In a world where sports car makers strive to implement control, making it so every input meets a precise response, the 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth feels refreshing in its madness. Its little engine snorts with a downright unruly sound and occasionally backfires for good measure. Taking the this little car through the twisties, its point of grip remains an ever-changing target.

The 500 Abarth delivers a thrill ride that, over a week’s drivetime, whitened my knuckles and made me clench repeatedly through its willingness to ride the edge.

The Abarth’s base model, the Fiat 500, seems an unlikely candidate for such a madcap little car. The 500 hews to its historic roots, with an extremely compact size making it perfect for cities, a small engine delivering good economy but not much power, and Italian flair in its styling to make it stand out in an often bland segment.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth
Bump the Fiat 500’s horsepower by more than a third, tune the suspension a bit, and you’ve got an Abarth.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

A modified version of the same car, the 500 Abarth retains the flair and compactness, but it gains a turbocharger, bringing its 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine up from 101 horsepower to 160, while torque peaks at 183 pound-feet. At least, the 500 Abarth with a five-speed manual sports those numbers. FCA, Fiat’s parent company, delivered a six-speed automatic version that rates 157 horsepower and only 170 pound-feet of torque.

To round out the 500 Abarth, Fiat tunes the suspension for improved handling, lowering the car, improves the brakes and fits it with wider tires than the stock 500.

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