By Cars.com EditorsAugust 7, 2015
About the video
Fiat has made some improvements for 2015 to its rowdy 500 Abarth subcompact car. Let's take a look at what's new, what's good, what's bad and how the Fiat 500 Abarth fared in Cars.com's $30,000 Cheap Speed Challenge. Watch the video for more.
(engine starts) Two things have happened since the last time we reported on the Abarth version of the Fiat 500 subcompact. One is that Fiat has made some improvements for 2015 and the other is that cars.c
om pitted this car against seven other performance versions of compact and subcompact cars in the $30,000 cheap speed challenge. Let's take a look and what's new? What's good? What's bad? And how this car fared against seven competitors. Now, here's what's new for 2015. The biggest is a new instrument panel. It is a seven inch, color display, replacing kinda rudimentary gauges with a low fi screen in the middle. So, you still have the analog turbo boost gauge on the left, but you get a lot more information here in the center. And it actually kinda classes up the whole interior quite a bit. Now, the car also has bluetooth standard now for streaming audio and hands-free telephone connectivity, which it didn't have before. Unfortunately, because there's no real interface, you have to pair your phone using voice commands, which is a little tedious, but it does work. Speaking of interfaces, there's no navigation option in the dashboard, but you can get instead a $600 TomTom unit that fits into the dashboard and is powered. There's also now a USB port for connecting to the stereo and another one in the glove compartment that is for charging only. Now, there are a couple of shortcomings of the 500 in general that can't be ignored. One is comfort, many of our editors have complained that the bottom cushion for the driver doesn't tilt, which especially makes it hard if you have a manual transmission, 'cause your kind of your thigh is hitting the cushion, you're fighting it just to press down the clutch pedal and the steering wheel tilts, but it doesn't tell a scope. So, all told not the mix that you want to get comfortable, visibility's and other things sitting up high like this is actually pretty good, but there are some blind spots over the right shoulder because of the big B pillar here and especially when checking over your left shoulder. The 500 Abarth turns out to have a couple personalities or at least gave us very different impressions in two different uses. One on the street we were pretty disappointed. One of the reasons is the 0 to 60 on this car in our testing was 8.8 seconds, is that even quick? The Ford Fiesta ST which is similar in size, did it a second faster, the Volkswagen GTI, two seconds faster and the quickest one in our tests, the Subaru WRX did it in less than six seconds. Now, the specifications actually aren't that bad for the car. If you look at the engine, it's a 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 160 horsepower, 170 pounds feet of torque. Now, the company says the torque peak comes at 2,500 RPM and it just doesn't feel that way. Things don't get interesting until 3,000, 3,500 at best. The car actually has classic turbo lag, something that a lot of other manufacturers have been eradicating. I kinda feel like you need more torque at low RPM. It kinda makes this car slow off the line especially, because this one has a five speed manual when it really needs a six. Breaking is an area that was a little bit mixed. Overall we like the feel of the brake pedal, the linearity, they feel strong, but unfortunately in our regimented testing in panic stops, the car got really, really skidish, which is an uncomfortable feeling. All around town the handling is pretty good, the steering feels good a little bit of a problem with body roll though. I have to say with the height, the short wheel base, the narrowness, it feels a little tipsy to me. Now, I'm not saying the car is gonna tip over, it's really just a feeling which isn't great. Here's where they lose me, the turning circle is ponderously wide, almost 38 feet wide, in this version that's seven feet wider than the regular 500, seven feet. So, if you're in the city and you wanna make a quick u-turn this isn't the one for it. And another shortcoming for, let's say in more enclosed environments like the city is the exhaust sound. It's very noisy, it's just overdone. Now, internet let's be clear, it's not just me that thinks this. I work with people who are roughly half my age and they agree that it is unrelenting and farty. They could make it a little bit more acceptable for everyday use. Here's where we got our surprise, after we got off the drag strip where we deserved a 60 and panic stops, we went on a road course and we found this to feel like a very different car. For one thing, it handled very well. Maybe some body roll, but the car had PZero Nero Perelli tires, summer tires that had excellent grip. Didn't feel like we were gonna tip over, the handling was good. If you think about it, on the track you could keep the revs high. In that case, it's a really entertaining little engine and short of a panic stop. The brakes feel strong, confidence and inspiring even the exhaust sound, you're on a racetrack, who cares. Now, we've put more emphasis on performance for the cheap speed challenge, but cars.com always looks at the big picture, value, roominess, et cetera. And unfortunately, a little bit of fun on the track for the Fiat 500 Abarth wasn't enough to overcome. Test scores that were, you know at best around average, out of eight cars, it came in eighth. Now, if you're looking for an alternative, I'd say for a small car, that's just rock as good fun, go for the Ford Fiesta ST. If you want more size utility, refinement, efficiency all that stuff, I would go with the Volkswagen GTI. It had some of the best numbers across the board in our test and the one that matters most it came in number one. (back door slams)