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2016 Fiat 500 Abarth, Small But Wicked - Review by Larry Nutson +VIDEO

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2016 Fiat 500 Abarth, Small but Wicked

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth
Small but Wicked

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

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On its return to the U.S. auto market in 2012 after a 25-year absence, Fiat marked its re-entry with the 21st Century iteration of the iconic Fiat 500 2-door coupe, the Cinquecento.

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Fiat quickly expanded the 500 line-up with a 500c Cabrio model. The one we all saw Jennifer Lopez driving around in TV ads. Not long thereafter the scorpion logo was before our eyes appearing on the 500 Abarth performance model with its turbocharged engine and raspy exhaust note. There’s also a 500c Abarth Cabrio.

You all may remember the little blue pill TV spot when the 500 2-door grew in size to the 500L 4-door wagon-like urban utility model. The 500L in black-livery recently saw duty as the Popemobile for Pope Francis’ U.S. visit.

Wanting a place in the vastly popular compact SUV market segment, the 500X crossover SUV arrived last year. And now for 2017 Fiat will again bring us a fun, top-down driving experience with the all-new 2-seat 2017 Fiat 124 Spider that will hit the market this summer.

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I haven’t driven a 500 Abarth around the streets of Chicago in a few years. However I have had the opportunity to drive this little scorpion rocket in autocross competition against the clock. Each spring at the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s Spring Rally held at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin we get to drive various autocross-suitable small-ish performance cars around a coned course testing our driving skill and their handling capability. Autocross is not about speed, but about being smooth and consistent.

Recently I was again driving a 500 Abarth in a very bright Giallo Moderna Perla exterior. That’s, modern pearl yellow and it’s hard to miss, coming or going. Priced at $22,575, the 160 HP 1.4-L 16-valve turbocharged engine coupled to a five-speed manual transmission provides lots of zip around town. A six-speed automatic transmission is also offered as an option.

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The 500 2-door is a 4-seater, but perhaps only once in a while. That rear seat is kind of tight even for youngsters. I’m of a 5ft-10inch build and I found the front cabin a bit cramped such as when reaching around for the seat belt. We had some cold Chicago winter temps and with my heavy coat on I was a bit more challenged for space in this mini-compact. But we must recognize not all people fit inside every vehicle on the market. The 500 might be just right for you.

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While I’m on this subject, my wife likes the 500 a lot. Its small exterior dimensions…it’s only 144.4 inches long, make for very easy maneuvering and parking in a big city crowded with taxis, cars, SUVs and double-parked delivery trucks. And, her female stature fits comfortably inside.

A nice design element of the 2-door 500 making for lots of convenience is its large opening rear hatch. The luggage compartment can be expanded from 9.5 cuft, which is plenty of room for the groceries, to 26.8 cuft. That’s space a-plenty for a couple suitcases and other weekend road trip gear.

By the way, while I’m on the subject of the trunk, there is no spare tire back there. Not even a compact spare. The 500 has a tire service kit that provides an inflator with sealant to plug a slow leak that might come from a nail or screw. Major tire damage such as a tear in a sidewall or damaged wheel rim will require you to call a tow truck. The “lack of a spare tire” seems to be brewing as an issue many car buyers and owners don’t like. The spare has been eliminated to save weight for improved fuel economy combined with all cars now having tire pressure monitors that give early-alert to a problem.

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The 500 Abarth is quite frugal on gasoline with EPA-test ratings of 30 mpg combined, with 28 city and 34 highway mpg. I know from previous experience that you probably can beat the EPA highway rating yourself. The 10.5 gallon tank will get you near to 350 miles on a road trip and by then it’s time for a break anyway.

On the safety side the 500 has what you expect today with front, side and knee airbags, ABS, traction control and stability control. There’s also hill start assist which is great to minimize the three pedal juggling when starting on an incline. There’s no rear view camera offered, but I don’t think you really need it. The 500 offers Rear Park Assist as a $250 option. The driver’s view out the rear of the 500 is good and a small screen displays a yellow changing to red distance warning for the rear.

More information and specs on the entire Fiat 500 model range can be found at Look here at the Fiat Buyers Guide for comparative information on the 500 and other small compact cars.

My take on the 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth is that it provides a high fun-to-drive quotient, easy maneuvering, enough cabin space for two average size folks (please test drive any vehicle you are considering), and a versatile trunk, all for not a lot of money. The 500 is in some ways cute and yet the raspy exhaust note of the Abarth will turn heads. If you are in the “save-the-manuals” club, the stick-shift transmission will give you a very engaging driving experience. The seats are very supportive and the overall interior material design, fit and finish do it justice.

Here’s a little Fiat-factoid: In 1908, the Fiat Automobile Co. was established in the U.S. and a plant in Poughkeepsie, NY began producing Fiats a year later. Who knew?


© 2016 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy