2nd Place: 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth. Click image to enlarge
Let’s be clear right from the start, the Fiat 500 Abarth is not a great car. It is noisy, rough-riding, cramped, and features a bizarre driving position. The agricultural engine note makes a Subaru sound refined, and the shifter is a poorly positioned rubbery mess. But—and this is a big “Sir-Mix-A-Lot but”—it gets under your skin and charms the pants off you. The fact that Fiat is currently using Charlie Sheen as the spokesperson for the 500 Abarth is one of those marketing matches made in heaven where the product really does reflect the spokesperson (okay, maybe the 500 Abarth hasn’t locked anyone in a hotel closet yet, but you get the idea).
Fire up the Abarth and a shockingly loud, purposeful snarl emanates from the tailpipes. Take it for a jaunt through some open backroads and the playful steering and eager-to-rotate rear-end are a ton o’ fun. But not a ‘look at me I’m a champion driver’ ton of fun, but rather the ‘OMG, this car is trying to kill me’ kind of fun found in Porsche 911s of yore. Okay, it is not that bad, but mid-corner emergency braking will definitely grab your attention in the Abarth.
On the highway, the 500 Abath drones about its business and that playful steering found on country roads becomes darty steering on the freeway. The short wheelbase and firm suspension make the 500 Abarth jump over every expansion joint as you rumble down the road in top gear. Being the smallest and lightest vehicle, it should come as no surprise that the Abarth achieved the best fuel consumption average at 8.6 L/100 km during our testing, beating the Veloster Turbo’s average of 9.0 L/100 km and decimating the Beetle Turbo’s 10.0 L/100 km.
But the small size does not do the Fiat 500 Abarth any favours when it comes to interior comfort. The rear seat is cramped and features no headroom, and despite a nice wide door opening, the 500’s narrow dimensions limit the size of items that can be transported in the hatch, especially compared to the cavernous Veloster. During our cargo test, a board that barely fit in the 500 Abarth—width- and depth-wise—had inches of clearance on all sides when stored in the Beetle or Veloster.
So how did the 500 Abarth claim second over the Veloster Tubo? Well, besides its charming personality and sporty disposition, it was aesthetics. Someone looking for a vehicle that stands out from the crowd is obviously conscious about its looks. The Abarth is not only distinct in silhouette, but it also looks great. The treatment Fiat prescribes for the 500 when transforming it into the Abarth is masterful. The upgraded rims, dual exhaust, lower body treatment, Abarth badges, and optional stripes take the 500 from a cute little runabout to a pint-sized terror. Inside, the 500 has had never an issue with style thanks to an infusion of Italian flair, and the Abarth is no different. If you want the unrelenting wild child of turbo compacts, here is your car. –MS
Pricing: 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
Base price: $23,955
Options: $800 (Premium Leather), $1,200 (Power Sunroof), $175 (ATC Air Conditioning), $150 (Security Alarm), $295 (SIRIUS Satellite Radio), $495 (TomTom Navigation), $995 (17-Inch Hyper Black Wheels)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $29,705