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Car Review: 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth

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You know very quickly when you are driving something special, and the 500 Abarth is special. We drove the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth for a week and had about as much fun as any car we tested in recent months. There is no doubt that the Fiat 500 Abarth brought world-class performance and precision, purposeful and aggressive styling, high power-to-weight ratio and limited-production volume to the small-car segment in North America.

EXTERIOR

The Abarth badging on the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth has a tint of dare we say a Ferrari in just the slightest but most impressive way. The aggressive styling of the Fiat 500 Abarth embodies the Abarth brand tradition in full — purposeful and intentional details, all designed to improve the car’s performance, while enhancing the clean and simple design language of the Cinquecento. Our test model proudly boasted rosso (red) paint and sweet 17-inch x 7-inch forged aluminum hyper black wheels, which set the tone for this confident compact.

To improve aerodynamics and the necessary engine compartment space for the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine, the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio feature a more pronounced front fascia. For additional air intake, the signature “Abarth” shield floats on a finned surface and a larger intake below consists of three inlets with broader openings than the standard Cinquecento models. For a more aggressive look, twin “nostrils” are precisely positioned on the front fascia to maximize airflow in and out of the two engine intercoolers (both intercoolers are visible through the “nostril” inlets).

Abarth-designed side skirts give an athletic profile, while 16-inch or optional 17-inch (as tested) lightweight forged-aluminum wheels fill the flared wheel arches and provide ventilation for the performance brake system. From the rear, an aggressively-styled, Abarth-specific, cloth top-mounted spoiler extends the roofline and improves the Abarth Cabrio’s aerodynamic behavior by creating additional downforce. Below, the two-piece Abarth-styled rear fascia accentuates the road-holding stance and optimizes airflow with its rear diffuser. Integrated behind the diffuser, the low-restriction Abarth-tuned exhaust system features concentric “double tips” and the signature Abarth-tuned sound.

INTERIOR

Quality, style and fun all come together to invigorate you in the cabin of the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth. The interior design theme of the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio is an artistic blend of clean lines and functional performance appointments. An Abarth-designed steering wheel features a thick rim, perforated leather and flat bottom to provide the look, feel and increased roominess desired during at-the-limit driving. A large concentric instrument cluster with 160-mph speedometer, tachometer and trip computer sits behind the steering wheel and features a leather-wrapped cluster brow wrapped in Nero leather with Rosso accent stitching. To the left, an analog turbo-boost gauge has an integrated LED shift light in the center that illuminates an instant before redline to optimize gear changes. Below the instrument panel, Abarth-designed aluminum pedal covers feature Nero rubber trim for a decidedly racing look, while the Nero leather shift knob with Rosso accent stitching provides a precise feel of the shifter.

Unique Abarth-styled front performance seats feature a one-piece design with large side bolsters, a racing-harness pass through, accent stitching around the perimeter and integrated side-thorax air bags. To highlight that this cabrio has the most interior space, rear-seat legroom and shoulder room among key competitors, the rear passengers’ upper seatbacks are raised and bolstered for added back support.

The audio system simply rocks with Beats by Dre audio, which offers passengers of the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio models a high-definition music experience the way the artist intended. The Beats Audio studio-quality sound system includes six premium speakers, an 8-inch dual-voice coil (DVC) subwoofer with trunk-mounted enclosure and 8-channel 368-watt amplifier with Beats Audio digital sound processing (DSP) algorithm.

Keep in mind that the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth is a compact car with very limited space for backseat passengers, but the driver and front passenger will enjoy plenty of space and elbow room.

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PERFORMANCE

Fiat has been building the 500 for decades, so when the Abarth leaves the factory, you can bet one is getting a tried and true machine that can also get up and go! Like the Fiat 500 hatchback, the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio feature an enhanced front and rear suspension design to deliver the precision handling, steering and refinement needed for high-performance driving. Compared to the Fiat 500, the Abarth models features a unique MacPherson suspension design with stiffer front spring rates and 0.6-inch (15 mm) lower ride height for improved handling and minimal body roll. Abarth-designed, cast-iron front lower control arms provide improved lateral stiffness, while an increase in negative camber to -1.5 degrees delivers improved grip and steering precision.

In addition, dual-valve frequency selective damping (FSD) KONI twin-tube struts deliver road control and maximum grip, while actively filtering out high-frequency suspension inputs from uneven road surfaces to adjust for comfort and smoothness. The beefier rear suspension design of the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio takes the Cinquecento model’s (already 300 percent stiffer than the European Fiat 500) twist-beam design further, with a torsionally rigid rear axle designed with strengthened coil-spring supports for greater durability. A 0.87-inch (22 mm) Abarth-specific solid rear stabilizer bar increases cornering grip. For improved handling, minimal body roll and ride-height control (when fully loaded), the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio feature stiffer rear springs with 0.6-inch (15 mm) lower ride.

Delivering 10 percent quicker steering, enhanced responsiveness, maneuverability and high-performance feel, the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio features a 15.1:1 (up from 16.3:1) steering-gear ratio. Compared to the standard Cinquecento models, the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio also boast a uniquely tuned electronic power steering (EPS) calibration for increased steering response and feedback. In addition, a road-crown and crosswind algorithm automatically compensates for temporary situations where there is a constant push of the car to one side or another, assisting the driver against such conditions.

The Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio feature a high-performance brake system with semi-metallic brake linings at all four corners and larger 11.1-inch ventilated rotors for greater stopping power (up from 10.1-inch). Both front and rear brake calipers are lacquered in Rosso (red) paint for an athletic look. An Abarth-tuned electronic stability control system (ESC) includes three calibration modes to maximize handling capabilities on and off the track. When ESC is selected from “On” to “Partial Off” or “Full Off” on the instrument panel, the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio’s innovative torque transfer control (TTC) system maximizes throttle performance during on-throttle cornering. Even with all of this performance and power, the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth delivers fuel efficiency of 28mpg in the city and 34mpg in highway driving.

OVERVIEW

There were times during our week driving the 500 Abarth that no words could describe the thrill. Because of the compact size, the handling was off the charts and the growl from the engine was superb. What’s also a positive for car buyers is the loaded Abarth we tested stickered out at a reasonable $30,004. The Abarth models provide one of the most visceral driving experiences in the industry, inspired by the racing traditions that made Abarth a success on international racetracks. We look forward to more Fiat offerings in North America outside of the 500 models, and hopefully that happens sooner rather than later.

  

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