Designed for the track enthusiast, the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth could be known best for its commercials featuring Supermodel

Catrinel Menghia. Catrinel is stunningly beautiful, and the car isn’t so bad either.

“Man, this is the first time I’ve seen an Abarth,” said a young man who took payment for my Filet-of-Fish sandwich in the drive-through lane at McDonald’s. “I’ve seen the commercials, but I haven’t seen the car until now. Pretty cool.”

And so it went during our test week with the sporty 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth.

Named after auto designer Carlo

Abarth, the Fiat 500 Abarth is an

enhanced version of the Fiat 500. Its logo features a red, yellow and black shield with a sculpted scorpion, apparently the same one that snips the bikini top off of Catrinel in one of the commercials for the cabriolet (topless) version.

Since Italian carmaker Fiat returned to the United States with the Fiat 500, the car has been well received.

The Abarth, powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged Inline 4 that kicks out 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft. of torque, also has a beefed up 5-speed manual transmission and a track-tuned suspension system designed to increase performance.

While we didn’t take the Abarth on a track, we punched the pedal a few times and, after a bit of turbo lag, the Abarth surged forward impressively. Generally, it’s not going to slam your head against the headrest, but the Abarth is quick, sure-footed and agile. In corners, the little car grips the asphalt very well.

The thing that really impresses us with the Abart is its cool factor and performance heritage. The 500 Abarth builds on the design of the Fiat Cinquecento (500), adding a more pronounced front fascia, more aggressive side skirts, a lift-gate-mounted spoiler and twin

exhausts that give the Abart a throaty growl when the engine starts.

The 2,512-pound Abarth rolls on standard 16-inch forged aluminum wheels, with 17-inchers optional.

Inside, our test Abarth had a racing-inspired leather interior with a single large round gauge behind the steering wheel. Audio and climate controls were on the center stack, with redundant steering wheel controls.

The shifter for the 5-speed manual (6 speeds would be better) is located on the dash, leaving room for a drink holder below.

The 4-passenger Abarth cabin has a surprising 38.9 inches of headroom in front, but just 35.5 inches in back, making it better suited for two adults than four. To be sure, the Abarth is a small car – smaller than a MINI Cooper – but with a 90.6-inch wheelbase, it’s larger than the regular 500.

Fiat puts BLUE&ME hands-free communication technology in the Abarth to provide voice-activated communications that allow the driver to use Bluetooth compatible devices. The navigation system is an optional, portable TomTom unit that docks on top of the instrument panel.

The 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth has not been tested for safety, but the 2012 version of the Fiat 500 got a “Top Safety Pick” designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Abarth has seven standard airbags, including driver’s knee airbags and full length side curtains.

The 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth starts at $22,000, and our test Abarth had a bottom line of $27,100 after options like navigation, leather, upgraded sound and heated seats were added.

Finally, while the Abarth is designed for performance, it doesn’t gulp gasoline to do it. Mileage figures are 28 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

2013 Fiat 500 Abarth

  • Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower: 160
  • Transmission: 5-speed manual
  • Test model base price: $22,000 ($27,100 as tested)
  • EPA mileage rating: 28 mpg city / 34 mpg highway