The Fiat 500 and 500c Cabrio are now offered in two body styles, as well as with several different powertrains. Base models get a 101-horsepower, 1.4L MultiAir 4-cylinder engine, and a choice between a 5-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic transmission on the base model; Turbo (135-hp) and Abarth (160-hp) models come only with the manual gearbox, and all Fiat 500 models are front-wheel drive.
You don't need to select one of the turbocharged models in order to tap into the 500's fun-to-drive qualities. With quick-ratio electric power steering and a light, nimble driving feel, the Fiat 500 is very sporty and maneuverable at city speeds, yet stable on the highway.
The 2013 Fiat 500 is offered in Pop and Lounge models for the entire lineup of 500 coupes and 500c convertibles, but coupes are also offered in Sport, Sport Turbo and Abarth variants.
Pop models are priced with other affordable, efficiency-minded small hatchbacks but do include Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, an auxiliary input, iPod controls, cruise control, a trip computer and power windows, locks and mirrors. 500c Pop models also get ParkSense rear park assist, as well as a wind deflector and integrated spoiler--in addition, of course, to a dual-layer cloth soft top.
Lounge models are really the next choice up for those who don't want to go the performance route with their 500. Both 500 and 500c Lounge models include special chromed accents in front and in back plus fog lamps, a security alarm, a fixed glass roof (in coupes), 9-spoke cast-aluminum wheels, premium cloth seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, Sirius XM satellite radio, and an upgraded 276-watt, 6-speaker sound system.
At the 500 Sport level, you don't get all the extras of the Lounge trim, but you do get a long list of performance-related upgrades, such as a stiffer sport-tuned suspension, a sport exhaust, firmer steering calibration, red-painted brake calipers, fog lamps, additional cladding and aerodynamic bodywork, plus sport-styled seating and a sport steering wheel. These models also get the premium sound system.
Lounge models do give a taste of both personalities however, as they offer a Sport mode that with the press of a button make throttle response sharper.
Fiat 500 Sport Turbo models are new this year and add a 135-horsepower, turbocharged version of the 1.4L MultiAir engine, along with a sport-tuned exhaust, heavier-duty 5-speed manual gearbox, an intermediate shaft with equal-length half-shafts and larger CV joints and upgraded brakes. The suspension also is tuned for stronger performance and in back there's a unique lower control arm arrangement to aid handling. The Turbo also gets a set of performance upgrades on the outside, including Gloss Black headlamp, taillamp and parking-lamp bezels, a black-accented rear diffuser, bolder side skirts, a special 'twin-nostril' front fascia, a liftgate-mounted spoiler and big 16-inch black-painted alloy wheels. On the inside, all Turbos get sport seating, Argento-stitching for trims and gray/black interior upholsteries. In Sport or Sport Turbo models, you can upgrade to heated leather seats in a black/black or red/black theme.
Abarth models add even more performance to the Sport Turbo, with a specially tuned 160-horsepower version of that engine, plus an Abarth-tuned suspension, that includes Koni Frequency Selective Dampers, and upgraded brakes--plus a raspier exhaust note that lets this model be known both from inside the car and from a distance.
The new 'Beats by Dr. Dre audio system that's available in both 500 and 500c models offers a high-definition experience with a special Beats Audio digital sound processing algorithm plus an 8-inch dual-voice-coil subwoofer (in a trunk enclosure) and a 368-watt, 8-channel amplifier.
In a world where sports car makers strive to implement control, making it so every input meets a precise response, the 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth feels refreshing in its madness. Its little engine snorts with a downright unruly sound and occasionally backfires for good measure. Taking the this little car through the twisties, its point of grip remains an ever-changing target.
The 500 Abarth delivers a thrill ride that, over a week's drivetime, whitened my knuckles and made me clench repeatedly through its willingness to ride the edge.
The Abarth's base model, the Fiat 500, seems an unlikely candidate for such a madcap little car. The 500 hews to its historic roots, with an extremely compact size making it perfect for cities, a small engine delivering good economy but not much power, and Italian flair in its styling to make it stand out in an often bland segment.
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