Wednesday, July 24, 2013

2013 Fiat 500C Abarth test drive review. Indy 500, here we come!

Last week, we hit the Barrywoods 24 for a digital showing of Turbo, an animated movie about a little snail who dreamed of becoming fast.  Everyone told him it couldn’t be done, but when he is accidentally sucked into the blower of a street racer and doused with nitrous, he is infused with otherworldly speed so great that he qualifies for the Indianapolis 500.  Turbo even gets a new spoiler and some racing graphics to complete the package.

But that was only a movie, you say.  It could never happen in real life, you say.  Well, I thought that too, until we exited the theatre and refocused our light-starved eyes on the 2013 Fiat 500C Abarth test car sitting in the parking lot.  Like Turbo, the Fiat 500 is a very small, not especially powerful car.  But when you check the “Abarth” package on the order sheet, a snarling, speed-hungry beastlet emerges.  It even gets a new spoiler and graphics.  Turbo might not be a true story, but it was obviously based on real-life events.

This car might not be named Turbo, but it does have one.  The 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder turbo is good for 160-hp, and as much as 170-lb/ft of torque.  You have to push a little button on the dash that unleashes the full wrath of that torque, but you are rewarded with a high-strung little gumdrop that actually seems like something that you could put on the pole at Indy.  In reality, it isn’t all that fast, but the loud, popping exhaust note makes up for it.  Whenever I showed people this car, I would always start it up, because that spicy sound was always a crowd-pleaser.

And crowds you will have.  I’ve never driven a new car that drew more looks than this one.  Everyone wanted to see it; sit in it; talk about it.  And while I was sadly never attacked by a hot Italian woman like in the commercials, I did accidentally run into the Italian Car Club of Kansas City one Saturday morning.  These folks were meeting in Parkville to cruise up to Weston for pizza.  There was a Ferrari here, a Maserati there, but most of them were driving some form of late-model Fiat.  There were Abarths and Cabrios, but this was the only one with both of those features in the same car, so it definitely got some attention.

Aside from the engine and intoxicating exhaust note, other things that make this an Abarth include stiffer shocks and springs, a lower ride height, and red brake calipers on bigger brakes. There was also a cool scorpion logo that appeared on almost everything.  Scorpio was the astrological sign of Italian motorcycle racer Karl Alberto Abarth, who was converting Fiats into racecars as far back as the 1940s, thus the scorpion on the logo.

The major takeaway you get from driving this car is that it’s just loads of fun.  It’s fun to drive.  It’s fun to listen to.  It causes you to have more friends.  But there are some compromises, as you could imagine from a car with a 90.6-inch wheelbase.  Most of them involve packaging and comfort.  I honestly never could figure out how to find a comfortable driving position.  The accelerator was too close, the clutch was too far away when depressed, and the steering wheel needed to be about six-inches closer.  It’s not that there wasn’t enough room; it’s just that everything was in the wrong place.  This issue probably varies on your height and seating preference, though.

I also had some trouble reading the gauges.  The layered pod looked pretty neat through the spokes of the excellent steering wheel, but with the speedometer behind the tachometer behind an orange digital display, it was just hard to focus on anything.  Then it had a boost gauge tacked on to the left, with a huge, unnecessary shift light in the middle of it.  I asked several people what they thought about the layout, and most agreed with me, although my wife said she could see it all just fine.  Again, maybe some personal preference comes into play there.

With a sticker price of nearly $32,000, this tiny car wasn’t exactly cheap.  But what is the price of fun?  With the 500C Abarth, you can roll that fabric top back on its rails, listen to that smile-inducing exhaust, and be the life of the party.  And even though you’ll never qualify for the Indy 500 driving one, you’ll certainly feel like you can.  Check out the pictures below, or click this link for a better version of the slideshow.


  1. The ergonomic issues you note are typically Italian - go sit in an Alfa Romeo, a Lancia or whatever and you'll notice the same relationships. The first thing to do to 'get used to it' is to basically lay your arms in your lap and grasp the steering wheel at about 4 and 8. Kick back a bit in the seat [hard to do in this car] and it will all begin to fit a little better. One must adopt the Italian style when driving Italian cars...

  2. That thing looks like a lot of fun!