Abarth has been Fiat's racing division for decades. And now it's the little 500's turn to get souped up and dressed to perform with the classic scorpion badge proudly displayed on its nose. We borrowed a top-of-the-line $23,500 Gucci spec Abarth from Chrysler (Fiat's new beachhead in North America) for a fee to check it out.
We've already tested two versions of the 500 and while the car has its fair share of flaws such as an awkward driving position, it's also full of charm. The Abarth version comes with more than a generous dash of spice to make it a busy little bee that's quick and entertaining. And the fun begins as soon as you start the engine up and absorb its temperamental Italian throaty bark. Then the 1.4-liter turbo happily revs to exploit all of its 160 horses, emitting a Ferrari-like shriek. Let go of the throttle and some pop-pop backfires from the exhaust continue to delight, turning your smirk into a chuckle.
The shifter is crisp and low in effort but long throws take away from the sporty feel. Handling is responsive and very secure. You can toss the grippy little racer to your heart content and the fat Pirellis barely whisper a murmur as they hold that go-kart in the corners. Too bad the steering isn't as communicative as it should be in a hot hatchback. And while the high stance makes you feel tall in the saddle and in command, it exacerbates the sensation of body roll a bit. The ride offers a modicum of compliance and is quite stiff, but not enough to break your teeth.
By the time we had to give the Abarth back we were grinning from ear to ear, so who cares if the driving position is awkward.