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Fiat 500 Abarth: America's Smallest Four-Seat Sports Car

|Includes: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCAU)

I had the opportunity to drive the Fiat 500 Abarth (automatic gearbox, not the convertible) for a handful of days in Detroit, when it was very cold and a minor snow storm. It is only 144 inches long, making it just about the smallest car sold in America, that's got four (almost) usable seats.

The car starts around $23,000 but the one I drove was closer to $28,000. I had previously driven a convertible and manual version of the car, and I really don't like manual gearboxes. It makes all the difference.

On the plus side, the Fiat 500 Abarth is so easy to move around in tight spaces. It was an absolute hoot to drive in a snow storm in downtown Detroit on a Sunday evening where almost no other cars were around. A couple of cop cars made no attempt to inquire into why I was sliding around on the snow as if I were on an enclosed track.

The good news about this car is that it's a simple "point-and-shoot" car. Just get in and get going, and it moves in an out of tight traffic rapidly. Some people will like the very loud and Italian sports car exhaust sound, which burps and backfires constantly.

In my view, however, the car started wearing out on me after only a couple of days. The sound is so loud, and there are other issues with the electronics inside the car:

  1. The navigation unit is a clip-on TomTom on top of the dash board. It's physically distracting. I didn't even end up using it, because it asked for a home address. Well, I was in town for just a few days and didn't have any address handy in my memory/head, so instead I tilted the TomTom unit away from me so as to reduce the glare.

  2. I could not figure out how to pair the Bluetooth. Shame on all cars where this isn't super-easy. All the other Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep products do this very well. But not this one.

My other major complaint with the car is that the steering wheel doesn't telescope. That means that unless you have both short legs and very long arms, the seating position is way too upright and simply uncomfortable.

Of course, the car is fundamentally very small -- or at least short -- which means that the rear seat space is extremely tight. I didn't even try to sit "behind myself." Luggage space is also small, unless you fold the rear seats.

Here is my verdict: The Fiat 500 Abarth, automatic gearbox, is a lot of fun to drive for a little while. It sounds like a sports car and it has a fat sports steering wheel.

Sadly, however, I think this car would wear out on me relatively quickly. If you're in California or Oregon, you might be better off getting the electric version instead, as it's silent and smooth.

Around $28,000, I prefer other car choices. My favorites include almost anything from Volkswagen (Golf, Jetta or Passat) or the Kia Soul. $28,000 also amazingly gets you into the base Dodge Challenger, or the Jeep Renegade that is about to hit the market within about a month. Or you can just pick up a Jeep Cherokee today.

FCA (NYSE:FCAU) has many good products to offer today, which is why both the company and the stock have been on the upswing lately. This isn't one of their cars I would buy for myself.

Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Additional disclosure: Fiat provided the car for review. The author regularly attends product launch events, press conferences and equivalent, and some of those events are paid for in whole or in part by the hosts of those events. The author has no positions in the companies mentioned, but positions can change at any time.