Driving Today

American Version of the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth Is Unmasked

Soon, America will be treated to a special performance version of the cute-as-a-button Fiat 500.

The new Fiat 500 Abarth -- which recently made its debut on American shores -- has a corner on cuteness, so you might not expect a “driver’s car” version. But you probably don’t know Carlo Abarth, who started working with the Italian automaker in 1952. From that point on, Fiat and Abarth were inextricably linked, and Fiat finally absorbed Abarth’s company in 1970. Since then, Abarth has transformed many Fiat pussycats into tigers.

The ongoing Los Angeles Auto Show was the public unveiling of the U.S. specification version of the Fiat 500 Abarth, which is equipped -- as you might expect -- with all manner of go-fast stuff. Clinging closely to the Abarth tagline, “Small but wicked,” the car is powered by the justifiably famous Fiat 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine. Equipped with turbocharging and twin intercoolers, the U.S. spec engine will develop 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. The combination of turbocharging and the unique MultiAir technology results in a 59-percent increase in peak horsepower and a 70-percent increase in peak torque over the 500’s base engine. To deal with the engine’s higher torque, Fiat engineers have specified a heavy-duty five-speed manual transmission with the Torque Transfer Control system.

The heavily revised engine actually necessitated a key design change as well. Because the MultiAir engine requires more space than the standard engine, the car’s front fascia is bolder and is positioned nearly 3 inches ahead of the legendary whiskers-and-logo face that has adorned vintage Abarth models for decades. The blacked-out fascia houses projector-beam fog lamps, and larger side skirts set off the larger 16-inch (or optional 17-inch) aluminum wheels. Both wheel designs display the lacquered Rosso (red) brake calipers.

The interior is highlighted by an Abarth-designed steering wheel that features a thick rim, perforated leather and a flat bottom, something you’d guess many Italians would shy away from. The large concentric instrument cluster houses a speedometer that measures speeds up to 160 miles per hour, tachometer and trip computer, and the instrument-panel cluster brow is wrapped in Nero leather with Rosso accent stitching. The analog turbo-boost gauge has an integrated LED shift light that suggests optimal gear changes. The performance seats feature a one-piece design with large side bolsters, a racing-harness pass-through, and accent stitching and side-thorax airbags. In all, the Fiat 500 Abarth is still adorably cute, but it’s also a small racer with a big attitude.



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