2012 Fiat 500 Abarth: Small but Wicked
By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Ever since Fiat merged with Chrysler Group, I have been waiting for my chance to drive one of the Italian fuel-savers, as it has been decades since I last drove a Fiat. My opportunity came when I got behind the wheel of the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth.
The first Abarth, produced by Abarth & C, appeared in 1949, originated by Viennese champion motorcycle racer Karl Abarth. His 1949 Abarth 204A Roadster, derived from a Fiat 1100, won the Italian 1100 and Formula 2 championships and by 1956, the Abarth 750 was introduced and set numerous speed and endurance records. Abarth & C was absorbed into Fiat in 1971, and 40 years later, the Fiat 500 Abarth was introduced in the United States, with the Abarth motto first coined in the 1960s: “Small but wicked.”
The Fiat 500 might not be a race car in the purest sense, but it is a fast, economical vehicle with some great tech, solid handling and performance for its niche. Faithful to the “small but wicked” catchphrase, the new 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth offers performance and precision, purposeful and aggressive styling, high power-to-weight ratio and limited-production volume. The vehicle is designed for track enthusiasts and those who enjoy “driver’s cars” and expect a high-performance small car with the pedigree of an exclusive Italian exotic.
With its all-new 1.4-liter MultiAir® Turbo engine, Abarth-tuned suspension and brake systems, race-inspired design, and technology features not traditionally included on a small car, the new 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth has hit American streets. Included in the base vehicle are twin intercoolers, performance-tuned suspension, performance brake system, three-mode Electronic Stability Control with “Full Off” capability, turbo boost gauge, 16-inch performance aluminum wheels, front fog lamps, five-speed heavy-duty manual transmission, high-back performance cloth bucket seats with racing harness pass-through, leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, bi-halogen headlights, BLUE&ME™ handsfree communication with iPod® digital device, USB and MP3 interface, Bose® premium audio system, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, aluminum pedal covers and a really cool Full-Day Abarth® Driving Experience with professional instructors (included with vehicle purchase).
Measuring only 144.4 inches long, 64.1 inches wide and 59.2 inches high on a 90.6-inch wheelbase, with a ground clearance of 4.1 inches, Fiat 500 Abarth weighs in at a confident 2512 lbs. The diminutive package yields an aggressive exterior specifically designed for aerodynamic efficiency, improved down force and maximum system cooling. A pronounced front fascia is stylistically blended to improve aerodynamics and the signature “Abarth” shield floats on a finned surface that serves as an additional air intake. A forceful blacked-out fascia accent integrates projector-beam fog lamps and helps direct air for engine cooling, while assertive side skirts provide a vertical and athletic profile.
Abarth power comes from the new 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine with a cast-iron block and an aluminum bedplate. Mated to a 5-speed heavy-duty manual transmission, the system puts out 160hp and 170 lbs-ft of torque. Working in concert with the turbo boost gauge, performance-tuned suspension and performance brake system, Abarth is a fun-to-drive eco-sports car that is EPA rated at a city/highway/combined estimate of 28/34/31. My weeklong test yielded an impressive 33.3mpg.
Also impressive was its acceleration, as track tests showed a zero-to-60mph sprint time of 6.8 seconds en route to a quarter-mile run of 15.4 seconds. On the highway, passing force was effortless and on twisty and autocross examinations, the chassis showed some play, but with dedicated throttle and brake work, Abarth hugs the surface firmly and the understeer and torque steer only add to the fun driving experience. Engine noise is readily apparent during acceleration, but acceptable during cruising.
The Abarth cockpit will seat four snugly, with 38.9 inches of front headroom and a head-bowing 35.5 inches in the rear; legroom is a comfortable 40.1 inches of front and a knee-bending 31.7 in row two and shoulder room goes 49.4 and 46.4.
The Black interior is striking as is the large “dead pedal” in front. The sculpted steering wheel, Bluetooth controls and flashing up-shift light (when you approach redline) on the sport instrument cluster make for an upscale sports car feel. Multiple built-in storage spaces, as well as a large luggage compartment -- 26.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded – allow you to take a ton of stuff with you on long trips.
Regarding safety, Fiat 500 Abarth attends to it with more than 35 available safety and security features including crumple zones, side guard door beams, seven standard multi-stage air bags, all-speed traction control, anti-lock brake system, brake assist, brake override, brake-traction control system, enhanced accident response system, occupant restraint controller and Sentry Key® engine immobilizer.
The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth starts at $22,000. Looking Italian cool in Rosso Red paint, the Safety and Convenience Package added $1000 for Performance Leather-trimmed high-back bucket seats. Another $400 was added for the TomTom® Navigation device with touch screen controls, Eco Drive, and trip information. A year of Sirius XM Radio service plus automatic temperature control of a Micron filer and a security alarm added $600. Another upgrade was the $850 power sunroof, and destination charges of $700 put the final sticker at $25,550.
> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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