Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Little tiny retro-styled cars are my weakness. Whether it’s a Mini or a Fiat if it’s a throwback to when Euro pocket-rockets first shocked the world, I’m in. Adorable, cute, tiny, funky: these are all adjectives that fit this program to a tee.

“Oh! That’s what ESC does!” – I chuckled as I wrestled the little Fiat back under control.

My other weakness is noisy, attention-grabbing, angry, fun cars that pack a sting in their tail.

Enter: The Fiat 500 Abarth. Like me, it’s small and round, like me, it’s loud and entertaining.

Also like me, it is probably a little more boastful than its actual performance level warrants…

Until you really start to get after it, anyway.

“Oh! That’s what ESC does!” – I chuckled as I wrestled the little Fiat back under control. Under heavy braking and with all the electric nannies off (because I’m an idiot sometimes) the back had squirmed, wiggled and kicked like one of Calgary’s finest.

It was a dramatic demonstration of how Electronic Stability Control actually works to settle down a car and make it do all the predictable car things we’ve come to expect. On a previous occasion with all the tools turned on and the same braking point, pedal pressure, etc. the car had braked smoothly in a straight line and tipped in evenly to the corner.

The steering gave good feedback and the top-heaviness I expected to experience was actually quite subdued. The car has some movement in it. A little body roll, a little pitch – but in a talkative, helpful way rather than an untidy, unbalanced kind of way. The little 500 was so predictable and easy to drive – and so naturally I had to try and make it more fun by turning off the ESC and traction control.

Extra Retro: 2016 Fiat 500 1957 Edition Test Drive

Therein lies the rub. You have to work a little hard to make the 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth as much fun as the promising Scorpion badging, aggressive body work and sexy rims suggest it should be. You have to work properly hard to make it as exciting as the now-legendary Abarth exhaust tune sounds. The 1.4L turbo four is a raucous little fella, burping, barking and growling its heart out right through the five-speed gearbox. With 25 more hp and 20 more lb-ft of torque than the standard Fiat 500 Turbo, the 160 hp/ 170 lb-ft donk hustles the 1,142 kg jelly bean up to speed with urgency – but the soundtrack, not the speed, is the star of this show.

Bizarrely, the official ratings for the Abarth-tuned 500 and the regular 500 Turbo are the same at 6.9 L/100 km highway and 8.5 city. I saw a hilariously distant 10.2 L/100 km in my week – but at least three of those litres per 100 km were “heh, I like this noise” litres. Superfluous revs for the win!

That five-speed box could be sharper but the short little gear lever is entertaining to flick through its gates and falls nicely to hand mounted high in the dashboard.

The meaty Abarth steering wheel with its red-stitched leather and sculpted thumb-rests is as sexy as a steering wheel can be and as ergonomically perfect too – especially with the FCA UConnect audio controls behind the spokes. The steering itself is light even in Sport mode but the 500 responds quickly to its commands.

The three pedals are welcome but I wanted the brake pedal a little closer to the accelerator for heel-and-toe downshifts.

You can get a two-pedal version with a six-speed auto if you like making the car gods angry, but please don’t.

That sport mode I spoke of livens up the throttle appreciably, and also changes the gauge to a delightfully angry red. The fuel economy meter changes to a throttle percentage meter, just in case the metal under your foot fails to inform you that you are at 100 percent throttle. The boost gauge to the left of the cluster also gets a glowing orange “SPORT” sign.

Style-wise the Abarth gets plenty of firepower, including the vivid red engine cover complete with silver scorpion logo. The optional Abarth graphics down the side of our baby-blue tester are a nice touch, as are the optional 17-inch wheels. The blue tone is a new colour for 2016 and a welcome addition, in my opinion this is the best available colour for the Abarth. It carries the right balance of playful and exotic – perfectly matching this playful little Italian-inspired retro rocket.

And if anyone is ever confused which Fiat this is, there is an Abarth logo visible at every conceivable angle.

The interior is all style and aggression, even the boot with its Beats subwoofer is built for party time.

The now-standard, upgraded 5.0-inch UConnect infotainment interface is worlds ahead of the previous system and can be had with navigation too – no more funny little tom-tom to plug into the top of the dashboard.

The seats are comfortable and supportive, and despite lacking telescopic adjustments, the steering wheel and I were well-matched. The lack of back-up camera surprised me but the $375 rear park assist was helpful.

“Why do you need those things in a tiny car like this?” I hear you ask. “Are you such a muppet you can’t even park properly?” – well, yes.

But also I park in a downtown condo garage, where I squeeze my cars in with up to two motorcycles, and a pushbike – it helps me to get as close to those things as I can without hitting them. The help is therefore welcome.

In my downtown condo garage this Fiat was a darling, by the way. Not only because it is small and has a tiny little turning circle, but because its charm enamoured many of my neighbours. I’ve said this before about these 500s – they are probably the most charming little cars on the road right now, with the possible exception of the Nissan Micra.

And the only thing better than being charming, is being fun. The Fiat 500 Abarth is both.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth
Base Price $27,995
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $34,520
Optional Equipment
Comfort and Convenience Pack (Sirius XM, automatic climate control, heated front seats) - $795, Power sunroof - $1,200, GPS - $495, mirror cap and bodyside stripe - $275, Beats premium audio - $498, 17x7-inch aluminum wheels - $995, rear park assist - $375