by Roger Biermann
The Fiat 500 Abarth is the performance-based variation of the 500 range, where a turbocharged and intercooled version of the 1.4-liter four-cylinder petrol engine is utilized and mechanicals such as the suspension, brakes and exhaust system are tuned for the track. That being said, the 500 Abarth still makes for a decent daily commuter, offering fun street-legal go-kart-like driving dynamics in a two-door compact hatchback that exudes retro-Italian flair. For an attractive performance-based vehicle the 500 Abarth is reasonably affordable, with an MSRP of $20,495 it falls into a pricing range marginally cheaper than most of its rivals, though offers less in practicality and functionality in comparison too. With its compact nature comes both advantages and disadvantages, the question is whether the 500 Abarth will offer more to the everyday driver, or the track-day enthusiast.
The 2019 500 Abarth remains relatively similar to its 2018 predecessor, major redesigns only occur every five years or so, with little changes in-between. The 2019 model retains an identical MSRP to the previous year. The 2019 models receive the Uconnect three, while some upgrades to the turbo component of the engine include an Abarth-designed air intake system with high-flow air filter and smooth-flow plumbing to maximize power. An Abarth-designed concentric dual-exhaust system creates a high-performance aesthetic and delivers a corresponding sound, whilst minimizing exhaust restriction for optimal engine operation.
The 500 Abarth is aesthetically designed for performance, from the aggressive front ventilated grill to the performance spoiler and chrome dual-exhaust tips at the rear. Everything in between includes bi-function halogen projector headlamps, fog lamps, side sill ground effects, and 16-inch cast aluminum black wheels with red painted calipers. There are a variety of exterior design options including, black, gray, white or red body side stripes with corresponding mirror caps which add even more of a sporty appeal for an extra $295. For an additional $1,395 the standard 16-inch Hyper Black aluminum wheels can be optioned to Forged Aluminum Hyper Black or Bronze wheels, and $245 black-trimmed headlights can be added which complement the menacing look of the Abarth.
Staying true to its highly compact nature the 500 Abarth is a mere 64.1 inches wide and 144.4-in. in length, making it on average four feet shorter than most compact hatchbacks. With a wheelbase of 90.1 in. and a running ground clearance of 4.1 in. the Abarth rides low but stands moderately high at a total height of 58.7 in. The microcar totals a curb-weight of 2,512 pounds making it marginally heavier than the standard Fiat 500 variations by about 150 pounds. Its lightweight, small size dimensions, and tight turning circle give the 500 Abarth well-suited handling dynamics for inner-city driving, and excellent acceleration on highways.
With no additions from last year, the Abarth’s color palette remains relatively limited with eight options including Vesuvio Black, Granito Gray, Colosseo Gray clear-coat, Pompei Silver, Laser Blue, Oliva Green Pearl, Brilliante Red, and for an additional $500 Perla White Tri-coat.
The 500 Abarth is a performance-oriented icon and is determined to match up to its looks. With a track-tested 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine the front-wheel-drive minicar delivers 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque with a five-speed manual transmission. The optional six-speed transmission produces slightly less power at 157 hp but ups torque to 183 lb-ft. All-wheel-drive is not available for the 500 Abarth and no AWD variations are offered by any of its class rivals, of which most offer more power, however. When pushed to the limit the hot-hatch can reach a top speed of 130 mph and if masterfully piloted can clear zero to sixty miles in just under seven seconds, which is about identical to the performance specs of the previous year model and its chief rival, the 2019 Ford Fiesta ST.
The enhanced performance-tuned 1.4-liter inline-four MultiAir turbocharged engine paired to the standard five-speed manual transmission kicks out 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. The available six-speed automatic transmission is especially not recommended for the 500 Abarth, as it takes away from the fun and performance feel of the car, while also dropping real power by 13 ponies. Otherwise, the gearbox is fine for the less performance prioritized individual not looking to maximize capabilities on the track. With either the manual or automatic transmissions the Abarth has more than ample passing power in the city streets as well as on the highways. Acceleration from a standstill is energetic with the turbocharged engine constantly providing enough power accurately with shift changes. Yet the performance adjustments don’t help much to avoid the turbo-lag experienced in both manual and automatic models. The turbocharged engine is complemented by the performance-tuned dual exhaust system, giving the 500 Abarth a truly satisfying raucous roar both at idle and at speed.
As can be expected from a lightweight compact hatchback the 500 Abarth excels at handling and maneuverability in most driving situations. It’s a nimble hatchback that can maneuver its way through high traffic streets comfortably and fit into even the most difficult parking spots. At both slow and higher speeds, the steering is somewhat communicative, giving decent road-feel and feedback with ample weight, just enough to comfortably know the position of the car. The 16-inch wheels supply admirable grip and the brakes are tuned exceptionally with use through turns, mitigating the 500’s inherent inclination to understeer at the limit.
The Sport Mode, standard on Fiat 500 models, boosts performance up a notch with more precise steering and sharpened shift points, making the 500 Abarth a worthy track car on top of being a near perfected city-mobile. Abarth also boasts three-mode Electronic Stability Control for further advanced control at the limit. Through the sporty sounds, sensations, and responses that the turbo engine and performance-tuned mechanics elicit, the Abarth is experienced as a truly fun, cheeky and one-of-a-kind boutique vehicle.
Unfortunately, the 500 Abarth is not as fuel efficient as it should be considering its minimal dimensions, moderately sized engine, and class as a subcompact hatchback. Equipped with the five-speed manual transmission the Abarth earns EPA scores of 28/33/30 mpg in city/highway/combined driving cycles respectively. The 10.5-gallon fuel tank takes premium unleaded fuel for optimal performance of the turbocharged engine, which with a full tank can reach a max range of 294 miles in city driving and 346.5 miles in highway driving scenarios. The 500 Abarth is marginally more sparing than the Ford Fiesta ST but slightly less economical than the Mini Cooper S.
The performance-oriented appeal is carried through to the interior of the 500 Abarth too, with high-back bucket seats with racing harness pass-throughs and side bolsters, a race-styled three-spoked perforated leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, and aluminum sport-like pedals. Disappointingly, the use of subpar interior materials is carried through from the standard 500 models to the 500 Abarth, with many hard-touch plastics and scrappy looking infotainment setup. With the minuscule dimensions of the 500 Abarth interior space is expectedly limited but, pleasingly comfortable and occupant-oriented. Notably, the height along with the low ground clearance creates chapel-like roominess throughout the cabin, with only the short width of the hatchback exhibiting some cramped proportions inside.
The two-door hatchback seats a maximum of four occupants moderately comfortably. The front of the cabin presents ample head and legroom for the driver and side-passenger, whereas legroom in the rear is greatly limited, detrimentally so, depending on the positioning of the front seats. The driver-side high-back bucket seat presents tangible performance benefits, keeping the driver positioned effectively behind the steering wheel and pedals as well as allowing for optimal visibility, however the seating position is high, so cornering at even moderate speeds tends to solicit the feeling of falling over, with the seat base lacking enough support to counteract this. Both the driver and side-passenger receive individual center arm-rests, a rarity in the compact hatchback class. The rear seats are 50/50-split foldable for extended trunk storage space.
The high-back bucket seats are available in high-grip performance cloth with red accented stitching as standard and incorporate a motorsports-inspired racing harness pass-through. Premium leather-trimmed seats are available in black or red for an additional cost. An Abarth-designed perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel is featured with the Abarth badging, and the classic Fiat dashboard panel is gray in color as standard. Hard-touch plastic is used for most of the interior including the dashboard and door panels which, along with the chrome door handles and infotainment touchscreen, look and feel cheap.
Large loads and long family vacations weren't on the agenda when Fiat designed the 500 Abarth, offering only the bare minimum in function and practicality. The 9.5 cubic feet of trunk space is about as useful as a big luggage bag, which is also about all it can fit. Folding down the 50/50-split rear seats expands the trunk space to 30.1 cubic feet, about enough room for another large luggage bag. Because of the limited trunk space, there is no spare tire offered with 500 Abarth.
Cabin storage is minimal, with a reasonably spacious glovebox, the door pockets are otherwise shallow and the front and rear cupholders cramped, and the seatback map pockets are limited in use by the ghastly tight legroom presented in the rear row.
Features found inside the 500 Abarth are performance-focused and driver-oriented, the standard catalog comprising of performance high-back front bucket seats with seat belt pass-throughs, Abarth-designed perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, pedals with aluminum covers, driver and front-passenger-seat memory, 50/50 rear split fold-down seats, a premium Electronic Vehicle Information Center with turbo gauge, rear park assist system, and a rearview back-up camera of which became federally mandated as of 2018.
The 500 Abarth features very basic infotainment and connectivity functionality, with no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto available with the out-dated Uconnect three system. The five-inch touchscreen display is hooked up to the rearview back-up camera. The media hub includes two USB ports for device connectivity and charging, as well as an auxiliary input and integrated voice command with Bluetooth, while another USB port can be found in the glovebox. Audio and speed control buttons are features on the steering wheel for ergonomic use. The standard Fiat sound system can be upgraded to a Beats premium sound system for a high-definition experience.
Fiat has been improving on the 500’s durability continuously since its inception, with the 2019 model scoring three out of five in predicted reliability by J.D. Power, making it marginally more reliable than its previous versions. Fiat offers the 500 Abarth with a four-year/50,000-mile basic and powertrain warranty as well as with four-year complimentary roadside assistance.
So far, no complaints have been logged for the 500 Abarth 2019 model, and there have been no recalls over the period of the last three years, with the last models subject to a recall being the 2016 year model 500s.
Tests completed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety scored the standard Fiat 500 top scores of Good overall, with only the driver side small overlap front test scoring poorly. No overall rating has been presented by the NHTSA, with only the frontal crash and rollover resistance tests being performed, in which the 500 scored four out of five stars.
The high-back bucket seats in the Abarth feature seatbelt pass-throughs and bolsters which help keep the driver and passenger firmly positioned within the seats and with good visibility. Another advanced safety feature includes the torque transfer control and three-mode electronic stability control which improves steering and handling at the limits. Other standard safety features are commonplace, comprising of electronic stability control, high beam daytime running headlamps, hill start-assist, rearview back-up camera, rear park assist, and tire specific pressure monitoring display.
Depending on what you're looking for the Fiat 500 Abarth could be either a great car or completely otherwise. For the enthusiast that would like to own a Fiat icon, the 500 Abarth is just that, a charming little vehicle that pays homage to its former racing life, ushering heritage and age-old character in the form of its modern self. It’s a street-legal go-cart, not a race-car, but begs to be pushed hard with its punchy turbocharged engine and an exhaust note that’ll leave you smiling, while still being a decent daily commuter. But, considering its gravely limited interior space and minimal comfort the 500 Abarth is no functional class-leader or family appeaser. It’s also not particularly accomplished when it comes to handling and performance, thriving on the theater of noise and the amplified feeling of speed rather than capability of such.
Every moment behind the wheel leaves you smiling, but there are hot hatches out there who provide more fun, greater capability, and more practicality. For those after a true performance package, you’d be better off looking at the larger Ford Fiesta ST, perhaps.
Starting at a base MSRP of $20,495 the Fiat 500 Abarth is an affordable performance-oriented hatchback that packs a whole lot of fun in retro-Italian style. That’s excluding tax, registration, licensing, and Fiat’s $1,495 destination charge. Its MSRP is reasonable, placing it in a similar pricing range with the larger and heavier Ford Fiesta ST and around $5,000 cheaper than the Mini Cooper S.
The Fiat 500 Abarth is a single standalone performance model, significantly unique enough to separate it from the standard 500 range. It comes well-equipped with overhauled sport-tuned mechanics and Abarth-centric interior and exterior cues. The exterior is fitted with a range of features including a performance spoiler, dual-exhaust system, and side sill ground effects with the inner Abarth presenting performance-styled high-back bucket seats with racing harness pass-throughs and side bolsters, and a sport-styled three-spoke perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, a five-inch touchscreen display with Uconnect three infotainment system, a media hub with USB, auxiliary, and integrated voice command with Bluetooth connectivity, rear backup camera, and rear park assist.
The 500 Abarth has access to a range of packages aligned toward aesthetic customizations. The $395 Scorpion Package with roof graphic complements the Abarth’s aggressive styling with an Abarth fuel-filler door, Abarth license plate frame, driver dead pedal, and wheel locks by Mopar. For an additional $495 the Abarth roof and side mirrors can be optioned in Black, Gray, White or Red for a sportier appeal. An accessory receiver-hitch and roof racks can be added via the Adventure Package at $435 and the Beats premium audio system can be included at $695. The Popular Equipment Package costs an additional $895 and comprises of comfort-focused features including automatic temperature control air conditioning, heated front seats, and SiriusXM with a one-year radio subscription.
Fiat offers the 500 Abarth as a standalone performance model, as it is, with no other trim options. So your decision will be based on whether you’d appreciate owning a Fiat icon as an enthusiast or for the fun of the drive - both of which the Abarth has in abundance over the standard 500 offering. Either way, the Fiat 500 Abarth is a one-of-a-kind. With limited options, we’d recommend the addition of the $895 Popular Equipment Package, as well as the Adventure package for the improved audio system.
The 2019 Ford Fiesta ST is similarly priced to the 500 Abarth, with an MSRP of $21,340, however, it’s slightly more powerful, holds greater torque, and seats five. The Fiesta ST also shares identical safety scores by the NHTSA but does offer a little more safety features than the Abarth, such as the MyKey parental controls which allows the owner to set driving parameters for secondary drivers. Compared to the Abarth’s 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds, the ST’s larger 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine is incrementally slower, reaching zero to sixty mph in 7.1 seconds. With the four doors on the ST and larger trunk, the ST may present more practicality than the Abarth, though comfort and ride quality remain similar. The Fiesta ST, however, is a more complete driver’s tool, punching way above its weight dynamically, which is why we recommend it over the 500 Abarth.
The Mini Cooper S is more expensive than the 500 Abarth but does however deliver on value for that money increase. Where Mini Coopers have always excelled is in the high standard of quality, which is carried throughout, from the interior features to the performance specs. In comparison to the Abarth, the Mini Cooper offers superior interior materials and quality standard infotainment tech. The larger 2.0-liter turbocharged engine offers greater power with 189 horsepower, having the Mini sprint from zero to sixty in 6.7 seconds, not much faster than the 500 Abarth and also experiences some turbo-lag and is less fuel economical. When it comes to deciding here, a decision based on comfort will fall towards the Mini Cooper S, which also offers more trunk and cargo space, whereas a decision based on driving fun and hot-hatchery performance will highlight the 500 Abarth as the choice that offers more for a better price.