by John Tallodi
The unhinged Abarth originals from the ‘50s and ‘60s have developed quite a cult following over the years and the current 500 Abarth, while not quite so left field, offers a similar mix of pint-sized performance and fun driving dynamics. For 2017, the 500 Abarth has received some additional equipment and the turbocharged engine is now solely reserved for this trim level.
The interior of the Abarth follows the retro-inspired lines of the lesser models in the range and adds a few unique touches of its own. Material quality may not be up there with the best rivals in this class though. The manual shifter is also well-placed, sitting right below the center of the dashboard.
This is a tiny car and the front seats take up a large chunk of the available space, taller drivers should fit fine up front although limited seat and steering wheel adjustability may make for a slightly compromised driving position.
The tiny rear seats are best used as additional storage space as they really are only usable for short journeys. The trunk is larger than you might expect but the rear seats will need folding down if you need to squeeze something bulky in there.
The Abarth is a joy to drive around tight and twisty roads, its peppy nature and responsive controls add to the enjoyment too. There is some turbo lag low down, so the revs need to be kept high to avoid bogging down between gear changes.
The suspension setup is on the hard side though and on anything other than smooth pavement you will feel the car dip and dive beneath you as it negotiates bumps and rough road surfaces.
While the overall nature of the car is biased towards the sporty side of the spectrum, this does add to its character and there are plenty of other more sensible options out there if this is not what you are looking for.
The 500 Abarth has a turbocharged 1.4-liter motor, if paired with the standard 5-speed manual transmission it produces 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft, or 157 hp and 183 lb-ft when the available 6-speed automatic is specified.
Front-wheel drive is standard and the Abarth feels quick away from the lights, its 0-60 mph time of around 7-seconds may trail some of the quicker cars in this class but other than some lag at lower revs it feels energetic and torquey. The exhaust note is rorty and combined with those aggressive exterior looks makes the Abarth seem like its packing at least another 50 hp under the hood.
City driving gets you up to 28 mpg while highway cruising promises 33 mpg.
For 2017 the 500 Abarth comes in one trim level with a range of available options. The base specification levels are high with a 5.0-inch touchscreen, premium audio system, fog lamps, bucket seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and instrument panel.
16-inch wheels are standard with performance brakes, Abarth-tuned torque transfer control, performance suspension, dual exhaust and high-inflow intake system adding to the performance levels.
Safety systems include a rear park assist system, three-mode electronic stability control and seven airbags. Available packages include a Beats Audio Package and a Popular Equipment Package which adds climate control, heated front seats and a SiriusXM radio service. Leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, navigation and a power sunroof are available as individual options too. Unique exterior details such as two-tone paint schemes and a Scorpion Package are also available.
The 500 Abarth is a heart-over-head purchase that offers a lot of fun and retro charm but with limited practicality. It may not be as ultimately capable as a Mini Cooper S or quite so usable every day as a Ford Fiesta but it beats both when it comes to character and will be just the thing for shoppers looking for a dash of attitude to go with their sporty subcompact hatchback.