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2012 Fiat 500 Abarth Review By Larry Nutson


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2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
Adrenaline Injection

by Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Fiat is on a roll, at least according to my half-full cup. Fiat 500 sales in the U.S. have increased each month through the first quarter of this year. Some of the 140 U.S studios (dealers) are selling fifty Fiat 500s a month and a couple sold ninety. In Canada there are about 60 studios. Fiat head of North America Tim Kuniskis recently spoke about the car as well as the brand's overall marketing plan for the near future to an assembly of Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) auto industry writers.

At this event we got our first look at the new Fiat 500 Abarth and a chance to test its acceleration, handling, and braking prowess on an autocross circuit. As I was about to put “words to paper” the Chrysler Group informed dealers that the company would be no longer accepting orders for the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth. Fiat can't make them fast enough to support current demand. Customers will now have to wait until next fall when the 2013 model of the car arrives in the U.S. The demand for the car is all about the need for speed as it offers about 58% more horsepower and 73% more torque than the Fiat 500.

But don’t be discouraged. Keep reading and then head to your nearest Fiat studio and take a test drive. The 500 Abarth is a car you want to drive. It’s the wicked little brother of the 500, as Tim Kuniskis put it. All 500 Abarth buyers will get a full day track experience to help them find all the fun in this sweet little car.


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The Abarth name heralds from that of Karl Abarth (Ah-bart) born in 1908 under the sign of the Scorpio and a creator of Fiat-based performance cars over many decades. Faithful to the “small but wicked” saying coined for Karl Abarth’s cars in the 1960s, the new 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth has a base price of $22,000. It’s powered by a 160hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. The Abarth is offered only with a manual. In this day of six and even 7-speed manuals the natural question is, why only five. Well, the 500 Abarth doesn’t need more gears, at least I don’t believe it does. The engine and transmission combination provide quick acceleration balanced with EPA fuel economy ratings of 28 city mpg and 34 highway mpg.


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The 117hp per liter is exhausted through chrome-tipped dual straight pipes from after the catalyst. The noticeably loud exhaust…Fiat says menacing… tempted me after nearly every stop to mash the pedal to the floor. And the “sport” mode button on the dash is almost always pushed. Handling the power is a sport-tuned suspension combined with a 15mm lower ride height, improved 4-wheel disc brakes, and 195/45 Pirelli Cinturato P7 all-season tires on 6.5-inch wide 16-inch aluminum wheels. My test car was equipped with 205/40 Pirelli P-Zero Nero 3-season tires on Bianco-painted 7-inch wide 17-inch alloy wheels…a $1000 option and one that would call for winter tires if you lived in a snowy winter part of the country.


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Other options on my Rosso exterior and Nero interior test car included leather trimmed high-back bucket seats, a power sunroof, TomTom navigation system, white mirror caps with body side stripe and a Safety and Convenience package that included automatic temperature control, security alarm and SiriusXM Satellite radio. All this pushed my test car price to $26,900 with shipping.


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On the outside the Abarth is distinguished by its slightly longer nose. It’s needed to make room for the turbo and intercooler. Cooling air flows through openings in the lower fascia and also around the scorpion logo. A rear spoiler, fog lamps, halogen projector headlamps, and red brake calipers round things out. The inside features a unique Abarth leather wrapped steering wheel, leather shift knob, turbo boost gauge with LED driver’s shift indicator light, bright pedal covers, and Abarth floor mats.


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All 500s are very city-friendly with their short overall length and large rear hatch making for versatile cargo carrying. The slightly longer Abarth at 144.4 inches doesn’t detract from that convenience. Seating is for four with adequate front seat room and more space than you would think in the rear. City streets with well worn pavement and pot holes lets you use the crisp handling to its fullest dodging those jarring and potential damaging hazards. Take a highway cruise and settle-in at a comfortable cruising speed and the efficiency of the multi-air engine should take you 350 miles or so down the road. I didn’t try for any measured fuel economy but with all my full-throttle blasts I still managed to eek out 28.3 mpg.

Fiat now has a number of flavors of the 500. There is the coupe in three models, the 500 Cabrio, a Gucci edition of both, and now the Abarth. The Fiat 500 EV…electric vehicle… is expected to start production at the end of this year. The 500L was introduced last March in Geneva and is expected to be shown at the Los Angeles auto show in November and come to the U.S. in 2013.

So, finish your espresso and start driving. Ciao!

© Larry Nutson