Test Drive: The Fiat 500 Turbo is an Awkward but Lovable Middle Child

Test Drive: The Fiat 500 Turbo is an Awkward but Lovable Middle Child

2013 Fiat 500 Turbo Sport
Base Price: $19,500
Price as Tested: $22,350
Power: 135hp @ 5,500 rpms
Torque: 150 lb-ft @ 2,500-4,000 rpms
Fuel Consumption: 24 city/34 highway

I've driven the regular 500 before, and have gushed about how much fun the Abarth is on an autocross course, so I'm well acquainted with the various and sundry iterations of the cinquecento that are offered in the U.S. The base, 101 horsepower 500 starts at $16,000, and is quite practical but slower than Fat Albert in a sack race, while the 500 Abarth makes a much more impressive 160 hp, and costs $22,000. At $19,500 and 135 hp, the 500 Turbo fits into the rather small gap between the two extremes.

It features the same easy to operate 5-speed manual and fascias as the Abarth, but forgoes the snarling exhaust for a less extreme sport system and all of the extra decals. Looking at what the 500 Turbo is on paper, before I had a chance to actually drive the thing, I was thinking that I wasn't going to get the point. I was expecting an Abarth for people who are $2,500 short of the Abarth's sticker price. 

 

It's probably the most charming car in the Fiat lineup.

 

The distinction was immediately clear when I drove the car around for part of my winter vacation. On the pot-hole ridden highways of the Midwest the Abarth's grantite-like suspension would have been miserable, especially with the cat on board¹, running to the shops to buy last minute presents in a bright red toaster that is doing its best, and loudest, Ferrari impression would have made me look like a lunatic, and twitchier nature of the thing would have been a huge hassle on the absurdly icy, unsalted roads I had to drive on a few times. On the other hand, a regular 500 would have been slow, not nearly as much fun to drive, and would have caused the large Midwestern men with droopy mustaches to assume things about my sexuality.

This is a vehicle for those that want something approaching the pace of the Abarth, but require a more comfortable daily driver.

I had a blast in the 500 Turbo. I surprised people at the stop lights, tore around roundabouts like a lunatic, crammed a surprising amount of stuff in there, transported a cat, got shit done, enjoyed the spectacular Beats by Dre audio, and was quite comfortable the whole time... well almost. You see, the seats were very comfortable, and there was enough head room for my lanky 6'1" body and all of its gangly, flailing limbs, but finding a good driving position was simply impossible. The steering wheel doesn't telescope (the car's single, glaring flaw), so my choices were to have discomfort in my legs which were too close to the pedals, discomfort in my arms, from reaching for a steering wheel that feels like it was actively evading me, or discomfort in my spine from setting the seat back so that I was leaning forward the entire time.

Once I managed to stretch Armstrong myself to the steering wheel I found that the feedback coming through it was fantastic, and the pint sized Italian was easy to place as a result. Combined with the responsive chassis and the eager engine, this made the Turbo a good performer. Like it's more demented brother, the Abarth, it probably won't win many races, but it will create smiles. It's probably the most charming car in the Fiat lineup. Seeing as the entire Fiat brand is based around being charming, that's saying a lot.

¹ Note to press fleet managers and Fiat PR people, she was in a carrier, not leaving dingles under the seats.

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Tags: fiat, fiat-500, fiat-500-turbo, test-drive
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