, I became rather enamored of the car’s quirks and rather unique personality. It's not a cheap car by any means, but offers a lot for its as-equipped $34,000-plus price tag.
If you want a fun, performance hatch with lots of content, character and an unmistakably Italian charm that really stands out, the Abarth just might be your car.
Next week: 2017 Ford Focus RS
SPECIFICATIONS – 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth
BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $27,995 / $34,520 (incl. $1,795 destination)
ENGINE: 1.4L MultiAir turbocharged 4-cylinder
HORSEPOWER: 160 hp @ 5,500 rpm
TORQUE: 170 lb-ft. @ 2,500 – 5,000 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 1,142 kg
CONFIGURATION: front engine, front-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 8.5 / 6.9 / 7.8
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 60 / 100,000
ALTERNATIVES: Honda Civic Coupe, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Kia Forte Koup
Photography by Lee Bailie