Sure, if you only can afford one car it should be a Volkswagen GTI, which does both fun-car and car-car about as well as a front-wheel-drive car can do. However, what if you’re the kind of person who wants to channel the noise a 1980’s Ferrari, in a retro style, with a modern version of a C2V drop top, in what should be another practical hot-hatch? For people like this: such a car exists, it’s called the FIAT 500C Abarth, and my God is it fun!
Is the Abarth a good car? Probably not for most people, frankly. The cargo space is minimal, there’s no spare wheel for the oversized Pirellis, the steering has almost no electrical assist in Sport Mode, visibility isn’t that great, the racing seats only fit people with under 20% bodyfat, you have to wear driving mocs for your feet to fit, and the ride quality is like a trip in the supercar way-back machine. In short, it’s brilliant. Where a GTI makes a number of little compromises to be a great car for all people as well as petrolheads on a budget, this little Austo-Italian number makes absolutely none. It is what it is, and thankfully the Italians still understand how to make a car for people who just don’t give a fuck. If you can’t drive a manual, want something quiet at times, and want a sport mode that does nothing, look elsewhere, FIAT won’t take your money.
Let it be known, this is not a fast car. It’s driven by the wrong pair of wheels, so there’s a limit to how much power you can put down. The VW is at this limit, hence there being almost no power boosts for over a decade. The Abarth, with it’s diminutive wheelbase, has a lower threshold, and in this spec, it’s about 10-20 horsepower short of being un-drivable. Thanks to a rather sophisticated electronic differential, torque-steer is kept in check, but it’s still there when the boost gauge is north of around 1.1. It takes a little under 7 seconds to achieve mile-a-minute velocity, which matches an old Ferrari 308 or modern Range Rover diesel, but the noise it makes to get there is intoxicating. So, who cares if most posh family cars (I would buy) are faster in a straight line, wishing there was more power on tap never crossed my mind, even when overtaking. The engineers tuned the exhaust to allow for off throttle backfires! It’s 2014, and this car will literally spit fire from the factory. Have a listen for yourself, and tell me you’re not smitten:
The key to seeing how wonderful the existence of the 500C Abarth is in the modern world, one needs to define the competitive set. MINI makes the less-than-rigid CooperS droptop for much more money, but the steering practically is disconnected plus reliability is always a concern. Mazda makes the MX-5 Miata, but I’m too tall for the windscreen, there’s a new one about to debut, and the Hiroshimites keep refining the fun out of it. You could compare the Abarth to hot-hatches, but that’s not really a true comparison since they all lack an alfresco option. So, it sits alone, in a tiny little niche every other automaker overlooked. Sure, there are flaws, but thank you FIAT for bringing back Abarth. And, a big danke schoen to Karl Abarth for being one of two Austians to make the world a better place by seeking greener pastures in Italy rather than Germany. Now, I just have to find away to test the 458 Niki Lauda Edition to see which one I like better. With my well-earned dislike of most modern Ferraris, I’m willing to bet it’ll still be the Abarth. Since there’s a grey one of the latter sitting in front of my house, I’m off to get some coffee.