Little tiny retro-styled cars are my weakness. Whether it’s a Mini or a Fiat if it’s a throwback to when Euro pocket-rockets first shocked the world, I’m in. Adorable, cute, tiny, funky: these are all adjectives that fit this program to a tee.
My other weakness is noisy, attention-grabbing, angry, fun cars that pack a sting in their tail.
Enter: The Fiat 500 Abarth. Like me, it’s small and round, like me, it’s loud and entertaining.
Also like me, it is probably a little more boastful than its actual performance level warrants…
Until you really start to get after it, anyway.
“Oh! That’s what ESC does!” – I chuckled as I wrestled the little Fiat back under control. Under heavy braking and with all the electric nannies off (because I’m an idiot sometimes) the back had squirmed, wiggled and kicked like one of Calgary’s finest.
It was a dramatic demonstration of how Electronic Stability Control actually works to settle down a car and make it do all the predictable car things we’ve come to expect. On a previous occasion with all the tools turned on and the same braking point, pedal pressure, etc. the car had braked smoothly in a straight line and tipped in evenly to the corner.
The steering gave good feedback and the top-heaviness I expected to experience was actually quite subdued. The car has some movement in it. A little body roll, a little pitch – but in a talkative, helpful way rather than an untidy, unbalanced kind of way. The little 500 was so predictable and easy to drive – and so naturally I had to try and make it more fun by turning off the ESC and traction control.
Extra Retro: 2016 Fiat 500 1957 Edition Test Drive
Therein lies the rub. You have to work a little hard to make the 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth as much fun as the promising Scorpion badging, aggressive body work and sexy rims suggest it should be. You have to work properly hard to make it as exciting as the now-legendary Abarth exhaust tune sounds. The 1.4L turbo four is a raucous little fella, burping, barking and growling its heart out right through the five-speed gearbox. With 25 more hp and 20 more lb-ft of torque than the standard Fiat 500 Turbo, the 160 hp/ 170 lb-ft donk hustles the 1,142 kg jelly bean up to speed with urgency – but the soundtrack, not the speed, is the star of this show.