June 9, 2015
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has made a bit of progress since its inception 2009. Before the merger, both companies were in real trouble, losing money at every turn. In 2004, Fiat was circling the drain. 5.3 billion in debt, so Sergio Marchionne was working to get General Motors to pay the full 27 billion Fiat was worth in order to save the struggling Italian automaker. Marchionne eventually turned the company around without having to merge with GM. Chrysler was not doing any better. After an unprofitable merger Daimler, the German company cut ties with the American automaker in 2007. After the financial crisis in 2009, Chrysler actually did bite the dust. It filed for bankruptcy, but the US government bailed them out and walked them through the process that ended with them being bought by Mr. Marchionne. A few years later, both companies are doing decently well, pulling in profits as opposed to shelling them out. But still not enough to entice General Motors. One of the decisions that Marchionne made that turned out to be incredibly lucrative was the return of their “small supercar.” The Fiat 500 Abarth premiered in the US in late April 2012 and immediately sold all 3000 of the models made, for good reason too, the tiny car packs a huge punch. The base 500 bombed when it first crossed the Atlantic into the American market. In the land of trucks and SUVs, the 500 is an ant. And with sub-par reliability, paired with a mediocre crash safety test rating, it did not inspire much confidence from unfamiliar American buyers. The target demographic did not know that the original 500 gave the classic Mini a run for its money. The now BMW owned Mini did fantastic in the US. A reliable car with a unique interior and fun for years was welcomed. However, the Mini was a whole new animal. It is gigantic compared to its original size and has whiffs of BMW all over. The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles went with much more of a nod to its primogeniture. The 500 is made to be a cheap gas efficient car for anyone that misses the days of truly fantastic small autos. Not like today, where even the Mini is massive (almost as big as the Golf). The only other properly small cars in the US market, are the horrid Smart cars and the Scion iQ. I don’t know too much about the iQ, but Toyota has a pretty solid history, so it won’t be bad… but it also won’t be fast. The Abarth does not have that problem. It pushes puts over 50 more horses than the base 500 putting it at 157 hp. That may not sound like a lot, but for a car that weighs less than 2700 pounds that is respectable. Though what is properly impressive is the Abarth’s ridiculous amount of torque, 183 foot pounds of it. That is 6 more than my Jetta, in a car that comes out of the factory with 500 lbs less weight. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ end result is a proper hot hatch that would give any true driver a smile. I was properly surprised about everything Fiat had to offer. The first surprise is that every salesperson working at the Fiat dealership was female. I thought that was genius. For one, women can get away with being more aggressive in sales, without being off-putting. Also the 500 is pretty much as feminine as it gets, a cute little car whose celebrity face is Jennifer Lopez. Though the same cannot be said about the Fiat 500 Abarth, which is a tiny little scrapper, waiting to punch doubters in the face, with the 180 foot pounds of torque it’s packing under the bonnet. Up until going to Fiat, Chrysler, Maserati, Alfa Romeo combo dealership, I hadn’t seen not one saleswoman at a dealership in years and was wondering why not. Granted my saleswoman was not exactly an expert. She told me the Alfa Romeo 4C cost upwards of 150,000 and that it was available in a manual transmission. Neither of which are true, I could buy 3 for that price, and the biggest complaint anyone has about that car is the lack of a manual transmission. This is not to say she did any worse than anyone else, most salesmen I meet with are woefully uninformed on their products, she was brand new to the company and I was asking about a car that literally sells itself. If you want one, you are put on a waiting list, when you reach the top you pay… no test drive or anything. When it came to the 500 she knew everything about it. She even helped me navigate the convoluted infotainment system without any hesitation. After getting situated in the car I set off. I didn’t switch into sport mode until already moving, but when I set off the second time around I was pleasantly surprised. Unlike the FR-S the Abarth sounds fantastic, like a baby Ferrari. The biggest mechanical annoyance was the gear lever placement. It is in the center console below the radio and AC. It is not quite horizontal, but close enough. Shifting gears was like shaking hands with a Otter. The reaction from the car in sport mode made it feel like a particularly vicious otter, but it still didn’t feel right. The ride was very stiff, and with the ultralight frame, I was bouncing on every imperfection on the road. This by the way was at the speed limit, as the saleswoman didn’t want me speeding. When I was on the last exit she told to open it up... ugh what for? I couldn’t even get it to 65, there were people in front of me on the exit. Upon returning to the dealership, I checked storage room. The glovebox is small and doesn’t have a lock, but it does have an extra USB slot. The excess headroom might even make you feel short, but the back seat is more ambition than anything else. When in my driving position, there is maybe 2-3 inches between the front and back seat. The trunk space is decent if you fold down the unusable back seat. All in all, the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' 500 Abarth makes a great sporty micro coupe; you won’t pack in more than two people in the car, but be sure the punch of speed will make you forget the 3rd passenger you left at home.