There are a great many people who are, to put it lightly, skeptical of the 500 Abarth. For some, that skepticism finds its root in the legendary unreliability of small Italian cars, or the historically sketchy build quality of Chrysler's past. However, the 500 finds its greatest opponent in macho men who think that it's a "girls car." Clearly, they haven't ever driven one. Like always, let's start out with a few facts.
1. It's tiny, weighing in at just over a ton and a half with a minuscule 11 foot length.
2. The 1.4 liter turbocharged Inline 4 engine produces 160 horsepower.
3. It has a five speed manual transmission that runs to the front wheels.
4. The interior has body-color accents, and Recaro sport seats.
5. The roof is a sliding clothtop.
The styling of this little car sets it apart from the get-go. Despite its tall profile and tiny wheelbase, the slightly flared wheel arches and squatting stance give it a distinctly aggressive look. Also setting it apart from other small hatchbacks is the graphics package, a set of grey, Abarth branded stripes that stretch from wheel to wheel. And speaking of wheels, the 500 boasts a set of sporty, 17 inch gunmetal grey alloys. The unusual sliding droptop changes little of the car's styling, but, as I'll mention later on, makes driving it a even more unforgettable experience.
While the turbocharged inline four produces only 160 horsepower, in a car this small that's really more than enough to turn it into a miniature rocket-ship. The engine revs quickly, and has fantastic pickup at almost any speed. From a standstill, you'll hit 60 in around 7 seconds. I'll admit that's not particularly quick, but the 500 has a gift for making any speed feel fast. The turbo spools up at around 2500 rpm, and sends a kick of power through the front wheels that pushes you back into your seat.
As for the five speed manual gearbox, there's very little to complain about and a lot to love. The clutch is ridiculously forgiving, and coupled with the short, snappy throws from the high mounted stick, it makes for an easy, pleasant driving experience. And while the engine is revvy enough to give good acceleration, you won't find yourself shifting every three seconds in normal driving. At highway speeds, the 500 sits very comfortably in fifth gear, and for most other roads, it can burble along in third all day.
The interior is, in general, a pleasant place to be. The cloth Recaro seats hold you comfortably in place, although it must be said that that place is just slightly too far away from the steering wheel when your feet reach the pedals just right. The heating and air conditioning work a treat, and the heated seats are a godsend on cold Colorado winter days. The dashboard is painted glossy body color, and holds a radio with smartphone compatibility and an array of cheap buttons. You get the feeling that the one place Fiat really skimped was on that dashboard, that in favor of heightening the driving experience they spared some expense on the trivial fittings inside.
What really makes this car special though is the driving experience, and on that front two things add to it immeasurably. One is the tuned exhaust, which takes four cylinder noise and turns it into a burbling roar that'll have muscle-car enthusiasts nodding in respect. The second, of course, is the cloth-top. On a sunny day, there a few more enjoyable experiences than whipping this car along a twisty mountain road with the wind blowing your hair back and the sun shining on your grinning face. It takes the zippy, chuckable car that is the stock model Abarth and adds in ineffable sense of occasion, which makes for a truly unique driving experience.
Of course, this car is not without it's faults; the pedals are too close and the steering wheel too far to be really comfortable, the dashboard feels a bit cheap and tacky, and the visibility out the back is truly horrendous. But when it comes down to it, all of those problems fade into the background when you put your foot down. Because for the price, there is no other car that gives you the sheer quantities of fun this one does, no other car so well suited to putting a gigantic grin on your face.