We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the tiny little Fiat 500, both in coupe and convertible form. And have found that if you can handle the ultra-cute looks, the 500 offers a ton of fun for the money. Well, if you’re looking for even more fun for not a lot more money, this Fiat 500 Abarth may just be the ticket. So let’s punch it and find out!
Here at MotorWeek, we’re all about getting the best performance bang for our buck, and the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth embodies that sentiment in spades. For starters, this “small, but wicked” Fiat gets a huge boost in power. Under the hood is a thoroughly beefed up version of the MultiAir 1.4-liter I4 found in the standard 500. But, here turbo boost output by 59 horsepower to 160; that’s 114 ponies per liter! Even more impressive, torque nearly doubles to 170 pound feet.
The Abarth name may be new to most, but the company has a 60 year tradition of pumping performance out of Italian ride. Now as Fiat’s inhouse tuner, Abarth has done a lot more than just slap on a turbo and call it a day. The 500 Abarth is a total transformation. The suspension has been thoroughly tweaked with new Koni Frequency Selective Damping shocks, stiffer springs, and a solid rear stabilizer bar and all told, sits half an inch lower.
Just punch the Sport button for maximum engine output, quicker throttle response, and more steering feel, and you’re ready to blast through the corners. Under-steer has been almost eliminated, turn-in is insanely quick, and the car flat out sticks. More fun? Definitely! Faster? Well, let’s see. Fast is always a relative term, and 0-60 time of 7.7-seconds is not exactly supercar territory, but it is certainly much quicker than previous 500’s that we’ve tested, almost 2-seconds faster, actually.
The quarter mile is obviously quicker as well, at 15.8-seconds and 89 miles per hour. Off the line, the Abarth puts the power down fairly effectively with no torque steer. First and second gears pass quickly, but third is a real workhorse, taking you through most of the ¼ mille. A Ferrari it’s not, but somehow it’s almost just as thrilling. And the sound is great, even if it’s not from a V-12.
Transmission is 5-speed manual only. It needs a 6th gear! Still, the upgraded unit worked flawlessly throughout our testing. Stopping is also improved, bringing our Abarth to a halt 2-feet sooner than a 500 Sport at 120-feet from 60.
We all know that Italians like to do things with style, and the Abarth certainly gets a runway worthy makeover, but rest assured there’s function to go along with that form. Starting with a 500 Sport, the Abarth gets a more vertical front fascia, to make more room in the engine bay for turbo plumbing, and to allow room for larger air intakes. Down the sides are extended skirts, and on our test car, painted aluminum 17-inch wheels which replace the standard 16’s. In back, there’s a re-designed fascia, with black lower diffuser and double dual-tipped exhaust; and of course a big rear spoiler. And if all of that weren’t enough, there are Abarth scorpion shields on just about every body panel, though the red mirror caps and body side stripes are optional.
We already loved the purposeful interior design of this modern Cinquecento, and now there’s even more amore, with added Abarth elements like a nice thick flat-bottom steering wheel, black leather with red stitching on the gauge hood and shifter, aluminum pedal covers, and body hugging performance seats. Our car had the optional Rosso Nero leather. We’re still not fans of the concentric gauge array, or the dash top TomTom nav, but have no qualms at all about the new turbo boost gauge. While much more comfortable for two than four, the 500 remains surprisingly practical with its 9.5 cubic-feet of trunk space expanding to 26.8 with rear seats folded.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 28-City and 34-Highway; expect 31 miles-per-gallon of Premium in everyday driving. The Energy Impact Score is quite good at 10.6-barrels of oil consumed per year with annual CO2 emissions of 4.7-tons. As for pricing, the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth retails for $22,700; that’s about 5-grand over a 500 Sport, but it’s money well spent, as you are definitely getting Filet performance on a PBJ budget which is exactly the way we like it here at MotorWeek. The Abarth is the most fun we’ve had in a car that costs under $25,000, in some time. So, buy two, they’re small!
Engine: MultiAir 1.4-liter I4
Torque: 170 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 7.7 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.8 seconds @ 89 mph
EPA: 28 mpg city/ 34 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 10.6 barrels oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 4.7 tons/yr