Enough with the “cute” nonsense. It’s time for the Fiat 500 to get serious. With the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, the Italian make is finally bringing its high-performance sub-brand to the U.S. to give the Fiat 500 some much-needed oomph and instill it with the power and handling capabilities that have been lauded the world over since 2009 outside our country. Fiat’s highly-efficient MultiAir 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine adds a turbocharger to the mix to boost horsepower from 101 to an estimated 160. That’s a lot for a car that weighs 2533 pounds.
Inside, instead of a brightly colored interior that cheers “molto bene,” the 500 Abarth looks like it caught a mean streak, featuring thickly-padded race car-inspired seats and a dark interior with contrasting red stitching on the dashboard. All models will come with a beefed-up version of Fiat’s five-speed manual; no automatic will be available, at least for the time being. The whole kit is topped off by a car that has been lowered, stretched with chunkier bumpers, and given a healthy dose of sports car attitude.
Who It’s For
Hot hatchbacks have made a comeback with the recent spike in gas prices. Mini has led the segment with its Cooper S since 2001, with Volkswagen making a comeback of late with its Beetle Turbo and GTI models. It’s a niche that has attracted frugal-minded shoppers who don’t need high-horsepower muscle cars and desire something a little smaller and maneuverable. But shoppers of such cars don’t want penalty boxes, either, just because they went out and purchased compact and subcompact vehicles.
The Fiat 500 Abarth’s greatest strength is that when you want a car that will tear up an autocross circuit on weekends, it’s there. But when you don’t, the Fiat 500 Abarth will continue to be the pleasant little city runabout we’ve come to expect from Fiat.
There are very few cars that can move as swiftly in tight spaces as the 500. With the 500 Abarth, Fiat fixes the standard car’s weakest asset—power, or the lack thereof—and instills it with the following additional items:
- A high-performance suspension setup that rides just 4.1 inches above the ground, giving the car an aggressive stance.
- A standard 16-inch wheel and tire package, a sports-oriented 16-inch wheel option, or a high-performance set of 17-inch alloy wheels.
- An interior outfitted with sports seats, higher quality materials, and special Abarth badging with Italian colors going through the Abarth brand’s signature scorpion logo.
- Torque Transfer Control that uses stability control to transfer power to whichever wheel has the best opportunity to put the power to the pavement.
What We Think
We’ve sampled the standard Fiat 500 from time to time and have come to realize its greatest shortcomings: power and ride control. With a 160-horsepower engine, a tightened suspension, bigger wheels, and an upgraded transmission, Fiat fixes our biggest complaints. The better interior is just gravy on the whole package.
What’s surprisingly absent in the press literature is Fiat’s quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic that it sells in 500 Abarths in other parts of the world. Otherwise, the car is actually improved from the one sold abroad.
The Fiat 500 has always had the essentials to make it: chipper styling, great fuel economy, a low price, and a sporty demeanor. Yet, the whole hasn’t really been as great as the sum of its parts, and it’s starting to show on the sales sheets. Fiat has just begun getting the last of its U.S. dealer network online, hired none other than Jennifer “Jenny from the Block” Lopez to act as the spokesperson for the car, and is now giving us what we’ve wanted for some time: enough power to get out of its own way. We think it’s a winning combination, and we hope it’s enough for Fiat to finally gain some leverage in the market.