At the same time, it's livable as an everyday car. One of the best things about the Abarth's roaring exhaust is that, while it sounds like a beast under hard acceleration, it calms down dramatically at highway speeds.
It's also interesting that when you opt for the Abarth version, virtually nothing on your car will say Fiat. Instead, it's covered inside and out with the scorpion-crest logo of Abarth, the tuning and racing outfit started by Karl Abarth in the 1960s.
Abarth's cars were always known as being "small but wicked," and that certainly rings true with this modern-day version. The 2013 Abarth is not just a mildly tweaked commuter car, but a thoroughly aggressive — some would say overly aggressive — overhaul of the look and driving feel of the 500.
To me, that's refreshing. Virtually every car today tries to pass itself off as being "sporty," from seven-passenger crossover vehicles to ordinary Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys. I even once drove a minivan called the Caravan Sport, with a little spoiler on the back and everything.
If you want a car that's really designed to be sporty, and doesn't just call itself so, this is one of a very select group that pulls it off correctly. It's even quite affordable, starting at $22,000.
It's definitely not for everyone, but for drivers like me, this noisy, raucous, insane little Italian car is the very definition of joy. It's like alchemists at Fiat bottled up pure happiness and transformed it into a pile of metal, plastic, oil and gasoline that we call the 500 Abarth.
And I love it.
Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.