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Review: 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

Cars, Reviews  /   /  By Danny Chang

The Mini Italian Stallion


  • 170 lb-ft of torque from 2,500 to 4,000 rpm from the turbocharged 4-cylinder
  • Unique styling of the Cinquecento now with badass quotient
  • Low bellowing exhaust note


  • Steering wheel lacks enough adjustability
  • Missing a 6th gear

The Fiat 500 Abarth starts at exactly $22,000. Sure, you can probably buy a lot more space and a bigger engine for that money. But in terms of the amount of performance, style, and driving bliss per dollar, nothing even comes close to beating the FIAT 500 Abarth in the mini-compact or subcompact segments on the market today.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

The first thing you notice about the FIAT 500 Abarth upon approach is the oversized Abarth scorpion badge that replaces the standard FIAT badge on the hood of the car. The late Karl (Carlo) Abarth made a name for himself modifying standard FIATs into small performance machines and made the scorpion famous.

The subtle styling cues that mark the Abarth apart from the more pedestrian Cinquecentos include a stripe along the bottom of the doors, a bigger overhang rear wing, and dual air ducts up front. The Abarth also sits lower than a standard 500. But it’s not until you turn on the engine and hear the oh-so-gratifying low bass exhaust note that you begin to appreciate that there’s a lot more to this Abarth than the Scorpion let on.

The Abarth is the top of the line FIAT on this side of the pond right now, and slots in above the recently-introduced 500 Turbo.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

Driving Impressions
Not only is the Abarth sportier on the outside, its engine matches that exterior with a good punch. The standard 1.4 liter four banger is mated to a Honeywell [Garrett] turbo that ups the power from 101 hp to 160 hp (max boost 18 psi) and 98 lb-ft of torque to 170.

This is a substantial increase in performance without packing on additional pounds. We’re happy to report that the beefier 5-speed gearbox ably consumes the increase in power with confidence. Although, a sixth gear would have been nice for cruising at highway speeds.

Fuel economy doesn’t take a huge hit at 28 city/34 highway mpg. During our week of heavy-footedness with the 500, we observed 31 mpg overall.

The steering feels really good with great tactile feedback even though it’s an electronic unit. The thick leather-wrapped three-spoke wheel also feels really good in your hands. It is really fun to drive this car. The Abarth attacked the curvy uphill climb of Highway 17 by Los Gatos with venom. It weaved around unsuspecting cars and trucks on the four lane highway with panache, like a fish in water, or a scorpion in the desert.

9.5 cubic feet of rear cargo space

The Abarth never felt out of power in any gear. Cornering is excellent in the Abarth despite the fact that it is frontend heavy due to the FWD layout. Braking power is also excellent, helpful as we went over the hill and began the curvy descent into Santa Cruz.

FIAT designers have done a hell of a job with the Nuove Cinquecento, and the Abarth bodykit is tastefully subtle. It adds meanness to the cute car without being boy-racerish. The dual exhaust not only sound awesome, they look awesome. Interior details that set the Abarth apart include the aforementioned steering wheel and sportier seats. Overall the Abarth is a tight little package, cute with a little bit of mean, diminutive with just the right amount of aggressiveness.

Noticeably, the MINI Cooper has grown in size with each generation; the 500 Abarth is the best looking subcompact out there on the market today. No Japanese or American models even come close to its iconic styling. Bellissimo.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The driver seat is comfortable and the levers were easy to reach. The steering wheel controls were intuitive and fairly similar to Chrysler cars, as are the dashboard-mounted controls for the radio and climate control.

The shifter is well placed and easy to control, and the gauges are nicely designed. The speedometer wraps around the tachometer which itself warps around a LCD display in a circular layout that is both space-saving and cool to read. The Abarth adds a turbo timer gauge to the left that I never looked at while driving, but adds a nice touch to the sportier interior.

Controls for windows are mounted on the dash, adding an European flair but probably requires a double take for most Americans. One complaint I do have is about the lack of adjustability of the steering wheel. There’s no telescopic adjustment to start off, and when I lower the steering wheel all the way I can’t see the full gauge cluster anymore. Rear seating space is very tight as you expect, both in legroom and headroom. It gets a little claustrophobic back there.

5-speed manual built specifically for the Abarth

What Others Are Saying About the Abarth
Motortrend magazine says the Abarth is heavy – heritage heavy, not weight heavy. With a curb weight of 2,500 pounds, the turbocharged Abarth is eager to go without the excess baggage.

Eurotuner reported a mostly stock Abarth beat a Ford Shelby GT500 and placed second overall in a European rally race. More specifically the 2012 Targa Newfoundland race. “This tiny turbocharged Fiat is certainly giving North American drivers something new to consider when it comes to corner carving fun.”

Dan Neil, who wrote up a review of the Abarth for the Wall Street Journal, comments on the interior: “Indeed, it’s quite easy to get in and out of. But the chairs in the Abarth feel over-plump for my taste, and I would love to sit about 2 inches lower in the car. Guess what? Abarth sells thin-shell bucket seats.”

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