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2012 Fiat 500 Abarth Review By John Heilig

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2012 Fiat Abarth



Model: 2012 Fiat Abarth
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged I4
Horsepower/Torque: 160 hp @ 5,500 rpm/170 lb.-ft. @ 2,500-4,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Wheelbase: 90.6 in.
Length/Width/Height: 144.4 x 73.5 x 58.7 in.
Tires: P195/45R16
Cargo volume: 9.5/26.8 cu. ft. (rear seat backs up/down)
Fuel economy: 28 mpg city/34 mpg highway
Fuel capacity: 10.5 gal.
Curb weight: 2,512 lbs.
Sticker: $26,200 (includes $700 destination, $3,500 in options)

The Bottom Line: Absolute fun car to drive, like all 500s, but with a performance flair. It's a bit raucous, but it can also be driven normally.

Fiat imports three versions of its popular 500 into the United States from Mexico; the base 500, the 500 Convertible, and the hotter-than-should-be-allowed Fiat Abarth. In fact, the Abarth is barely recognized as a 500 or even a Fiat, since most of the badges have been replaced by Abarth's scorpion badge. There are stylized "500's" on the door sills and in a few other places, but if you didn't know better, you wouldn't know what this car is.

In fact, I came out of the store one day and found a woman looking at the car. She asked me what it was because she didn't recognize the scorpion (chosen because of Mr. Abarth's birth sign).

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I have a history with the Fiat Abarth that you may find interesting (I certainly do). Way back in the 1950s, 1959 to be precise, I attended a "sports car" show at the old Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island. This is the same location where Lindbergh took off on his transatlantic flight to Paris. One of the cars at this show was a 1958 Fist Abarth Zagato that I thought was one of the most beautiful cars I had ever seen.

The Zagato, (known as the "double bubble) was a coupe, with a raised portion over the driver's and passenger's heads that gave it its name and unique shape. Modern Viper coupes have a similar shape.

I had an opportunity to drive that little beauty and I fell in love with it. Of course I couldn't afford it, since the price was $3,420. It only weighed about 1,250 pounds, but it would zip along like no other car I had known (I was driving a 1948 Chevrolet Coupe at the time) and handled like a dream. The 750 cc engine had great performance and I wanted it.

Fast forward a few years and again I'm in a Fiat Abarth, although sadly not with Zagato bodywork.

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This time the Abarth has a 1.4-liter engine and develops 160 horsepower with a turbocharger. The transmission is a 5-speed manual, rather than the 4-speed that was in the Zagato. Yet, while the body resembles the more sedate 500 sedan, the heart is the same as in the Zagato.

I don't recall the exhaust note of the Zagato, but this Abarth is definitely raucous. Even pulling out of the driveway it emits a certain roar that is worthy of a much larger car. Accelerating down the road lets everyone, including the police, know you're coming. The teenagers in my neighborhood were impressed, though. It's so noisy that the radio seems a waste, unless you wan tto up the volume like a teenager.

Handling of the modern Fiat Abarth leaves nothing to be desired. While the suspension is harder with stiffer springs, cast iron lower control arms, a beefed up rear stabilizer bar and stiffer springs, these all serve to make the ride sportier without making it too harsh. In addition, the ride height has been lowered about half an inch. Throw in flat 45-section tires and the elements for a soft cushy ride aren't there.

There are also some body modifications to make it more performance oriented, but prime among these is a flat-bottomed steering wheel and dual exhausts. It also has the plug-in Tom- Tom navigations system that fits nicely in your glove box when it isn't in use.

The 5-speed manual transmission is fun to use, although it isn't as necessary as with the smaller Fiats, since there's so much torque and horsepower available at your right toe.

While the Abarth will set you back a few more bucks than the base 500 (or even the convertible), it is a lot of fun. Converting the 1959 dollars to 2012 might make the new Abarth more of a bargain, but it would benefit from better styling.

2012 The Auto Page