“Small but wicked” is a phrase that was coined by Abarth faithful in the 1960’s and it still holds true today, perhaps even more so.

The Abarth is named after Italian hot rod legend Karl Abarth, who believed small, lightweight, everyday driving cars could be turned into little road rockets through  reengineering key elements of the mass production model.

The Fiat 500 Abarth is just that car, based on the Sport production model.

Key elements that have been changed or upgraded include a different front bumper that allows more room in the engine compartment for its turbocharged 1.4-liter Multiair engine and all of its plumbing, mainly for cooling air. Two large air inlets provide air to the twin turbo intercoolers.

A quick-shifting 5-speed manual transmission delivers power to the front wheels through half-shafts that are twice the size of regular 500’s, ensuring that there is no breakage with the increased power.

And what would a little hot rod like this be without an exhaust system that told everybody you are driving something extra special. The Chrome-tipped dual exhaust emits a throaty burble at idle and screams, “I’m haulin’ the mail” at full song.

MacPherson front struts, a 40% stiffer spring rate and a half-inch lower ride height, among a host of other tweaks, all contribute to its race-ready attitude.

A magic “sport” button resides on the dash by the driver’s right hand. By engaging it, the Abarth’s engine control module gets a buzz cut and unleashes its maximum “stuff” including a more performance-weighted steering feel.

If you thought the interior of the Fiat 500 was cute, the Abarth model keeps the cute and adds a good dose of manly chest hair, starting with an Abarth designed steering wheel that includes a thicker rim, flat bottom and perforated leather with cruise and radio controls – when you’re not at the track.

If you still doubted its racing heritage, check out the 160-mph speedometer with tachometer and the adjoining turbo boost gauge with shift light.

Seating features a one piece design with pass-throughs for racing harnesses, should you actually get serious about putting it on the track. One of my pet peeves is a seat whose head rest is too close to the back of my head. This is one of them. I can’t imagine having to wear a helmet in this seat. Your line of sight will be your feet instead of the road ahead.

As for pricing, let’s get things in perspective first. A regular, entry-level Fiat 500 starts at $15,500. The Abarth model begins at $22K. That’s a healthy jump, but it’s still not much to pay for this kind of performance straight from the factory.

The Abarth has racing series written all over it, kinda like the Mazda Miata MX-5 Convertible has for years, yet the Mazda starts at $23,470. I think the Miata may have met its match with the Abarth.

I’m giving the Fiat Abarth 4.75 stars out of 5