The tiny little Fiat 500, in Abarth form, is the most fun you can have in a car for the price. Full stop. But if you have to live with the car every day, what is it like? That’s what we aimed to find out.
As part of our trip to western Michigan to drive the Dodge Challenger Demon, our friends at FCA sent us the Abarth for transportation. While the 160-horsepower, 5-speed manual car isn’t as fast as the 840-horsepower Demon, there are worse ways to spend the day.
Our loaded Abarth included, in addition to the manual transmission, a Uconnect infotainment system with navigation (but no Android Auto or Apple Car Play), automatic climate control, and no muffler. Wearing a brilliant Italian shade of “Arrest Me Red,” it’s a car that doesn’t go unnoticed.
The lack of the aforementioned muffler makes the car snort and crackle on shifts. It’s loud. It’s brash. It’s full of personality.
The Abarth takes the relatively boring 500 and cranks it to 11. It’ll squeal tires around corners. It’ll coax you into driving faster and faster, just to hear the engine note. It’s a hooligan.
It’s also a bargain hooligan. It starts under $20,000, and while some options can raise that price a few grand, it’s still a car with more charm and character than the Ford Fiesta ST or even the Golf GTI.
When you aren’t driving like your hair’s on fire — which you should always drive an Italian car like that — the 500 Abarth is a competent highway cruiser, if a little noisey. Only having five gears with the manual transmission means it doesn’t quite settle into a highway overdrive gear, and the inexpensive nature of the 500 in general means there’s not a lot of sound dampening to hush out the elements.
Rear storage space is small, since there’s not really any car left behind the rear wheels, but the rear seats do fold down to increase the overall cargo capacity. I’ve ridden in the back seat of a 500 Abarth convertible before, and while I can say that I fit, I wouldn’t want to actually do that on a regular basis.
While it can be done, I also wouldn’t want to be putting a child in and out of a safety seat in the back, either.
Fuel economy is acceptable for a little performance car, and it’s easy to get into the 30s on the highway without any issue. The more you drive it hard, which you’ll want to do, the lower the fuel economy will get. But I suppose that’s like that with any car. What I’ll say is that this car rewards you for driving aggressively, except at the fuel pump.
So would I purchase one? Yes, but with some caveats.
If it was just me or a me and a significant other, it’s a good little car. If we had children I’d probably move on to something a bit bigger, or at least something with rear doors.
I’d also consider opting for the 6-speed automatic transmission. The manual is more fun to drive, but the automatic has an extra gear that’ll help with the day-to-day fuel economy.
The 124 Spider, especially in Abarth trim, is a fun car, but the 500 Abarth has more character at a lesser price. It’s not perfect, but that’s what makes this little Italian wonderful.