The Fiat 500 Abarth: The Italians Return to America

1991-94 Mercury Capri XR2
1991-94 Mercury Capri XR2

Last year, America saw the return of Fiat to its shores after a 28 yr. sabbatical. My last Fiat was the 1985 X19. Such a cool car, two seater with the engine just behind the seats. Mechanically, it was great but finding parts and repair facilities made me sell it out of fear.

That's pretty much how many felt then and why Fiat vanished. Fast forward to 2011, Fiat came back with its cute Fiat 500, Car of the Year in Europe. Very cute, but totally without guts. It takes an eternity to get from 0 to 60 mph, at least 10 seconds. It is roomy for three and comes in many flavors including a sliding roof edition. Prices start at around $16000. In the year that Fiat has been back, sales reached only 26,000, 50% less than the target of 50,000. I have only seen a few on the road and they ARE small, which is why they are in the sub-compact class, like the Mini-Cooper, its main competition. Fiat will also have an electric version and a larger version in 2013.

In March, the racy Abarth edition arrived. This is the fastest of the all the 1.4L engines because it is turboized and creates 160 hp (not 100 hp) for a 2500 lb. car. With its five speed shift, is is much more like a racing Fiat reaches 0-60 in seven seconds. Driving it on the road is fun, peppy, unlike the non-Abarth editions that resemble slugs. Yet, even on the highway at 70 mph, the little engine is reaching its limit (maybe a 1.6L would be better). The MPG rating for all editions is unchanged at 28\34, but it only has a 10 gallon tank. The car, despite its small size, is roomy for the front passengers even for tall people. Kind of a shock.

The Abarth edition comes with red leather seats, Abarth badges, special wheels, and the tranny provides three levels of traction settings.The chassis is much stiffer and tighter, so cornering is firm. Overall, it still lacks when compared to a Mini Cooper S. The base price is $22,000 and nice one ends up at $25,000.

The specs are the same for any 500:

  • Fuel injection 1.4L, 16 vale DOHC
  • Front Wheel drive
  • 144" long & 2500 lbs.
  • Wheelbase is 90.6"
  • Cargo capacity of 9 cu.ft.
  • 16 or 17" wheels

I like the car but the only one worth owning is the Abarth. The turbo makes a big difference. Yet, spending $22000 on this could be considered a real waste of money for the price. Many cars for that price are bigger and more powerful. Even the 1991 Mercury Capri XR2 sport car is an equal car and far cheaper. That has a 1.6L turbo, front wheel drive, seats 3-4, larger cargo area and has a removable hardtop. Buy one for $2000 and save 20K.

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