Bottom line: Small cars are becoming more popular in the United States. Models such as the Mini Cooper, the Chevrolet Sonic and even the Smart Fortwo are beginning to sell well. The Fiat 500 Abarth will contribute that trend. But it’s a tiny car for experienced drivers. Less-experienced drivers should start off in something such as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic or Honda Fit.
Ride, acceleration and handling: An enthusiastic thumbs-up for all three, except ride quality on poorly maintained streets. This is a short-wheelbase car, measuring just 90.6 inches from the center of the front wheel to the center of the rear wheel. That means, even with the Abarth’s commendable suspension system, you get beaten up on rough roads.
Head-turning quotient: Cute enough to get a warning instead of a ticket. But, again, it helps to have gray hair, be sincerely apologetic and immensely respectful, have an endearing smile, and sincerely promise not to break the law again.
Body style/layout: The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive two-door economy sports hatchback. Fiat 500 models, except the Abarth, also come as convertibles. Trim lines include the base Pop, the mid-grade Sport, the upscale Lounge and the performance-equipped Abarth.
Engine/transmission: Standard in the Abarth is a turbocharged 1.4-liter, 16-valve in-line four-cylinder engine that develops a maximum 160 horsepower and 170 foot-pounds of torque. The engine is linked to a five-speed manual transmission.
Capacities: There are seats for four people. But rear head and leg space is cramped for bigger types. Front space is surprisingly accommodating for drivers large and small. Cargo space is 9.5 cubic feet, enough to carry four bags of groceries or two medium-size soft-pack travel bags. The fuel tank holds 10.5 gallons.
Experienced mileage: I averaged 21 miles in the city (lots of congestion in the District) and 33 miles on the highway at a consistent 65 mph (except in construction zones) and, sometimes, a bit higher.
Safety: I am concerned about the Fiat 500’s relatively low overall and side-impact crash scores. Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear), four-wheel anti-lock brake protection, emergency braking assistance, emergency brake-force distribution, electronic stability and traction control, and front and rear head air bags.
Prices: The base price for the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is $22,000. Dealer’s invoice piece is $21,035. Price as tested is $23,700 including $1,000 in options.
Note: This column recommends not buying the portable TomTom navigation system as sold for use here. When placed stop the Abarth’s instrument panel, it greatly interferes with forward vision.
Clarification, for last week’s column: Since 1997, all Subaru models sold in the United States have been all-wheel-drive. That changes with this summer’s introduction of the sporty Subaru BRZ, which has rear-wheel drive.