Test Drive: Abarth 500

courtesy of http://www.automobilesreview.com/gallery/abarth-500/abarth-500-03.jpg

“What did you say you drove?”

“The Abarth 500.”

“you barfed what?”

Ok so maybe my friends are a bit deaf, but the new Abarth 500 has just been released and it couldn’t have come sooner; its about time we finally get some of the cars they enjoy in Europe! The Abarth 500 is the “hotted up” version of the Fiat 500, and will be a competitor to the Mini Cooper S.

When the Fiat 500 was released last year in Canada, the first question I asked the beautiful female Fiat representative at the car show was “Where’s the Abarth?”. “Soon” was the answer.

Honestly, I was just glad the little Fiat had not been rebadged as a Chrysler product as it would have lost 100% of its Italian charm.

My anticipation for the Abarth version had come after renting one in the UK for 3 days on a quick jaunt last year. In those three days, I covered over 2000 miles and over 17 hours of driving. I drove from Gatwick airport to Bath, through St. Ives, then around the coast through Brighton before finally getting back to Gatwick. I drove on some fantastic A and B roads and got a chance to see what it was like to live with this car.

English Countryside…and a castle!

On paper, the car doesn’t sound overly impressive – 160 hp and 170 lb-ft coming from a 1.4L turbocharged engine doesn’t seem that much today on a modern car. Good thing cars aren’t driven on paper.

The first thing I noticed when I walked up to the car hire car park, was the way it looked. Abarth had somehow made a cutesy mouse of a car made by Fiat look like it had taken too many testosterone pills. And that it had just crushed a flat of Red Bull for fun. And taken steroids to show a Mini Cooper that they don’t actually shrink your penis. Maybe it was the black paint, or those scorpion logos all over the car, or the silver/anthracite alloys with red trim. I don’t know – all I know is that you somehow feel more manly in this car.

Look at that! Seriously badass!

Scoripon Abarth badge – one of many…

Getting inside the car, you sit in a sporty bucket-ish seats, and face a manly thick-rimmed leather steering wheel, and decent enough plastics. The turbo boost gauge is seriously cool. The tall car allows a decent viewing angle, although this also means you sit ON the car, rather than IN the car.

Interior – No J.Lo or Gucci styling here thank you very much

Turn the ignition and you are greeted by a bassy burbling sound from the dual exhaust. You shift into 1st and trade clutch with throttle and you are off. The brake/throttle pedals are in a good position for heel/toe work, and I am fascinated by the concentric speedo/tachometer as well as watching the turbo boost build up on the gauge.

Being a small car, the 160hp/170lb-ft of torque make the car sprightly and eager. I am addicted to the soundtrack of the car – it starts off bassy at idle, and as the revs build the car growls at you. It sounds like a character from Dragon Ball Z – fists clenched and always growling about something.

There is torque steer; but rather than a negative in this car it feels part of the character. Its the manly thing – “I don’t need no f**king traction control!”. The chassis is based off of the Fiat Panda (which we don’t get in North America) so it handles pretty well. There is plenty of grip from the front unless you get over zealous in 2nd gear, however it is difficult to “feel” what the tires are doing through the steering wheel so driving on the edge is difficult. That being said, the car remains flat through the corners. A sport button sharpens throttle response and something else I can’t remember. For me, this is a “sporty” car so I just left it in sport the whole time. Personally, I’m not a fan of “adjustable” character traits in a car that is seemingly designed for sporty driving – Why not just make the sporty car sporty the whole time?

That aside – the car feels fantastic, and is full of character. I have never had a chance to drive an “old school hot hatchback” but I would imagine it feels like this. Imperfect, but you love it.

Issues? The rear bench has just enough leg room for people with no legs, the ride is bouncier than a bed in a college dorm, the shifter is clunky, and I have more steering feel in my gran turismo steering wheel. But I don’t care.

Rear seats – enough room for…just luggage really

There is something special about this car that previously I thought was just some stupid thing automotive journalists say. To explain why they gave a better rating to a car with clear deficiences over another that did not have the same deficiencies. I thought it was an excuse.

After driving the Abarth however, I think I understand – this car has a SOUL. By being imperfect and yet giving you the impression that it is always trying its absolute best is what makes this combination of ideas and matter more human. This is reflected in the way it looks, the way it drives, and the sound it makes. You form an emotional connection with this car that you never will with a Toyota Corolla. It is special. Wherever I parked it, I found myself looking back at the car before leaving. Once while crossing an intersection near Brighton, a silver AMG Mercedes slowed down while passing me in traffic, holding up the traffic behind him. The guy rolled down his window and I began fearing for my life because he was obviously a drug dealer.

But then he yelled out, “hey – is that an Abarth?”


“cool mate. Nice car!”

To get props from a British drug dealer like that gave me a warm feeling inside. That is the kind of experience you can expect from this Abarth 500. Possibly dangerous, but exciting at the same time.

Farewell my friend!

I haven’t driven the latest Mini Cooper S so its tough for me to make a comparison, but this will be tough to beat. Being taller than a Mini, I would expect the Mini to handle better but the Abarth undercuts the Mini in price and beats the Mini for character. Ok, so the Mini has a few extra horsepower, but I would still take the Abarth. Sorry Mini – morphing yourself into different variants to keep yourself “fresh” doesn’t count for character.

That being said – anybody want to lend me a Cooper S to confirm this?

2 Comments Add Yours

  1. Mandy

    am i the only one reading your blog?? oO LOL

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