2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
by John Davis
When the Fiat brand returned to the U.S. market last year after nearly a generation of absence, there was high hope that it would make a huge splash with its smallest car, the 500. The Fiat 500 offered a cute to see, and fun to be seen in, Italian engineered 3-door coupe that was also cheaper than the similarly sized MINI Cooper.
While we found the 500 lived up to its visual billing; was overall fun to drive and even delivered decent, if not stellar fuel economy, a public buying frenzy never materialized. Not to be deterred, Fiat has since introduced two additional 500 versions, the 500c convertible, and most notable for Italian car aficionados, the Fiat 500 Abarth.
The 500 Abarth marks the American return of true high performance in an affordable Italian car. Moreover, it also marks the rejuvenation of the famous Abarth brand. Originally involved with motorcycle racing in the 1930s; since the 1950s Abarth has been super tuning Fiat’s already sporty products, and that is just what they have now done again. The result is the “small but wicked” 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth.
The viciousness all starts under the hood, where the 500’s 1.4-liter MultiAir I4 gets 18-PSI of boost from a single turbo, and pumps up horsepower nearly 60% to 160. Engine internals are beefed up to handle the peak output of 117-horsepower-per-liter. This makes the Abarth about a third quicker than the standard 500.
Our first chance to test the 500 Abarth came appropriately enough at the challenging Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch near Las Vegas, Nevada. We quickly noticed the firmer shifting 5-speed manual transmission that put the Abarth’s extra power to very good use.
The lowered suspension has been thoroughly tweaked and includes KONI shocks and a new rear stabilizer bar that delivers cornering as flat as a sports car. You do pay for this added prowess with a stiffer ride. While it was acceptable on smooth Nevada roads, jointed filled Eastern byways will take a toll on comfort.
Visually, the 500 Abarth dons unique front and rear fascias, as well as new stickers and badging. Extended side skirts, rear wing, and 16 or 17-inch forged aluminum wheels highlight the profile, as do the red-painted brake calipers.
Abarth is well known for its performance-tuned exhaust systems and the 500’s new pipes sing a song that is impressively Italian.
Inside there are more-supportive seats, a grippy new steering wheel, pedal covers, and a unique gauge package with a turbo boost gauge. But, what impressed us most about the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is the bargain $22,000 price tag.
Granted, embracing the Abarth tuned 500 will take a wholesale change in how an American enthusiast views performance cars. But, if you can make that jump, you’ll love every minute and every mile in the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
If the Fiat 500 Abarth has piqued your performance desire, be sure to catch our first impressions of this little pocket rocket on episode #3131 which begins airing on April 6, 2012. A full Road Test of the Fiat 500 Abarth will air on episode #3137 which begins airing on May 18, 2012. For a complete listing of the public television stations that broadcast MotorWeek, go to motorweek.org and click the “Find Your Station” tab at the top. MotorWeek is also seen Tuesday evenings on Velocity cable channel.