It’s easy to look at the Fiat 500 Abarth and see a goofy little clown car, but that would be a naive mischaracterization. It would be a goofy little clown car only if the clown in question were wearing a comically large pair of fire-retardant racing shoes and a helmet. The 500 Abarth is definitely a performance car and a surprisingly good time on the track.
But how does it compare to the other Abarth in the Fiat high-performance family, the 124 Spider Abarth that’s derived from the Mazda MX-5 Miata? Does its $8,000-plus premium over the 500 Abarth equal $8,000-plus worth more fun?
Fiat invited us to sample the Abarth dynamic duo at Autobahn Country Club racetrack in Joliet, Ill., both on the 1.5-mile road course and on the go-kart track. Both cars have a surprisingly similar power-to-weight ratio with 160-ish-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter engines, and weighing roughly 2,400-2,500 pounds, but distinctive personalities stood out after tossing them around these small circuits, which were perfect for experiencing the modestly powered Abarths.