A few weeks ago, I asked Saab owners what they were driving now. Bernard, a long-term Saab fan and reader/commenter on SU and here at Swadeology, recently bought a Fiat 500 Abarth. I drove a Fiat 500 in non-Abarth form around Mallorca back in 2011. That car was short on power but high on fun. I could definitely see the potential for extreme fun with a more potent engine, which is exactly what’s in the Abarth’s (along with a few other things).
Bernard’s kindly provided a few pictures and thoughts about his new car (thanks!). Maybe it’ll inspire a few Saab owners who might be looking to kick off the next chapter of their automotive adventure.
If you’ve got any questions for Bernard, leave them in comments. If you’ve bought something to replace your Saab and you love it, then let me know. I’d love to share it around.
Let’s get this out of the way: the Fiat 500 Abarth is a small car. It’s amazing how many people kindly point this out to you. What can I say, that it looks bigger in the brochure? I’m over six feet tall, so the Abarth is effectively a three seater. That’s not a problem for me, but I thought I would mention it.
Also, on the way home from the dealership, my girlfriend asked me “why am I sitting in the middle of the lane?” I had to make a mental adjustment, but it’s all good now.
The Abarth is substantially more expensive than a regular 500, although it’s also cheaper than its sporty competition: BRZ, Cooper S, GTI, MX-5. What do you get for your money? First, you get great seats, with lots of support all around (especially at the knees, which is where most cars don’t deliver). You also get a very sporty steering wheel that could have come out of a Lamborghini, lowered suspension and 160 horsepower. The regular North-American 500 has 100 horses, and there’s a Turbo model with 130, so the 160 in the Abarth is a substantial bump.
You also get all the modern conveniences: bluetooth, air con, power windows and doors, USB/aux-in.
What you don’t get is a silencer in the exhaust. It’s a straight pipe front to back, with a flex in the middle, and a Y behind the rear axle.
Which brings us to the sound. The first time we started the car, we both giggled like little kids. It’s loud, it bubbles like a muscle car, it pops on the over-run, it growls when you put the power down, and somehow it’s not obnoxious. It’s uncanny; not only because it’s incongruous to have such a big sound come out of such a small car, but also because it doesn’t sound like Cherry Bombs on a Chevelle SS (or fart cans on a Civic, for the younger crowd). It sounds happy, like a two-stroke that’s perfectly jetted and coming on-pipe. It’s really not that far from the Group B rally cars that were posted a few days back.
I haven’t had the car long, so all of my driving has been in winter. We’ve had quite a lot of snow this year. Under dry conditions, the car is much as one would expect. It has a substantial kick on acceleration (100 to 150 km/h is near-instantaneous), great grip, and a firm but not too harsh ride. The Abarth comes with FSD shocks (that’s frequency-selective damping, folks) and they work just as advertised: they are softer over bumps (high frequency), and firm when the car changes direction (low frequency). The steering is tight when the car is in “sport” mode, the clutch is light, and the gearshift is precise.
The first thing you should know about driving an Abarth in fresh snow is that you absolutely must cancel the stability control (ESC). It fights you tooth and nail, tries to spin you if you steer with the throttle, kills the power when you need thrust, and generally makes life miserable. Turn ESC off and the car is transformed. There’s tons of traction (probably because there’s nothing of substance behind the firewall), tilting the car on the throttle is ridiculously easy, the steering is perfect and there’s almost no inertia to dampen inputs. It really feels like you’re going through the Turini Pass on the last night of the Monte Carlo Rally. It’s very intense, in a good way.
I could make a list of pros and cons, but I won’t. The Abarth is an emotional purchase and, as such, there’s no point rationalizing it. It feels special when you sit in it, and it’s an absolute joy to drive.