The 2019 Fiat 500 Abarth gets special exterior treatment and a special 160-horsepower turbocharged engine, with either a manual or automatic transmission.

The Fiat 500 began life as a rear-engine, four-seat, small city car with rear-hinged doors in 1957 known as the Cinquecento (Italian for “500”), and was produced until 1975.

Its rear-hinged doors were dropped in 1965. Production of the 500 ceased when Fiat began producing the Fiat 126, but then resumed in 2007 with a modern reinterpretation featuring notable changes.

For example, the rear engine was moved to the front, and the new 500 had over 500,000 personalization options such as exterior and interior colors and trims.

The current generation of the Fiat 500 was introduced in 2012, inspired by the 1957 Cinquecento, with a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive, and received a facelift in 2015 with design tweaks and new lower-emissions engines.

The Fiat 500 comes in four models: base 500, 500e, 500 L, and the 500 X all-wheel drive small crossover, with up to four trim levels for each. Some models are available in either hatchback or cabrio configuration ($1,495 markup), with the choice of a five-speed manual or a heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission ($995).

For this review, I drove the base 500 hatchback with Abarth trim ($20,495) plus the heavy-duty six-speed automatic. The base 500 also comes in Pop ($16,495 MT, $17,990 AT) and Lounge ($19,745/$21,240).

The heavy-duty automatic provided responsive acceleration, quick upshifts and smooth downshifts. In Sport Mode, the driving experience becomes more engaged, with a turbo-boost gauge illuminated “Sport” and an up-shift light to alert the driver when engine speed approaches redline.

Performance-tuned shock absorbers feature KONI Frequency Selective Damping and stiff spring rates for maximum grip. Frequency Selective Damping is a less-expensive alternative to magnetic ride control, with a smooth feel over rough surfaces at high speed and confident control under heavy braking and on winding roads and race tracks.

Low ride height also contributes to responsive handling and minimal body roll. I didn’t do any racing, so I’ll take their word for it.

Some of the changes for 2018 were model-specific, but all models now have a sportier appearance, along with a 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, producing 33 percent more horsepower than last year’s model, for an even more-dynamic driving experience. The base engine has 135 horsepower and 150 foot-pounds of torque.

New standard features include 16-inch aluminum wheels, performance braking and suspension, ParkView rearview camera, side-sill ground effects, sport spoiler, fog lights, and “Turbo” badge.

Abarth engine upgrades include a fresh-air intake system with high-flow air filter, and for minimal exhaust restriction, a concentric double-tip dual-exhaust system. The system is impressive, with a high-performance look and menacing Abarth-tuned sound. The high-performance, track-ready Abarth delivers up to 160 horsepower and 183 foot-pounds of torque.

The 2019 Fiat 500 cockpit includes a variety of standard and optional features, including special upgrades for Abarth models.

Unique Abarth features include three-mode electronic stability control with torque transfer control to maximize throttle performance during on-throttle cornering; 16-inch Hyper Black aluminum wheels with Pirelli tires; a red engine cover; and red brake calipers.

My top-of-the-line Abarth had distinctive exterior and interior styling tweaks, premium high-grip cloth upholstery (black with a red center strip), a leather-wrapped shift knob, and an Abarth-designed flat-bottom performance steering wheel.

Three new exterior colors – Brillante Red (crimson), Mezzanotte Blue Pearl (azure), and Vesuvio Black Pearl – bring the total to 11 for all models.

The Abarth is available in six exterior colors: Pompei Silver (ashy, mine), Granito Gray (dark), Metallo Gray (dark blue/gray), Laser Blue Metallic (cornflower), Oliva Green Pearl, and Perla White (off-white, $500)

My Abarth had aggressive-looking 16-inch forged Hyper Black aluminum wheels with five spokes resembling tree branches. Seventeen-inch, 12-spoke wheels are available in Hyper Black or bronze for $1,395. A tire service kit is standard, instead of a spare, though a jack and lug wrench are included.

A Roof/Mirror Cap with Gray Stripe package ($495) added a gray roof, exterior mirrors, body side stripe, and Nero seats, and a Nero Trimmed Lights package ($245) added a distinctive black bezel to the headlights and taillights.

Combined with the “double-tip” dual bright exhaust tips (peeking out of the short-overhang rear bumper) and black wheels, my Abarth had a sinister appearance with a racing spirit.

Austrian-Italian automobile designer and builder Karl Abarth believed in “small, but wicked.” A scorpion (his birth sign) seal on Fiat Abarth vehicles (grille, liftgate, rear quarters, steering wheel, key, hubcaps, and infotainment screen on my tester) honors his legacy and pays homage to his epic career designing and building race cars and sporty street cars.

The Fiat 500 Abarth comes with a free one-day high-performance driving session at the legendary Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving.

The interior was out of the ordinary, with Abarth-styled high-back front performance seats featuring a one-piece design with large side bolsters, accent stitching around the perimeters and a racing-harness pass-through.

Red accent stitching traced the leather-wrapped instrument panel hood and across the dash, trimmed the steering wheel and shifter knob, and branded the carpeted floor mats. A wide body-color panel trimmed the dash from door to door. Abarth-designed aluminum pedal covers featured Nero rubber trim for a racing look.

A Beats Auto Package ($695) placed a red-accented subwoofer and an amplifier in the cargo area, and six speakers in strategic locations in the cabin. A Popular Equipment Package ($895) brought SiriusXM satellite radio (one-year subscription), auto temperature control with micron filter, and heated front seat. A GPS Navigation package added $595, and a Power Sunroof package was $795.

Standard infotainment included Uconnect 3 with a five-inch touch screen, AM/FM radio, integrated voice command with Bluetooth streaming audio and hands-free calling, voice text reply, and a media hub (USB, aux) in the center console. A USB port in the glovebox and a 12-volt outlet in the center console provided power to the front.

GPS Navigation offers one-step voice destination entry in addition to manual entry, and provides audible turn-by-turn directions. The system adjusts audio volume on the driver’s side speaker to allow directions to be heard clearly. The system also includes 3-D graphics and views of landmarks, cities, and terrain.

The front seats folded and slid forward for access to the rear with a tug on a red strap on top of the seatback. The rear would seat two children (with LATCH, although it was not easily accessible) or very small adults and had no amenities other than hard plastic armrests molded into the side panel. The adjustable round headrests were interesting.

Cargo space in the rear was 9.5 cubic feet, room for minor weekly shopping or a bag for a weekend trip. With the 50/50 rear seatbacks folded, cargo space increased to 30.1 cubic feet, room for lots of presents and a bag or two for a holiday trip.

Finding a comfortable driving position was a challenge at first – I had to consult the owner’s manual to find the lever to adjust the seatback (on the right side of the seat cushion). The steering wheel tilted but had no telescoping function. The height adjustment lever required some effort.

With the seat finally adjusted, the Fiat 500 Abarth was fun to drive, designed for speed and handling – perfect for someone looking for a dynamic driving experience.

The new turbocharged engine is noticeably quicker than the naturally aspirated base engine of 2017. Controls were simple, easy to use, and well-placed.

Personal storage was limited, with two small cupholders at the front and two at the rear of the center console, small bottle holders and shallow door pockets running the width of the doors, and small areas in the door pull handles.

Options totaling $4,715 and destination charges of $1,295 brought the delivered price of my Fiat 500 Abarth to $26,505.

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