Both the Fiat 500 and Mercedes A-Class trigger your emotions like nothing else.
Before we go about writing this feature, let us make it amply clear to you, this is not a shootout, not a comparison but a tale, a nice sweet story of two premium hatchbacks, the Fiat 500 Abarth and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The Fiat 500 is the older car here, in age and history alike with the current generation model being 7 years old and Fiat’s 500 brand dating back to 1957! The A-Class was first launched in 1997 and the third generation W176 model only surfaced a couple of years ago. Both cars come with a plethora of engine options and in various trims. We drive both of them back to back and draw parallels about two of the best hatchbacks in the world today.
Still, wait a second, why would we pick two hatchbacks so poles apart to each other this way? Well, despite of the Fiat 500 and Mercedes A-Class being as different as chalk and cheese, these cars do have a few things in common. Both were made to please the driver and in the trim we drove, both were running on 17-inch rubber. That’s not all, both are stunning looking vehicles, the interior is a mix of sporty and comfort and safety is of importance in both, each getting Euro NCAP’s top rating of 5-stars. Both cars get 7 airbags too and both of them use a key which slots into the ignition for turning on the engine (in this time of push button start being the norm on even cars costing Rs. 5 lakhs!), see we can draw similarities all day long but that’s not the point.
The point is, both the Fiat 500 and Mercedes A-Class are fine hatchbacks, cars which define what can happen if size isn’t your ultimate goal. While the baby Benz is compact in every way, the Fiat 500 redefines what compact really means. While the A-Class defines a conventional hatchback size by being almost 4.3-metres long, the Fiat 500 is among the shortest cars you will see with a length of just 3.5 metres. Of course, the fact that the A-Class is a 5-door and the 500 is a 3-door has a large part to play in all this. Plus, Mercedes has designed a longer hood to accommodate big burly engines with tremendous power and torque output capabilities.
It does boil down to what you like. Long, sleek and purposeful or short, small, cute and exciting, either which way, the A-Class and Fiat 500 are a revelation, they are cars you rejoice for. The same principle can be equated to the interiors of these cars as well. Both cars have the best of build quality you will experience in a hatchback, yet both are poles apart in many ways. The A-Class has the more space but neither cars are good for adults to sit at in the rear seat. The 500 has a funky interior, colourful with a dash of youth. The A-Class has a more sporty cabin yet a one which strives to be luxurious and comfortable. Both cars are decently equipped, the Mercedes more so.
Yet, it’s the performance where both these hot hatchbacks really excel. On one side, we have the Fiat 500 Abarth, a car which is propelled using a 1.4-litre MultiAir engine, output figures suggest pure madness, 160 HP and 230 Nm, a lot when you factor in the Italian beast weighs peanuts. The A-Class offered in India isn’t going to win drag races, modest horsepower on offer and even though front-wheel drive, it still weighs considerably more than the Fiat 500. The Abarth will naturally leave the A-Class in the dust with its stupendous acceleration, one tap on the big pedal is enough to blur scenery at a rapid pace. The Abarth 500 is so quick, you can’t keep up with the climbing speedometer, the dual exhausts emitting pure aural orchestra.
However, Mercedes does have a trick or two up its sleeve, although the same trick can’t be applied in Indian conditions. You see, the A-Class also comes in AMG guise, the A45 AMG producing a time warping 350 BHP and 450 Nm (that’s where the 45 in the name comes from). While the Fiat 500 Abarth takes 7.4 seconds to reach 100 km/hr, the AMG powered A-Class does it in 4.6 seconds, that’s faster than some of the bigger AMGs in Mercedes’ line-up. After all, the A45 AMG has the most powerful 4-cylinder engine in the world currently, that 2.0-litre turbo mill creating quite the racket. Still, the 500 Abarth is as good a performer, it’s front-wheel drive (the A45 is all-wheel drive) and uses a pint-sized motor in comparison to the performance enhanced AMG Benz.
Among other common things between these car, is also how they have been set-up. Both these cars run on low profile rubber, the suspension being stiffly sprung and the emphasis clearly on handling. Both these cars delight with their crisp turn-ins, terrific feedback and loads of grip. The Fiat 500 is more nimble with its compact footprint but the A isn’t far behind. Ride quality on both these cars is nothing to write much about, stiff and giving the occupants a proper feeling of the harsh tarmac our government has long offered us. Still, stopping power and high speed stability is excellent. These are cars to drive and they excel so well in this regard that you keep grinning all the time if you are on a valley road.
We in India are being sold regular hatchbacks with the premium tag for a long time now. Our current premium hatchbacks are in no way as premium as they are being portrayed. The A-Class and 500 Abarth are two hatchbacks which deserve the premium and hot hatch tag. These two cars really show the way as to what can happen if a vehicle with a small footprint is loaded with the best of technology and performance. These cars are so good that they make other body-styles feel overly unnecessary.
The Fiat 500 Abarth and Mercedes A-Class are in a league of their own, yet driving both back to back makes you want to keep yourself on the driver’s seat for longer and longer. These are fine hatchbacks and we need more of these on our roads, which is only possible once the companies start to locally assemble and probably even start manufacturing them in our country. Until then, this tale of two premium hatchbacks will continue to remain a tale for most of us.