The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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February 11, 2013

Cars: Aggressive Fiat 500 Abarth is a joy

People define joy in different ways. Major parts of philosophy, religion and social science are all centered around probing what makes people truly happy.

For me, I think I've figured out the epitome of joy. It involves a Fiat 500 driving through the countryside with the windows rolled down and Italian opera blasting from the sound system.

It's hard to find cars that generate smiles as easily as the little 500. I own one of them, a Mazda Miata, but it's wildly impractical. At least the Fiat has a back seat.

In fact, its closest competitor here in America is the MINI Cooper, a car that's just as good at bringing grins to your face. But the MINI is mainly designed by Germans, and — no matter how illogical it seems — driving a German car is just not as cool as driving an Italian car like the Fiat.

Italian cars always carry the coolness trump card. It's written in the Car Owner Bible or something.

To make it even cooler, Fiat didn't send me an ordinary 500 to try out. They sent the Abarth version, a ridiculous but incredibly lovable car that's tuned to go faster, be louder and ride rougher than the regular ol' 500.

Granted, you've got to be the right kind of person to enjoy a car like this. It's a small car with a powerful, turbocharged engine and very firm suspension setup that makes it ideal for flinging around corners. But the most controversial part is its exhaust note: a blistering, roaring, throaty burble, something almost funny to hear because you don't expect such a loud noise to come from such a cute little car.

Driving the Abarth is predictably fun, given its 160-horsepower engine in an extremely lightweight body. It feels very much like driving a go-kart.

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