The most important news on technology, developments and trends with insightful analysis. Coverage includes hardware, software, networking, wireless computing, personal technology, security and cutting-edge technology from the developer world to the consumer world.
You can learn a lot about a car by the way it sounds. Fire up a Lexus LS and you'll hear practically nothing. Rev the snot out of a BMW M3 and your ears will be beaten by high-pitched traces of Formula One; do the same with a Dodge Challenger SRT8 and you'll be taken back to 1970 with a low, burbling rumble.
Bear in mind that all of these machines mentioned are powered by V8 engines, long the bastion of beastly automotive soundtracks. Clearly, each car's designers tuned all eight cylinders, their assorted valves, camshafts and exhaust tracts, to produce a specific sound, and to good effect.
Imagine our surprise, then, when the ignition clicked in our tiny 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth and an aural symphony not unlike a Dremel shredding a Fender Stratocaster into tiny little specks of bass and treble emerged. And it makes all this sweet-sounding music with just 1.6-liters of displacement from its four turbocharged cylinders.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's talk style. As befitting an icon from Italy – and nevermind that Catrinel Menghia, the ridiculously beautiful model forever linked to the 500, is from Romania – the Fiat 500 Abarth is a shapely beast. Where the standard 500 could best be described as cute, the Scorpion-badged Abarth model is significantly more menacing... though it's still a bit cute, sort of like an oddly cuddly miniature pitbull puppy.
While the standard 500 is available in a wide range of pastel hues, the Abarth is offered only in white, gray, black or red.
While the standard 500 is available in a wide range of pastel hues, the Abarth is offered only in white, gray, black or red. Further customization is provided by optional gloss white or black wheels. Along that same limited color pallet, mirror caps and body-side stripes (the latter of which are optional) are offered in black, white or red. The somewhat monochromatic look is carried inside with either cloth or leather in – you guessed it – black and red.
The seating position and relationship between the pedals, shifter and steering wheel is a little bit odd in the 500.
The seating position and relationship between the pedals, shifter and steering wheel is a little bit odd in the 500, putting the driver into a posture akin to that of a kitchen chair. The Abarth is no different. Some of our staff has found the interior positioning problematic; others cope with it easily. Your mileage may vary.
It makes lovely music, as you can hear in our Short Cut video.
A 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds is not particularly quick these days, but at least it gives you some extra time to enjoy the sound. The four-wheel disc brakes easily stopped the 2,500-pound car in every situation we found ourselves in, with adequate control and easily modulated power.
It's more comfortable than we expected based on its overtly sporty intentions.
But the Abarth's lively demeanor doesn't equal a harsh ride. Nobody outside of a tank operator would describe it as plush, but it's more comfortable than we expected based on its overtly sporty intentions.
One solid knock against the Abarth is its decidedly old-fashioned five-speed manual gearbox.
Similarly, the steering feel of the 500 Abarth could use some work. It's a bit numb and doesn't deliver much in the way of feedback to the driver. At 15.1:1, the Abarth has a 10-percent quicker steering ratio (16.3:1 in the 500 Sport) than lesser 500s, and the wheel itself is a nice piece, which is good, because we found ourselves making constant corrections to keep on our intended path.
It's so full of character that the things it gets wrong sort of become endearing.