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Fiat 500 Abarth: Affordable Italian Performance Car

By Arv Voss, April 7th, 2012

The Abarth is the highly desirable performance version of the Fiat 500. The Abarth is essentially an everyday performance car with track-ready capability, high horsepower blended with efficiency, quality and sophistication. It is a small but wicked global class small car.

Abarth's differentiates from the Fiat 500 in the noticeably more pronounced front fascia, extending 2.7 inches ahead of its signature "whiskers and logo" face. The aerodynamics are better and the engine bay features modifications that allow space for the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo four-cylinder engine that makes 160 horsepower along with 170 lb.-ft. of torque delivered to the front wheels via a five-speed, short throw, manual gearbox. Fuel ratings are estimated at 28/34 mpg.

MultiAir technology allows the potent little four-banger to control air intake cylinder-by-cylinder and stroke-by-stroke with its electro-hydraulic system that comes without a fixed intake camshaft. Three wider air intakes and a functional "Abarth" shield allow for additional air into the engine compartment.

Interior styling and design cues remain as simple and appealing as those of the exterior, with controls logically positioned for easy and intuitive use. The gearshift is placed conveniently in the center stack. A flat-bottom sport steering wheel and sport front bucket seats, along with an Abarth-designed leather shift knob, plus aluminum-rubber-studded pedal covers show the car's competitive aura.

I tested the 2012 FIAT 500 Abarth with a Nero (metallic Black) exterior finish. The base price was $22,000, while the price as-tested came to $26,900 after adding the portable Tom-Tom Nav system, 17-inch forged aluminum 10-spoke wheels, power sunroof, leather seats, Abarth exterior graphic decals/accent mirror caps, Safety and Convenience Package and destination charges.

Piloting the 2012 Fiat 500 is unquestionably a rip-roaring blast. The models tested were all pre-volume production units, but everything worked well both on the highway and on the track. The dash-mounted sport button improves throttle mapping and engine response, while normal operation is sort of an "Eco-mode" that is not as responsive, nor as much fun. I tended to punch the Sport mode button and left it there, thoroughly enjoying its enhanced performance characteristics.

Acceleration of the Abarth model is noticeably quicker and more responsive than the regular Fiat 500. The ride quality is obviously firmer, yet is not unpleasant.

The chassis is precision-tuned and features a unique MacPherson front suspension design with a 40-percent stiffer spring rate and a ride height that is 0.6 inches lower than the Fiat 500. Steering is quicker with Abarth-tuned electronic power steering calibration. Brembo brakes are larger with vented fronts and Abarth-specific semi-metallic brake linings and Rosso (red) lacquered calipers.

New dual-valve Frequency Selective Damping KONI front shocks improve road-holding prowess. An Abarth-tuned electric stability control system provides a three-mode calibration to maximize on- and off-track handling characteristics with On, Partial-Off or Full-Off.

Fiat 500 made its appearance more than 50 years ago in Turin, Italy, displaying beautiful Italian styling blended with a timeless functionality, efficient design attributes and innovative technology. Today's 2012 Fiat 500 has desirable qualities for a new generation of drivers, delivering Italian-by-design functionality and value, with intelligently tailored efficiency for the U.S. market.

The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth delivers a whopping amount of bang-for-the-buck. Purchase of one comes with a full-day track experience and instruction for each buyer.

Specifications

Base price $22,000 (as tested: $26,900)
Curb weight 2,533 lbs.
Displacement 1.4-liter
Engine type 16-valve turbocharged 4-cyl w/SMPFI
Epa mileage rating 28 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 10.5 gal.
Horsepower (net) 160 at 5500 rpm
Overall length 144.4 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 170 at 2500-4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Vehicle type 4-passenger FWD subcompact hatchback
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