2013 Fiat 500 Review

2013 Fiat 500 - Holy moly. I want this car.


Last summer when I tested the all-new Fiat 500, I loved it. The manual transmission was smooth, the car was zippy, and I liked the compact city-worthiness.

I recently had the opportunity to drive the Abarth model, and holy moly. I want this car. Badly. In fact, with the addition of heated seats, the Abarth  is officially on the top of my "buy" list.

From the sporty, stiff suspension to the 5-speed manual transmission to the growling exhaust, I had a really, really fun week. Really fun. So fun that I was already on E before the week ended. Of course, if I owned the Abarth I would tone down the aggressive driving a bit. Heck, who am I kidding, no I wouldn't. I'd enjoy every single day in that car.

I might even get that scorpian tattoo on the back of my neck.

Yeah, I really did like it that much.

I do realize, however, that such a small car isn't for everyone, and during the test week, one passenger commented that he felt a bit cramped. But I think the close quarters are something you'd get used to over time as long as you weren't an above-average-sized person. For me, the size was perfect. Everything was within easy reach, and I was able to perfectly adjust the driver's seat to push that clutch all the way in as well as have great visibility out the front.

The interior with the optional leather-trimmed seats ($1,000) are gorgeous. The black-and-red leather added to the white dash inserts is a stunning combination.  The seats are very supportive and comfortable, and the center stack is simple yet intuitive. While I liked the placement of the buttons and dials on the center stack, I did miss the lack of a dial for volume control. I just don't understand why automakers think it's a good idea to to press rather than swirl.

There was one other thing that I didn't love about the interior: the armrest on the driver's seat. I never use them. I'd rather have my hands on the wheel or the shift knob. So, if there's an armrest on a swivel, I always keep it in the up position. In the case of the Abarth tester, the up is not all the way up, and I continually hit my upper arm on the top of the rest when I moved from steering wheel to shift knob. I have to wonder if this can be removed.

The exterior of the tester is, well, cute. There really is no other way to explain it. With a length of 144.4  inches, it is, quite simply, one of those cars that can fit in most spaces.

But with the small size, cargo and stowage space in the Abarth is at a premium. There is no center console to store your phone charger, iPass or change. So you'll either have to leave it out in the open sitting in cup holders (not recommended in Chicago) or make the reach over to the glove box to store your incidentals. Trunk space is also pretty cozy at 9.5 cubic-feet. That's enough to fit a rollerboard and small back pack, but not much else. So, a road trip or pick-up at O'Hare with more than 2 people is probably out of the question.

I have a lot of guy friends who would qualify the Fiat 500 as a chick car. And maybe it is if you buy it in a frou frou yellow or mint green color. But the Abarth with its grunty engine, manual-only transmission and a nice masculine black paint job is another story. In fact, frou frou paint wanters need not apply, the only options available: black, red, white and gray.

The Abarth comes equipped with a 1.4-liter turbo engine that delivers 160 horsepower -- that's 59 more than the regular 500 model. And believe me it makes a difference. The suspension is very stiff. Read: Really, really very stiff.  On a smooth highway it'll bring a smile to your face with the connection you'll feel to the road. On Wells Street downtown between North and Chicago, you'll cringe with every tooth-clattering pothole.

The exterior styling of the Abarth is very similar to the regular 500 at first glance. But when you take a closer look, you'll notice the Abarth emblem at the front, back and on the wheels. If you get the up-level paint treatment with Abarth painted on the side of the car ($350), the distinction is a little more clear.

While the base price for the Abarth is $22,000. There is at least one option you'll want to add in Chicago -- the Convenience Package ($850) -- which includes heated seats. The test car added the paint treatment and the Tom Tom navigation ($500). I could take or leave the paint treatment, but I would definitely, absolutely leave the nav system. It's on a funny looking stick that pops out of your dash and creates a bit of a blind spot. Plus, I think you can get better navigation out of your phone.

For those of you who are looking for more of an open-air experience, Abarth recently introduced a cabrio model with a base price of $26,000.

For the week that I had the Abarth, I thoroughly enjoyed the the flingable petite car with its stiff ride. Though I joked a the beginning about getting the tattoo, I do have to wonder if this is a car I could have a long-term relationship with, or if it's simply a hot and passionate love affair. The lack of open roads and plethora of pockmarked streets in Chicago are what have me thinking twice. I truly did love this car, and I think it's a really good city car for a single person.

Jill Ciminillo

Jill has been writing about cars for more than 15 years, representing the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers and the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. Jill recently served as the first female president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and currently sits on its Board of Directors as President Emeritus. Jill is a syndicated automotive writer and acts as the managing editor for the Pickup Truck + SUV Talk website.