Test Drive: Fiat 500 Abarth - Something Small But Wicked This Way Comes

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Images courtesy Fiat

When I first reviewed the Fiat 500 last year I found the new little import to be fun and quirky but it lacked one important aspect – performance. Ladies and gentlemen, I now give you the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Embodying the “small but wicked” spirit of namesake Karl Abarth’s hot little Fiats in the 1960s (something akin to John Cooper’s hotrodded Minis back in the day) the modern Abarth brings to the model line everything the base model is lacking for driving enthusiasts.

Right off one sees the styling upgrades along with unique paint and logo applications that adorn not only the exterior but bring a decidedly Italian flair to the interior as well.

Fiat boasts the new Abarth edition is for track-day enthusiasts and driving purists looking for high performance in a small car package that arrives with the pedigree of an exclusive Italian exotic. That’s market-speak for “this car is a hot little number and is a blast to drive.”

From the moment you fire up the engine you realize this is no ordinary 500. The exhaust blares triumphantly from twin pipes out the back that will surely bring the ire of neighbors in the wee hours of the day.

The Fiat 500 Abarth is treated to powertrain upgrades featuring a feisty turbocharged 1.4-liter engine generating 160 horsepower and backed by track-proven C510 five-speed manual gearbox. The added power is sent to larger half-shafts and CV joints capable of dealing the added power.

The Abarth sees upgrades to suspension components as well while sporting unique running gear at each corner inside the flared wheel arches that aide ventilation to the performance brake components.

Front and rear fascias are modified for additional performance-enhancing features like front air inlets and rear spoiler plus side skirts mated to a lowered ride height for better handling and improved “aero.”

In the cockpit drivers get a sport steering wheel and an added turbo boost gauge to keep an eye on the spinup of engine power. Front and center is a sporty shifter knob whose placement seems odd at first but a blessing when ripping through the gears. Oddly I really enjoy the higher-mounted shift linkage.

I found myself in traffic a few times during my Abarth experience and the clutch was very manageable. Most of the time however I utilized the little Fiat for what it was and treated the sluggish sleds on the road as slalom course markers.

I really enjoyed the new Abarth, although my head did hit the headliner a few times at the edge of the sunroof opening even with the seat in its lowest position. I commonly referred to the car as the “Trixie racer” as it seemed more appropriate for the female driving enthusiast both in design and packaging than for the 90th percentile male.

Pricing on the Fiat 500 Abarth begins at just 22 grand with our tester arriving with a few extra goodies to the tune of just a tick over $27k. Fuel economy remains reasonable at 28 mpg city and 34 mpg highway considering the performance mods.