Driving Impressions: 2018 Fiat 500 AbarthBy: Mark Moskowitz MD
The 2018 Fiat Abarth is an aural delight. There's that fabulous exhaust note that's synonymous with Abarth. In sport mode, each rapid automatic downshift is accompanied by a throttle blip, evoking the image of Al Cosentino in his FAZA Fiat hauling down from Lime Rock's longest straight and dropping multiple gears to negotiate the Big Bend.
But sounds can't carry a brand and I doubt FCA can resurrect the current Fiat as sold in the US. The 500, a popular car world-wide, has seen six years of declining sales on US soil. 43772 Fiat 500s were sold in 2012. Only 5370 left dealers' lots in 2018.
Driving Impressions tested the 2017 Pop Cabrio in the summer of that same year and closed the review with 'If you are looking for the least expensive convertible in the marketplace, this is the one. The base price has dropped nearly $4000 in the last year. A buyer would be hard-pressed to find more fun per dollar in a car. Yes, it's small and it's a bit short on modern upgrades but I loved every minute I drove this car.'
Let's Explore the 2018 Abarth which as tested lists for $26,505.
Outward appearance of the 500 has changed little since the past model year. The Abarth is lowered and carries special badging, grilles in front of the front wheel wells, vents behind the rears and blackened rear fascia where dual exhausts exit.
Front seats are upright and footwells surprising large and comfortable at 40.7 inches. Hip room is 47.8 inches. Door armrests are thoughtfully placed and carry a bit of extra storage. A second set of arm supports swing down over the console for both driver and front seat passenger. Rear footwells are small. Adults and most adolescents will find the rear seat area inhospitable.
The views out the front and rear are panoramic. The split side view mirror on the left is a good blind spot monitor but it's active not passive. Storage is found in door troughs, in the glove box and in a console recess, one too small for a modern cell phone. The device can rest comfortably in one of two cup holders.
The dashboard is dominated by a single seven-inch circular cluster. A smaller turbo boost gauge lights up with 'sport' when in that mode. The touch screen is a diminutive five inches and the display shrinks to four during rear view. Glare on occasion can obscure the labels on the glossy though lit buttons beneath the screen. Uconnect functions seemed a bit slow and few features were available. Without Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, cost extra Nav was a necessity and voice commands had to be repeated or went unheeded while such were easy on my carried Android phone and my aged iPad.
Fiat evokes Carlo Abarth's heritage with a 154 hp turbo four with twin intercoolers and a new handling package touting Koni's Frequency Selective Damping on the rear. High frequencies are typically experienced with axle movements (bumps and the like) and low frequencies with body control during hard cornering and heavy braking. A parallel valve in a Koni shock closes at low frequencies and opens allowing more shock travel and a softer ride at high frequencies.
I found the Abarth sure footed and predictable around slow and fast corners. I did not explore its high-speed limits. There was slight turbo lag but ample power after that. The automatic transmission was smooth and gear transitions were rapid. I was surprised at the absence of paddle shifters but found sequentially manipulating the floor shifter forward to downshift and rearward to upshift immensely satisfying to a driver a mired in the delights of the mid twentieth century.
I accelerated to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. I suspect I might be able to shave a tenth or two with repeated attempts. The 5 speed with clutch is advertised with six more horsepower and should be a tick faster. Less than inspiring was steering which became heavier at speed no matter what the mode. Steering feel suffered. And I found the suspension buckboard like over bumps and potholes – the lesser 500s seem much more tolerant of road imperfections.
The Abarth should be a joy for zipping around an urban environment or blasting around country roads. It should excel at an autocross. I wouldn't choose to live with it on a daily basis. The 500's size would make its occupants the losers in a collision with most other vehicles on American roads. And Fiat's technology has not moved forward quickly enough while their pricing has. At the end of the second decade of the century, drivers can have their cake and eat it! Less than $30,000 can put you in the seat of hot hatchbacks which are docile on the streets and a tiger on the track. Twin scroll turbos overcome lag. Advanced infotainment systems come with big screens, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to obviate the need for nav systems. Fiat needs to look at pricing. Many small cars come across our southern border for a three-figure sum. The tiny Fiat cost $1,295 to transport.