Sunday, October 27, 2013

500 Percent Approval

We’ve all seen the commercial before. A gorgeous woman, who hasn’t eaten dessert for a year and a half, is innocently sunbathing on a beach. Enter the black scorpion. Is he going to attack her? Will someone swoop in to save her from this poisonous demon? Nope. The scorpion simply uses a claw to snip off her bikini top. This isn’t an ad for Playboy or some reality show on Bravo. It’s for Fiat. More specifically, the Fiat Abarth.
Last week when I got the call that a Fiat would be delivered to my doorstep, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. To clarify, a year and a half ago, I drove a 2012 Fiat 500 Cabriolet from Orlando to Miami. To me, the car felt twitchy. It was seemingly swayed onto the shoulder by every truck, semi, or even minivan that drove past. And that was hardly the only shortcoming.  The iPod jack was in the glove box, making it nearly impossible to charge and talk on your phone at the same time. And, even if you could use your phone, the convertible roof contributed to a deafening amount of road noise. On the positive side, the power to weight ratio was good, and so was the car’s functionality. The 500 seemed better suited for a ride through the small towns of Europe, where super highways are substituted for winding country roads.  Thus, my opinion of the Fiat 500 was not the most flattering, until last Wednesday when I met Phoebe.
Phoebe is a 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth. She is white with white wheels and red mirrors, a black leather interior including bucket seats, a subtle yet stylish rear spoiler, and shockingly aggressive looking exhaust pipes. These allow for the deep, raspy voice that sounds like it should be coming from a Jaguar XKR-S or a Corvette C7. The first time I turned the key and all 4 cylinders fired, I looked around to see what gorgeous sports car had wondered down my street. Then it hit on me: I was already in it!
Shift it into gear and Phoebe the Fiat roars to life! The torque output is surprising, with serious whip lash for first timers. Seriously, those not ready and non-believers might feel a bit sore after feeling that acceleration. With only a 1.4L I4 turbo charged engine, some people might be turned off to the idea that this car is here to play. But those people need to be reminded that this is a Fiat, so it only weighs just over 2,500 lbs! To put that into relative, the Scion FR-S weighs 2,758 lbs, the Mini Cooper S Roadster 2,635lbs, and the Ford Focus ST is a whopping 3,223lbs! With performance to equal if not surpass these rivals, the Abarth can stand proud.
I will admit, my first time taking Pheobe on the road was not what I had hoped for. Her steering was too sensitive and twitchy and I had flashbacks to that Fiat of my past.  But, thankfully, a check of the tire pressures showed the culprit was a lack of air and not a deficiency of design.  With a quick stop at the gas station and a fast flick of the sport mode switch, Pheobe roared into action.  Sure, the powerful sound of her exhaust and the whistle of her turbo meant the radio had to be turned up to 10 to hear. But hey, that’s all part of the experience, and it did make me forget about the road noise!
My only complaint, after a week of driving, may seem a bit petty. I’m a traditionalist and having a gear leaver coming out of the dashboard, where the air conditioning controls usually are, seemed unnatural to me.  What’s more is that the leaver is actually on a slight angle toward the driver which looked more like a mini-van than a sports car.  Even so, by the end of the week, I had adapted.  And, given how many issues I usually find in cars through my much-suppressed inner pessimist, Fiat should consider this one small complaint a major victory.
When this Wednesday rolled around, I had to say goodbye to Pheobe and I was honestly sad to see her go.  That little car surprised me in so many ways. I was expecting something average, fuel efficient, and boring. But what I found was a car that reminded me why driving can be so much fun!  Off went the little Abarth rocket ship, and in drove a Lexus ES350. A vehicle, that after driving Phoebe, seems to be the size of the moon!  Ah, those preconceived expectations.  Here we go again!

Fun: Fourth grader after consuming a bag of M&Ms
Looks: B
Performance: A
Cost: Less than you'd think...starts under 23k
Seats: Look great but meh to sit in
Worth it: For the price, can't beat it!

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