Fiat 500 Abarth is a blast from past

Fiat 500 Abarth

Fiat’s reintroduction to the US market has been a bit tepid at best. The 500 is cute, cuddly and compact but that has a limited appeal to an even more limited audience.

Add something else to the mix  – oh, let’s say more power, racier looks and handling – and you’ve just expanded your market.

That something is called the Abarth. Yes, that Abarth. The tuner which has tinkered with Fiats for ages. Chrysler (Fiat’s partner) engineers did most of this tuning I think and its efforts have made the Abarth something to behold and drive.

Yes, the Fiat 500 is tiny, but throw on some bigger, more expensive wheels, a turbo-charged engine, big, bright brake calipers and tiny becomes cozy. Ain’t it easy to forget something’s shortcomings when you doll it up a bit?

The Abarth is far more than just cosmetics. Fifty-nine extra horses, a stiffer suspension and a totally willing manual transmission allows this to be swift, sure-footed and, well, awesome. Where the 500 wallows and pokes, the Abarth sticks and moves. There is a ton of fun in this engine. No, you aren’t going as fast as you think, but that’s relative in a car this small. You are traveling far faster than people think a car like this can go.

A little more on that engine. At 1.4-liters its small, but turbo charged. It cranks out 160 horses and 170 pounds-feet of torque. That torque is available once you push the sport setting, and yes, that setting actually does something. It’s noisy, but in a good way. The exhaust note sounds like you are sitting on something bigger, hence the reason for the dual setup.

Drive the Abarth through traffic and you get a lot of looks – some of them approving, others not so much. There are those who feel sports cars can only be had with V8s,  big bodies and ridiculously large (and expensive) tires.

The Abarth will prove those naysayers wrong. No, it will NOT outrun a Mustang or Camaro. Nor will it out handle a Porsche. It will put a grin on your face if you find some open road. Heck, even in traffic you can amuse yourself by darting in and out of tight spaces safely.

Gauges are useful – and plentiful

You can quibble about interior space. This is a little car. How little? It’s 144.4 inches long, 59.2 inches high and weighs about 2,533 pounds. Interior volume is 84.9 cubic feet.

With the rear seats up you have 9.5 cubic feet of space. That expands to 30.2 cubic feet  with the rear seats folded.

The brakes are also questionable. You can incur longer stopping distances as you flog the car, but nothing dangerous. Just be aware.

Otherwise, the Abarth is nothing short of joyous. The interior is sporty with a bevy of gauges, all of which are useful. The entertainment system is good and yes, there is Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.

My test car was also black or “nero” (minus the red mirrors) with cloth seats, Bose stereo, black 17-inch wheels, Abarth graphics and satellite radio. My cost estimate was somewhere around $22,500, a good bit more than the $15,500 for the entry-level 500.

The Abarth’s biggest shortcoming is its availability. If you see a 2012 on the lot, snatch it up. No more will be available until the 2013 run, according to Fiat. The company could change its mind but I’m thinking no. You owe it to yourself to at least drive this. Trust me, it’s nothing but fun.

 

cross@alldaytech.com

 

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