“What’s an Abarth?” In the case of Fiat, the Abarth models’ name comes from Karl Abarth, a man and a brand synonymous with a host of racing victories. Competition success has always been a significant part of the Abarth story since Karl Abarth founded “Abarth & C” over 60 years ago in 1949, and Abarth’s collaboration with the Fiat brand represents a 45 year history, resulting in six international records and nearly 900 individual race victories.
First off, let’s square the pronunciation away…In Italian, it’s not AAAAbarTH or AHBarTH, but rather AHHbarT. Hagerty, an insurance company for collectible vehicles, has indicated that the Abarth edition of the Fiat 500 is undoubtedly destined to become one of the 10 most collectible small performance rides of the future. This latest U.S. version is based on the globally popular Fiat 500, first launched in 2007, with over half a million sold in more than 80 countries around the world.
Enter the highly desirable performance version 2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio. The Fiat Abarth is essentially an everyday performance car with track-ready capability, high horsepower (117 hp per liter) blended with efficiency, quality and sophistication. It is a “small, but wicked” global class small car.
My Dark Gray test 2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio came with a base price of $21,490. Price, as tested, came to $25,510 after adding the Aisen heavy duty 6-speed automatic gearbox, Popular Equipment Package, GPS Navigation, Nero-trimmed lights, Nero capped mirrors, and 16-inch forged aluminum 10-spoke wheels shod with Pirelli Cinturato P7 BSW 3-season rubber. And the Destination Charge.
In terms of the Abarth model’s differentiation from other available Fiat 500 models, the front facia is noticeably more pronounced, extending 2.7-inches ahead of its signature “whiskers and logo” face. Three wider air intakes and functional “Abarth” shield allow for additional air into the engine compartment. Also up front, a blacked-out fascia accents integrated projector-beam fog lamps for a more aggressive persona. Twin “nostril-like” openings are precisely placed on the front fascia maximizing airflow in and out of the engine’s two turbo intercoolers.
Other Abarth-specific functional and visual cues include: extended side skirts; optional 17-inch lightweight, forged, multi-spoke aluminum wheels shod with Pirelli P-Zero Nero all-season rubber (16-inch rolling stock is standard); a large liftgate-mounted spoiler; a two-piece Abarth-styled rear fascia with a black-accented rear diffuser and symmetric twin exhaust cutouts optimizes rear outlet airflow; large concentric “double-tip” Abarth exhausts that provide an incredible sound along with a performance look.
The aerodynamics are better, and the engine bay features modifications that allow space for the 1.4-liter MultiAir® Turbo four-cylinder engine that makes 157 hp along with 183 lb-ft. of torque delivered to the front wheels via a five-speed, short throw, manual gearbox or an Aisen six-speed automatic. Fiat’s MultiAir technology allows the potent little four-banger to control air intake cylinder by cylinder and stroke by stroke with its electro-hydraulic system that comes without a fixed intake camshaft.
The chassis is precision tuned and features a unique MacPherson front suspension design with a stiffer spring rate (the rear springs are 20 percent stiffer with strengthened supports and a 22 mm stabilizer bar), and a ride height that is 0.6 inches lower than other Fiat 500’s. There are also Abarth-designed front lower control arms and an increase in negative camber to 1.5 degrees. Steering is quicker at 15.1:1 with Abarth-tuned electronic power steering calibration.
Brembo brakes are larger with vented fronts and Abarth-specific semi-metallic brake linings and Rosso (Red) lacquered calipers fore and aft. A new dual-valve Frequency Selective Damping KONI front shocks improve road-holding prowess. An Abarth-tuned electric stability control system provides a three-mode calibration to maximize on and off track handling characteristics with “On”, “Partial Off” or “Full Off”. The “Full Off” setting features Abarth’s innovative Torque Transfer Control system that maximizes throttle performance during on-throttle cornering (or throttle steering).
Driving the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth is unquestionably a ton of fun – not unlike the raucous and pleasing exhaust note. The dash-mounted sport button improves throttle mapping and engine response, while normal operation is more like an ‘Eco-mode’, that is not as responsive, nor is it as much fun. I tended to punch the Sport mode button and left it there, thoroughly enjoying the enhanced performance characteristics.
Acceleration of the Abarth model is noticeably quicker and more responsive, with the car only weighing roughly only 170 pounds more than regular Fiat 500s. The ride quality is obviously firmer than non-Abarth models, but is not unpleasant or objectionable.
COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE
Abarth model interior styling and design cues remain as simple and appealing as those of the exterior, with controls logically positioned for easy and intuitive use. The gearshift is placed conveniently in the center stack. Features such as the concentric binnacle instrument cluster containing a 160-mph speedometer, tachometer and trip computer were inspired by the original 500.
A removable and portable Tom-Tom navigation screen is optional. It plugs into the top of the dash. A flat-bottom sport steering wheel and sport front bucket seats along with an Abarth-designed leather shift knob and aluminum, rubber studded pedal covers highlight the car’s competitive aura.
2017 Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio models now feature Uconnect 5.0 system with 5-inch touchscreen radio, Bluetooth connectivity and integrated voice command.
Rear seat occupancy is still best left to small adults or children, particularly with larger front seat occupants. The rear seat backs fold down for added functionality and versatility, with a reasonable amount of room for personal gear with them up. The rear seat backs fold down for added functionality and versatility, with a reasonable amount of room for personal gear with them up. One awkward issue can arise – when my co-driver set the front passenger seat up to accommodate himself in the rear – he fit okay, but was unable to reach the inside door handle, even with the seat pushed forward all the way. The moral? Stay up front and enjoy.
TFLCAR’s TAKE: The 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio delivers an immense amount of spirited driving at a reasonable cost. It’s a legit alternative to the MINI Cooper S, with fresh air thrown in as an added highlight at the touch of a button.
- Base Price: $21,490
- Price as Tested: $25,510
- Engine Type and Size: 1.4-liter, SOHC, 16-valve liquid-cooled, turbocharged MULTIAIR inline four-cylinder with sequential, multi-port electronic, returnless fuel injection. 6,500 rpm redline
- Horsepower (bhp): 157 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (ft./ lbs.): 183 @ 2,400-4,000 rpm
- Transmission: Aisen six-speed heavy-duty automatic Auto Stick driver interactive manual control and electronically modulated torque converter clutch
- Drive Train: Transversely mounted front engine / Front-Wheel drive
- Suspension: Front – MacPherson suspension, coil spring with KONI Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) twin-tube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar
- Rear – Rear twist-beam axle with coil springs and twin-tube shock absorbers with 22 mm stabilizer bar
- Brakes: Power-assisted, high performance four-wheel discs (vented front) with ABS
- Tires: Pirelli Cinturato P7 All-Season 195/45 R16 84V mounted on forged aluminum alloy wheels.
- Wheelbase: 7 feet, 5.5 inches
- Length Overall: ~12 feet
- Width: 5.3 feet
- Height: 4 feet, 11 inches
- Curb Weight: 2,545 lbs
- Fuel Capacity: 10.5 gallons
- EPA Mileage Estimates: 24 mpg city /32 mpg highway
- Drag Coefficient: 0.352
- 0 – 60 mph: 6.9 seconds