If there’s anything more fun for al fresco motoring, it’s a tiny convertible with a lion’s heart. Meet the Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio.
By TOM STRONGMAN
The Abarth, pronounced “ah-bart,” sends a tingle up your spine the moment you twist the key. The braap-braap exhaust note belies the engine’s 1.4-liter size and adds the perfect soundtrack for open-air driving. You might not think 160 turbocharged horsepower is impressive, but it is plenty for a car that weighs just 2,512 pounds.
Nail the throttle and you’re pushed back in the seat with a satisfying surge. The loud exhaust adds to the feel, of course, but acceleration can be quite lively, especially if you push the Sport button on the dash.
While much of the engine’s performance can be attributed to the turbocharger, Fiat’s Multiair technology contributes as well. Multiair uses electronic solenoids and hydraulic fluid to vary valve timing and give the engine optimal breathing.
The Abarth convertible starts at $26,000. The standard Fiat 500’s base price is $16,000, the convertible is $19,500 and the Abarth is $22,000. Fiat owns the controlling interest in Chrysler Group LLC, and 130 dealers sell Fiats.
Karl Abarth, the man whose name this car shares, came to prominence in post-war Italy by modifying production cars. His racecars scored more than 10,000 victories, won 133 international titles and set 10 world records.
The original Fiat 500, called the Cinquecento (Italian for 500), made its debut in 1957. The Italian equivalent of the VW Beetle had a tiny two-cylinder engine the size of a motorcycle, and it was immensely popular. Today’s iteration is a fully modern car whose styling pays homage to the original, much in the spirit of the Mini Cooper and VW’s Beetle. While it is small by today’s standard (the wheelbase is 90.1 inches long), is it much larger than the original.
Many modern amenities are present: anti-lock brakes, stability control, hill-start assist, front, side and side-curtain airbags. There’s also a knee airbag for the driver.
The one knock I have on the Abarth is that the tight suspension, short wheelbase and gobs of headroom make the car feel tall and bouncy, especially on the freeway.
Fling it into a corner and it feels a little top heavy, but it grips well.
The cabin is colorful. The dark gray test car had bright red and black front seats, but the back seats were all black. The front seats were plenty big, but the back seat, predictably, is quite small. I’m fairly short and while I could sit in back, getting in and out was not easy. Trunk space, as you can imagine, is pretty small, although it can be expanded by folding the back seat.
The power top can be partially opened, like a sunroof, or retracted all the way to the top of the back seat. A small net wind blocker can be inserted above the back seat to reduce buffeting.
The gauge cluster is a single pod. The speedometer and tachometer share the same round face. That layout was confusing because the numbers are deep in the pod and not illuminated. Fortunately, there’s a small digital speed readout in the center of the pod.
The removable TomTom navigation unit plugs into a socket on the dash, but my smartphone was quicker at mapping destinations.
The base price of the test car was $26,000. Options included heated leather seats, Beats audio, air conditioning, satellite radio, red mirror caps, TomTom removable navigation unit and 17-inch wheels. The sticker price was $30,500.
The warranty is for four years or 50,000 miles.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.