2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth and 2012 Fiat 500 Sport Review

It's the battle of decaf versus caffeinated.

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: August 3rd, 2012

Fiat's return to American shores has been led by the pint-size 500, and now the brand is attempting to inject some sexy Italian spice into the car with the launch of its Abarth performance version. With a hopped-up exhaust, more power, and a sportier suspension, the Abarth positions itself as the enthusiast's choice.

Before an Abarth showed up at our door, we'd already taken one around an autocross course and enjoyed it, but we were curious to see what it would be like to live with the over-caffeinated little runabout for a week. We were especially curious to stack it against the 500 Sport--it's a little like taking four shots of espresso versus two.

  • Features & Prices

    Our Sport based at $17,500, with a list of standard features including cruise control, remote keyless entry, cruise control, hill-start assist, a rear window defroster, a sport suspension, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 Bose premium audio system, a USB port, an auxiliary jack, a 50/50 split-fold rear-seat, fog lamps, a rear spoiler, and more. Options included a $600 Safety and Convenience Package (automatic air conditioning, alarm, compact spare tire), a Safety and Sound Package ($200, satellite radio), and a $400 TomTom navigation system. With the $500 destination fee, that took the total to $19,200.

    Our Abarth started at $22,000, with many of the same standard features. Opting for the Abarth adds a turbo boost gauge, dual intercoolers for the turbo engine, an Abarth-specific leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, an exterior spotter mirror, a performance spoiler, an Abarth-specific sport suspension, and dual bright exhaust tips, along with a few other goodies. Options included high-back leather seats ($1,000), the same $600 Safety and Convenience Package, a power sunroof ($850), a white mirror cap with body-side stripe ($350), the same $400 TomTom navigation system as the Sport, and 17-inch forged aluminum white wheels and 205/40R17XL BSW three-season tires ($1,000). With the $700 destination, our Abarth came out to $26,900 as-tested.

  • On The Road

    The Abarth may be a mini-rocket, but the Sport is surprisingly spry--not just off the line, but in corners as well. We found that the Sport offered about 70 percent of the Abarth's cornering ability, and despite the difference in power between the Sport's naturally-aspirated 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and the turbocharged 1.4 in the Abarth (101 horsepower versus 160 and 98 lb-ft of torque versus 170), it still seems to scoot.

    The Sport doesn't scoot as fast at the Abarth though--the higher strung car has some serious grin-inducing acceleration. Light weight and big power do wonderful things when combined.

    The Abarth is a noisy brute, with a bleating exhaust that sounds out of place in such a small urban scooter. Even so, it sounds great under heavy throttle, although it's a bit obnoxious for around-town trolling. The Sport, on the other hand, is much more livable.

    Both of our test cars came equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, with the Abarth featuring a slightly heavier clutch and sportier shifter. We liked the shifter's feel, although the heavier clutch could be a little taxing around town. Clutch take-up seemed a bit abrupt in the Sport.

    Neither car offered great steering feel, but it's accurate, and the Abarth is willing to rotate in the twisties. The Sport wasn't as fun to fling as the Abarth, but it's still competent in the corners.

    In more relaxed driving, the Sport would be our choice--the Abarth's boy-racer exhaust gets tiring in cruise mode, and the sportier suspension can be punishing on rough pavement. The Sport is quieter, of course, but it still lets in a little too much exhaust and wind noise.

    The 500's interior layout does hard driving no favors in the Abarth. It's too easy to bang your right knee against the center stack and accidentally activate the steering-wheel-mounted voice-recognition controls.

    For spirited driving, we're picking the Abarth--it's a hoot to drive, and it's the clear enthusiast's choice. But as a daily driver, the Sport wins out: it gives the driver more of the Abarth experience than one would think, for a lower price, both on the sticker and in terms of punishment.

  • Exterior

    We liked the Abarth's striping and unique wheels, and overall we think the 500 looks good by microcar standards, even if the rear is a bit squished.

  • Interior

    As one would expect, the interior is tiny, with the backseat being a difficult place to be for adults. The tall roof helps with headroom, and there's enough legroom upfront for taller folks.

    One staffer complained about the steering wheel blocking the gauges, and we hated the TomTom, which worked poorly in both cars (our press fleet claimed that our GPS needed a software update). The Bluetooth connection also took a few unwanted vacations.

  • Safety & Fuel Economy

    The Sport is rated at 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway, while the Abarth checks in at 28 mpg city and 34 mpg. Both cars feature the standard complement of safety features.

  • Final Thoughts

    Both the 500 Sport and Abarth offer a lot of fun in a small package. The Abarth is the pure performance choice, and it's silly fun to drive. The exhaust note sounds great when the engine is revving, the clutch and shifter work well enough with the driver, and the car zips between corners quickly, as well as through them quickly.

    For daily-driving duties, though, we'd take the Sport. It's not as fun to drive as the Abarth, but it's a lot less stressful for commuting chores. Our heart wants the keys to the Abarth, our head chooses the Sport.

    Of course, as long as buyers choose either one, Fiat dealers will happily take the check.

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