2015 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio First Drive

Changes for 2015 make us want to take the Abarth for another spin.

What It Is
A hot Italian hatch with a burst of performance.
Best Thing
Feels stable on the road.
Worst Thing
Chintzy interior, mediocre automatic transmission.
Snap Judgment
The 2015 Abarth is the choice for die-hard Fiat fans.


We've driven the Abarth many times, and had mixed feelings about the high-performance minicar. But for 2015, Fiat has updated the model with more interior technology and an all-new automatic transmission option. And what better place to test out the new Abarth than at Chrysler's Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan.

From large potholes, uneven terrain, and twisty roads, our test track allowed us to really put the car to the test on a variety of road situations. More importantly, we were able to make some conclusions about the new automatic transmission. Read on to learn more about the 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth.

Walkaround

The object of desire for Italian-car lovers yet scourge of existence for Mini Cooper fans, the Fiat 500 is a "love it or hate it" type of vehicle. But there is something unique about the Abarth, as its tiny size is made larger than life with huge air intakes, bold scorpion badging, an "Abarth" label running along the side of the doors, complete with 16-inch or 17-inch wheels. We drove the Cabrio model, which features a power-operated soft top that folds kind of like an accordion. With the push of a button, the top folds down to the rear spoiler during speeds as high as 60 mph. Push the button again and the roof folds all the way down behind the rear head restraints.

2015 Fiat 500C Abarth Interior

Sitting Down

Believe it or not, the exterior is relatively tame compared to the car's interior. Although there is plenty of chintzy shiny red plastic covering the dash, it's hard not to love the leather performance seats, contrast red and black stitching, more usable center console, and new 7-inch high def TFT cluster with G-force and speed data. Only the boldest of drivers will appreciate the style.

Surprisingly, I found the sport seats particularly comfortable. However, the small front seats afforded little space for legs or anything else. As expected, the back seat is for show, as most people won't want to be spending much time cramped up back there.

Driving

Even though the subcompact segment has been improving, it is still rare to find one that can handle large potholes, gravely roads, hills, and large bumps with ease. We put the Abarth to the ultimate test when we drove it on Chrysler's Chelsea testing grounds, which features a variety of different road obstacles along a twisty set of roads. We are surprised to say that the Abarth handled the challenges quite well. Only at high speeds did the Abarth show any signs of shakiness. Thanks to its firm suspension, the Abarth delivers a more steady ride than a lot of other cars in its segment.

And now the part you really want to hear about – Does the new automatic transmission take any of the fun away? Admittedly, we love the Abarth's easy shifting manual. While the automatic transmission shifts smoothly between gears, we don't think it offers the same thrill as the original version.

Summary

Those looking for a small Italian hatchback with personality may want to opt just for the traditional 500. Only performance-loving fans who enjoy the thrill of a firm suspension and a zippy turbo engine will likely want to opt for the Abarth model. And for this group, we would recommend the five-speed manual, which not only offers a more rewarding drive but also achieves better fuel economy. Only the most dedicated Fiat Abarth fans will want to opt for this model; we expect pricing for this model to hit around $30,000.

Basic Specs

1.4-liter inline four-cylinder, six-speed automatic (also available with five-speed manual), front-wheel drive

157-hp (automatic), 160-hp (manual)

24/32 mpg city highway (automatic), 28/34 mpg (manual)

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