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AUTO REVIEW: Fiat 500 is a hard charger

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press

More Information

2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio

BASE PRICE: $22,000 for Abarth; $26,000 for Cabrio.
PRICE AS TESTED: $31,600.
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, four-passenger, minicompact convertible.
ENGINE: 1.4-liter, single overhead cam, turbocharged and intercooled MultiAir, inline four cylinder.
MILEAGE: 28 mpg (city), 34 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: 129 mph.
OPTIONS: Forged aluminum, 17-inch, Hyper Blackwheels$1,300; leather-trimmed performance bucket seats $1,100; Beats premium audio $800; comfort/convenience group (includes Sirius XM satellite radio with one-year subscription, heated front seats, air conditioning with automatic climate control) $650; TomTom navigation system $600; black mirror caps $450.

The 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio is a cocky, yet cute bug of a car.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 12:01 am

Introduced this year in time for warm weather stateside, the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio is a fun little car for hard-charging drivers.

They better be drivers who don’t mind getting stares and comments from passersby.

You see, at 12 feet in overall length, Fiat’s 500 Cabrio performance model is a cocky, yet cute bug of a car that’s 13 inches shorter from bumper to bumper than the already diminutive, 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

At just 2,545 pounds, the Abarth Cabrio also is nearly 200 pounds lighter than a 2013 Mini Cooper Convertible.

And, with a 160-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder making 170 foot-pounds of grunt, or torque for the Abarth Cabrio with standard sport-tuned suspension, low-to-the-ground stance and raucous, burbly exhaust sounds, this car can feel like it’s going faster than it is.

By the way, this is before the Cabrio’s power-operated, fabric top is open, allowing the exhaust sounds to become even louder in the passenger compartment.

The Abarth Cabrio’s fuel economy is noteworthy, too. Combined city/highway rating of 31 miles per gallon by the federal government tops both the 24 mpg for the 2013 Miata and the 29 mpg and 30 mpg for the base, 2013 Mini Cooper Convertible and uplevel Cooper S Convertible, respectively. All numbers are for manual transmissions. The Abarth Carbrio is not available with an automatic.

But, this front-wheel drive Italian Fiat that comes out of a Mexican assembly plant isn’t cheap.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the convertible Abarth is $26,700. This is $6,500 more than that for a base, 2013 Fiat 500 convertible with 135-horsepower four cylinder.

It’s also more than the starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $25,945 for a 2013 Mini Cooper Convertible with 121 horsepower and 114 foot-pounds of torque and the $24,515 starting retail price for a Miata with 167 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque.

Still, when engine performance and stout handling are factored in, the Abarth Cabrio’s starting price seems more reasonable. Consider that a 2013 Mini Cooper S Convertible, with 181-horsepower, turbo four cylinder, has a starting retail price of $28,945.

Fiat, which is majority owner of America’s Chrysler Group LLC, introduced its performance Abarth here on a 2012 Fiat 500 hatchback more than a year ago.

The Abarth Cabrio followed in 2013 to become the Fiat 500 with the highest starting retail price and the most boisterous and playful attitude.

Family and onlookers at first couldn’t get over how small the car was, with one Hummer driver referring to it as a "helmet."

Plenty of sport utility vehicle drivers, particularly on highways, took time to stare, too.

But it’s the taut handling and spirited driving that makes the Abarth stand out.

The test car responded readily, but without being twitchy, to steering inputs and moved with amazing agility around traffic, through city alleys, into parking spots and on curvy roads.

Because the Abarth Cabrio is a bit tall — nearly 5 feet — for its overall length, there can be a sense of tippiness in turns and aggressive curves. But the test car, with optional 17-inch tires, hung on and kept its line as it blasted through curves.

The Abarth Cabrio still is quite low to the pavement when compared with a van or SUV. At one point, the test car wasbehinda school bus, and the driver’s eye was at the same height as the exhaust pipe of the bus.

Note that the Mini Cooper S is 4 feet 7.7 inches tall, while the low-slung Miata is just 4 feet 1.

Everyone inside the Abarth Cabrio feels the road intimately. Even on smooth-looking pavement, there were vibrations pretty much all the time for passengers in the test car. It was worse on patched and rough pavement, where the ride was downright jolting and jarring, and the short wheelbase sometimes made for a choppy ride.

Thankfully, the test car’s low-profile tires didn’t suffer any flats from some major potholes.

The ride also was loud, and the driver often had to adjust the volume of the radio.

There was turbo lag at times from the 1.4-liter, turbocharged, MultiAir four cylinder, but the driver can maximize performance with smart shifts of the five-speed manual. No six speed is offered.

Peak torque of 170 foot-pounds comes on starting at 2,500 rpm and continues to 4,000 rpm. This contrasts with the 177 foot-pounds of peak torque that arrives by 1,600 rpm in the Mini Cooper S Convertible.

Premium gasoline is recommended in the Abarth Cabrio to get top performance, but regular is OK, too. Still, the Abarth Cabrio’s gas tank holds just 10.5 gallons, so the travel range is about 325 combined city/highway miles. In comparison, the Mini Cooper S Convertible’s tank holds 13.2 gallons.

The test car’s optional performance seats were a thick, cushioned surprise and a welcome addition, given all the jolts and jarring that came through from the road.

Front passengers enjoyed nearly 41 inches of legroom, but the top of the head of a 6-footer protruded from the cabrio opening. Back seat legroom of 31.7 inches is decent, considering the Mini Convertible has just 28.5 inches.

Push a button and the top opens — either for a sunroof style or a full cabrio, with the fabric folded down by the rear spoiler and spoiling rear views.

The Fiat’s TomTom navigation system, while removable and stowable, blocks views out the windshield and has smallish buttons. The radio, too, seemed clunky to use.

While fit and finish looked good on the test car, one slight hit on awheelwell by a neighboring car door took a chip of paint off.