All of the Fiat 500s we've experienced have been agile and fun to drive. The Abarth looks to add some serious spice to this Italian hottie, with its turbocharged 160-hp four-cylinder engine pushing only about 2,500 lbs. Other than the boosted engine, the significant hardware that sets the hot-rod Fiat apart from pedestrian 500s includes a lowered ride height, stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, and beefier tires.
Think of the Abarth treatment as Fiat's version of an in-house tuner, like BMW's M, Mini's John Cooper Works, or Mercedes' AMG. It's always comforting to know that there are race-track driven enthusiasts running amok in otherwise conservative car companies. Certainly makes our job more interesting.
Another perk: Abarth buyers get to go to the one-day Abarth Track Experience that's included with the purchase. Sounds like a fun day out of the office, driving a fleet of Abarths with professional driving instruction and competition. Too bad the dates this year for nearby tracks are closed, but we get a year after purchase to attend.
So the Abarth looks to be great fun in a cool and compact package. Naturally, we have to test one.
We went with a Bianco (Italian for "white") Abarth, adding the Comfort/Convenience Group option, with automatic temperature control and heated seats. We also piled on a sunroof, 17-inch black wheels, and a few other odds and ends. Out the door cost: $26,050.
But getting one out of the dealer showroom wasn't such a sweet song. All of us take turns buying test cars, so we've experienced a wide range of horror stories and now we have one more in our collection. Our Abarth buyer contacted one dealer via telephone inquiring about availability. Inexplicably, he was told that there was no one available to take a sales call. Really? Mamma mia!
So he moved on to another dealer who found the car we were looking for. Interestingly, the first dealer called back a day and half later attempting to get the sale. But it was too late, as we committed our deposit to the second dealer who hustled for the sale.
Our next task to put miles on this ferocious-sounding little monster and prepare it for a head-to-head battle with other hot hatchbacks, most notably the new Ford Fiesta ST.