Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio packs a punch

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

The 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio has a 160-horsepower engine that makes it feel faster than it is.   CHRYSLER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHRYSLER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio has a 160-horsepower engine that makes it feel faster than it is.

They had better be drivers who don’t mind getting stares and comments from passers-by.

At 12 feet in length, Fiat’s 500 Cabrio performance model is a cocky, yet cute bug of a car that’s 13 inches shorter 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.

With a 160-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder making 170 foot-pounds of torque for the 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 power-operated fabric top is open, allowing the exhaust sounds to become even louder in the passenger compartment.

The fuel economy is noteworthy, too. The combined city/highway rating of 31 mpg tops both the 24 mpg for the Miata and the 29 mpg and 30 mpg for the 2013 Mini Cooper convertible and uplevel Cooper S convertible, respectively. All numbers are for manual transmissions. The Abarth Cabrio is not available with an automatic.

This front-wheel-drive Fiat, which comes out of a Mexican assembly plant, isn’t cheap.

The starting price, including destination charge, for the Abarth Cabrio is $26,700. This is $6,500 more than that for a base, 2013 Fiat 500 convertible with 135-horsepower four-cylinder, and more than the Mini and the Miata.

Fiat, which is majority owner of America’s Chrysler Group LLC, introduced its performance Abarth in the United States on a 2012 Fiat 500 hatchback more than a year ago. The Abarth Cabrio followed in 2013 to become the Fiat 500 with the line’s highest starting retail price and the most boisterous and playful attitude.

During a road test, plenty of sport utility vehicle drivers, particularly on highways, took time to stare, but it’s the taut handling and spirited driving that make the Abarth stand out.

The test car responded readily, but without being twitchy, to steering input 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 length, there can be a sense of tippiness in turns and aggressive curves. Still, the test car, with optional 17-inch tires, hung on and kept its line as it blasted through curves.

The Fiat still is quite low to the pavement when compared with a van or SUV. At one point, the test car was behind a school bus, and the driver’s eye was at the same height as the exhaust pipe of the bus. Needless to say, everyone inside the Abarth Cabrio feels the road intimately. Even on smooth-looking pavement, there were vibrations pretty much all the time. 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 four-cylinder, but the driver can maximize performance with smart shifts of the five-speed manual. No six-speed is offered.

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 a wheel well by a neighboring car door took a chip of paint off.

SPECS

THE VEHICLE: 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio, a front-wheel-drive, four-passenger, minicompact convertible

BASE PRICE: $22,000 for Abarth; $26,000 for Abarth Cabrio

DESTINATION FEE: $700

PRICE AS TESTED: $31,600

ENGINE: 1.4-liter, SOHC, turbocharged, intercooled four-cylinder producing 160 horsepower

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual

EPA MILEAGE: 28 mpg city, 34 mpg highway

TOP SPEED: 129 mph

LENGTH: 144.4 inches

WHEELBASE: 90.6 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 2,545 pounds

FUEL CAPACITY: 10.5 gallons of unleaded (premium recommended)

BUILT IN: Toluca, Mexico

OPTIONS: Forged aluminum 17-inch Hyper Black wheels, $1,300; leather performance 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


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