Written by: Adil Arif
Photography by: Adil Arif
Welcome to the age of the affordable sports car, where enormous fun and driving pleasure can be had for $30,000 or less. It's a club that's growing quite competitive as manufacturers are packing ridiculous value and incredible performance into entry-level models. Just last week we tested two popular picks: the Subaru BRZ and the Ford Focus ST. Both were outstanding vehicles in their own ways, and this week the fun continues as we pilot the miniature open-top Italian rocket known as the Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio.
Inspired by racing himself, Giovanni Agnelli incorporated in 1899 marking the inception of the Fiat brand in Turin, Italy. His vision was to build an affordable brand for the people. Unfortunately the brand struggled early on with build issues and suffered financially due to the two World Wars. It wasn't until 1957 when things finally started to get going with the introduction of the Fiat 500. Known as the "cinquecento" it was marketed as a low cost economic means of transport. It had no rear seats, sported suicide doors and a 479cc 13hp engine. Its top speed was rated at 85 km/h, which was pretty impressive at the time given that its tiny body was only three meters long. It only weighed 1,100 pounds and was an instant hit - the Fiat 500 was the perfect answer to the post-war market.
However, a man by the name of Karl (Carlo) Abarth saw a different use for the little grocery getter. As an established racing champion and a well-regarded tuner in the aftermarket world, he took the standard Fiat 500 and went to town on it. He raised the engine compression, added a Weber carburetor, optimized the fuel and intake systems and finished it all off with a sports exhaust system. The end result dramatically improved performance and response as horsepower doubled to 26 hp. Abarth badges donned the otherwise unchanged exterior and the romance began. Dubbed the Fiat 595 and later on 695 (further minor tweaks and enhancements) the car went on to claim 900 individual race victories by 1965. The famous Scorpion badge (based off Abarth's astrological sign) became a symbol of power and performance and was well known all over Italy.
Fiat eventually bought the Abarth company in 1971 and became an in-house tuning division similar to what the M division is to BMW. Fast forward to the 21st century, and after nearly 30 years of absence, the Fiat 500 was re-launched in 2007. It also marked the first time the car crossed international waters by way of Chrysler (they bought the rights to sell the Fiat brand in North America). Four years later in 2011, the Abarth division was resurrected and with it, the 500 Abarth.
Faster, louder, bigger, badder, meaner... cuter? There are just too many words you can use to describe the new Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio. Whatever word you do choose, there’s no denying it's a beautiful homage to the original, and if Carlo and Giovanni were alive today I'm sure they would be smiling ear to ear. It’s covered with Scorpion badging and Abarth nameplates and comes track ready with a stiffened suspension, lowered ride height, 17-inch race spec wheels, wider tires, larger brakes, blacked out headlights and a slew of other aftermarket goodies. It's the enthusiast’s dream through and through, all the way to the sinister exhaust note from the tiny 1.4-litre inline four-cylinder turbo.
New for 2015 is an AISIN heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission. Fiat has retuned the engine and specifically mated it to the automatic gearbox to deliver more torque: 183 lb-ft compared to the manual's 170 lb-ft. Horsepower however, is down 3 hp compared to the manual (157 hp and 160 hp, respectively). As much as I prefer rowing the gears myself, this automatic is excellent in and outside the city. There’s even a sport mode which I quickly reached for each time I started the little gremlin. Features such as fuel-cut upshifts, rev-matched downshifts, holding gears throughout corners and a faster pedal response make it just as exciting to drive as the manual.
However, the winner goes to the automatic. Though it lacks paddle shifters, you can always use the sequential manual mode to choose your own gears. Furthermore, the lightning quick response and snap crackle and pops following each shift are such a delight. The choice of an automatic also opens up a huge market of consumers that prefer an easy drive and don't exactly know how to work three pedals.
The Abarth is an absolute hoot on the streets. The suspension is very stiff and every bump and imperfection can be felt throughout the cabin. But find a smooth road and the turn-in is so sharp and crisp. Twisty roads are an absolute delight as the geometry is dialed in so well. Steering is equally as responsive, sharp and well balanced. In sport mode, the steering actually gets harder and firmer, but never do you lose any of that steering feel that electronically assisted racks often lack.
Put your foot down hard and the surge from the tiny 1.4L inline-four is good enough to suck you back into your seat and is reminiscent of the Volkswagen Golf GTI we recently tested, but let’s take a moment to talk about the ensuing soundtrack that follows from its race exhaust. It’s intoxicating and mimics a sound you would be used to hearing on a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Touch the throttle and it burps with a loud low rumble, letting you and everyone in a two-kilometre radius know that this isn’t an ordinary Fiat 500. What I can’t understand is how it’s legal - my colleague had a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT the same week and it sounded like the Abarth had the bigger engine. And that’s what this new Abarth 500 is all about: giving you the most out of a tiny package with no strings attached.
Inside, the fit and finish continue to up the “coolness” factor. There was a nice red trim across the entire console matching the exterior of our tester. The cabin feels premium with exposed red stitching on the steering wheel and handbrake. An immersive ear thumping Beats by Dre stereo delivered clear highs and powerful bass. The Abarth’s seats were supportive and comfortable, but you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you it’s a bit cramped in there. The Abarth is good for two people, and two people only. The rear seats are utterly useless for any human being – maybe use it as a bench for your pets? We felt a bit less cramped when the fabric top was dropped. It’s not a traditional convertible, as the B and C pillars, and the window frame are all still there - rather think of it as peeling back an orange.
Open air driving lets the cabin breathe and subsequently lets in more exhaust noise – no one is complaining here, but is it worth the $4000 extra over the hardtop? Absolutely not, but is it still practical? For what it is, yes. The trunk is tiny but it’s still sizable enough to fit all of your groceries. The side doors also have large storage areas along with the glove box and center console area - those of you condo dwellers will certainly appreciate the clever utilization of space here.
A few gripes about the car: button placement is a little strange on the dash, the seating position is too high, fuel economy is not that great (we averaged a combined 12.0 L/100km – Fiat rates the car 8.5 L/100km city and 6.9 L/100km highway), there’s really no tech except for Bluetooth and some rear parking sensors, there’s no GPS, the steering column doesn’t telescope, and the exhaust drones on the highway. These are all important aspects of the Abarth that I completely forgot about or didn’t care for the moment I turned the key and got back on the road.
The growl from the exhaust greeting me back to the cabin did it for me. Sure it has awkward faults but starting at just $22,495 (Hardtop) and $26,495 (Cabrio) before any fees or taxes, the driving experience you get can easily be compared to vehicles costing at least $10,000 more. So I’m willing to forgive its shortcomings, lack of tech, and features for the sheer fact that I haven’t smiled and laughed this hard behind the wheel in a very long time.
型号 Model: 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio
顏色 Paint Type: Rosso (Red)
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $29,495
試車售價 Price as Tested: $33,550
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,301
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,667 / 1,867 / 1,504
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,154 kg
引擎 Engine: 1.4L 16V MultiAir Turbo I-4 engine
最大馬力 Horsepower: 157 hp @ 5,500 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 183 lb-ft @ 2,400 - 4,000 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed AISIN heavy-duty automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption (City/Highway/Combined)- L/100 km: 9.6 / 7.3
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Pirelli P Zero Nero; P205/40ZR17