2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
Date Posted: August 26, 2012
By Zack Spencer
Fiat introduces a 500 that will appeal mostly male driving enthusiasts.
The Fiat 500 has enjoyed sales success in Canada ever since it was introduced last year. The cute subcompact's Italian styling and practical dimensions have made it a good choice as an urban runabout. Those that might find the looks of the 500 a bit too cute now have a more macho version to choose-- the Abarth. Before going into the details on this model, the pronunciation of this car should be clarified, for fear of making a mistake with friends, family and the Fiat salesperson. Abarth is a person's name, Karl Abarth to be specific, an exhaust tuner who eventually became the factory performance tuner for Fiat in the 1950s. The best way to remember the name is ah-bart, the ''h'' is silent. Not eh-bart but ah-bart. Capiche? By taking a nimble and fun to drive car and adding substantially more power, improved suspension and aesthetic updates helps to stave off the ''chick car'' stigma that might be building around the Fiat 500.
This little unit is a real head turner, especially with the optional forged wheels, in white, and the red stripe down the side. The Abarth is offered in white, red, black and grey and these optional wheels are offered in white or black. The Abarth sits 15mm lower than the regular car and is fitted with special struts, control arms and brakes. The bodywork includes plenty of Abarth badging, a meatier looking front end with brake ducts, honeycomb grille, side cladding, chrome door handles, duel exhaust and a lower rear-valance. For those that don't want to splash out the $995 for the forged wheels 16-inch units come standard. These styling updates have got to be some of the most cohesive I have seen in a while, the designers kept the original shape but made the Abarth look more grounded and aggressive, a very tidy package. The Abarth is the most expensive model in the Fiat 500 lineup, starting at $23,995.
The layout is the same as the regular model but the finish is different. There are aluminum pedals; sport seats with stripes down the side and a leather wrapped shifter, which all make the car look more polished. The standard seats are covered in cloth but leather is offered for just $800. There are a few problems with this car, the same as the regular 500, and they all revolve around ergonomics. The seats sit high in the car and when equipped with a sunroof limits the driver's height to about 6-feet. The seats should be able to go lower, especially since there is plenty of room. In combination with the high seat is the lack of a telescoping steering wheel, making a perfect seating position hard to find. The tachometer, in the centre of the instrument cluster, is hard to read at a quick glance-- it should be more prominent on a sportier model like this. The last thing is the lack of radio knobs, there are only buttons to change the volume and stations; I'll take a rotary volume knob any day.
The regular Fiat 500 is equipped with a 1.4L 4-cylinder that is good for 101hp. Not the most engaging car but a fun little commuter. This Abarth is a different story. The 1.4L engine is used but a turbocharger has been attached for an output of 160hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. This is the same engine that is used in the new Dodge Dart. For 2013, the regular Fiat 500 will have a detuned version of engine, with 135hp, as an option, minus all the Abarth ad-ons. The turbo is a bit slow to get out of the pocket but once the motor is above 2000 RPM it starts to really build and the full force of the turbo is felt above 3000 RPM. This means that passing, under power, is a snap and cruising is easy. The Abarth is only sold with a 5-speed manual, it could use a 6th gear but the reality is most people will use this car in the city. The short wheelbase and sportier suspension makes the ride a bumpy and with the Fiat being tall, the body does roll in the corners, but once the driver learns to trust the chassis, the cornering can be fun. There is also a torque transfer control system, or torque vectoring, to enable the wheel with more grip to get power and braking force applied to the one with less grip.
The main competition for this Abarth is the Mini Cooper S. With the higher centre of gravity and high seating position, the Abarth doesn't feel as go-cart like. But starting at $23,995 this car is a whole lot cheaper than a $28,950 Cooper S. The Cooper S has an 21hp (181hp) advantage over the Abarth but this little Fiat is lighter (69Kg), making it feel very quick. The main competition for this car will be the 500 Turbo, which will start at $20,995. Even though it will have less power, it will be an attractive and less expensive way to have fun in a Fiat 500. All in all, the Abarth is just what one might expect from an Italian sports version of their already quirky car. It isn't perfect, but the appeal of this stylish little pocket-rocket is hard to deny. Capiche?
The Good, The Bad
Fantastic styling and engaging turbocharged engine.
The interior is for shorter drivers.
Power: 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder 170hp
Fill-up: 6.7L/5.1L/100km (city/highway)
Sticker price: $23,995