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2013 Fiat 500 Abarth

2013 Fiat 500 Abarth

I’m happy that Fiat loaned me one of these, because, really, this was the car that started it all. It was about a year ago, and I had just gone on my first press drive. It was for the Fiat 500 Abarth, and I was pretty smitten. The little car had just that right mix of fun and usefulness without taking itself too seriously. So when I got home, I told my wife that if I had to get a modern car to, you know, make it less likely I’d kill our baby, I thought the 500 Abarth seemed like an interesting option.

She gave me the look she gives me when she feels I’m being an idiot. Most people just think it’s her normal face, at this point. She thought there’s no way a baby seat would comfortably fit in a 500. I was sure it had to, because there’s LATCH system hooks and whatnot in there, right? So this whole Will It Baby thing really came out of an argument about the Abarth.

And, I’m pleased to say for the first time since Sally and I met, I’m right. It feels soooo good, if a bit confusing and unfamiliar. Yes, the Abarth will absolutely baby/toddler, and it does it surprisingly well.

Now, this may come as a shock to many of you, but the car is quite small. If you have a newborn, with that metric ton of newborn-support equipment, this could be a challenge. Newborns and 747s I think take about the same level of maintenance and equipment, but a 747 may be a bit easier because no busybodies call the cops if you leave it outside an airport overnight.

A baby of, say, 6 months and up should be fine, and for toddlers, this car is terrific, I think. While it’s small, the egg-like proportions mean it’s tall as well. So getting a kid in the back is much less of a chore than it was in, say, the Mustang. It was such a non-issue I didn’t even have any pictures taken of my contortions because there really weren’t any. I’m able to stand outside the car, and spare the world seeing my butt crack again.

The car is small enough that you can mostly get the kid in while standing outside. Open the door, swing/slide the seat forward, and plop him in the seat. You can reach in to buckle, and you’re good to go. It’s too small to have the kid in the middle of the seat, so you do this by the passenger’s door. Easy.

The luggage room in the 500 series isn’t exactly cavernous. In fact, it has the most absurdly small package shelf I’ve ever seen. The thing looks like a grey felt baguette or something. So that’s why this was the most shocking thing: I was able to fit our biggest stroller, the bike-wheeled jogger, in the car.

To do so, I did have to fold down the unoccupied half of the back seat, so this will only work for single-child families. But, it works. Which Sally also said would never work. I’m two for two on this one!

So, cramming-wise, you can pretty easily get the kid in there, along with the biggest stroller. There’s some door pockets and cupholders, but not really that many, so it’s not great there, and its interior layout is such that anything the kid drops or throws is pretty much lost in the netherworld of the floor until you stop and send a spelunking team down there to find the orange rubber car and Hot Wheels Baja Beetle he so desperately needs all of a sudden. Other than that, it’s much better than its size would suggest.

With a forward-facing seat in place, the front passenger-side legroom was quite reasonable. Not vast, but for most people I’d think fine. It’s worth testing out if you’re really tall, but there’s enough headroom in there that I suspect if you can accept a more upright seating position, you’d be okay. There will be some seat-back kickery, though.

Once the kid and related crap are all in the car, all the things that made this car a blast on the track absolutely help it as a kid car. Because, let’s face it, if mom or dad is having fun driving, the kid’s having fun, and everyone’s happier and much less likely to freak out when the toddler dumps a full juice box right into your pants. And then no one believes you when you try and explain you didn’t piss yourself.

And then there’s the sound. We’ve mentioned before how the Abarth has one of the best sounding four-bangers you can buy, and Otto loved it as much as I did. “Vroom vroom!” he’d scream, and I’d blip the throttle, and Otto and Abarth would have a little loud conversation. Plus, it offers some great opportunities for confusing people. While driving spiritedly through the windy hills of Silverlake, that brappy little engine shouting, I saw some people do a really satisfying double-take as I rounded the corner. The mental picture conjured up by the noise was clearly very, very different than the shiny black bowling ball that came around the bend.

Windows down, on the highway, the engine noise can get a bit tiresome, but rolling up the windows deadens the sound surprisingly well. This car is happiest with a pretty heavy foot, since there’s a good bit of turbo lag and the power doesn’t really kick in until the revs are up, so you end up hearing the engine a lot.

And, while the Abarth is a fun car, at 160 HP it’s not the monster that the Mustang or Panamera was, so you’re a bit more likely to stay out of jail. Except for maybe noise complaints. You can have a great time in this car at relatively sane speeds of 30-60. You’ll feel like you’re being much more crazy than you are, and that’s good. The Mustang was fun, but 60 came and went like a red light camera’s flash. Before you knew it, you’d be in license-confiscating territory, and I just don’t need that. The Abarth doles out driving fun in a much less lethal dose.

The gas mileage was pretty good as well, hovering around 27-30 MPG or so for the week I had it, and I wasn’t trying to drive economically. It’s fabulously easy to park, being just a bit longer than the Scion iQ I tried out a while back. And a hell of a lot more fun.

If you have a kid, and your overall space needs aren’t the primary concern, or this is maybe the second car, I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t want an Abarth for your kid car. Really, it’s pretty easy to manage a kid with, easy to park, nimble, good on gas, and is just fun, period. At around $23,000 to start, it’s pretty reasonable, too. Having a kid becomes an excuse to buy toys again, and, really, there’s no reason why that should stop when you’re looking for a car.

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