Fiat says its catchphrase "small but wicked," applied frequently to the new 500 Abarth, was coined for the Abarths of the 1960s, and while we think that may be apocrypha, it definitely holds true for the 2012 model. This car is very fast, very fun to drive, and won't break the bank--even if it isn't for everyone.
A history lesson: The name--and scorpion symbol--of the new Fiat 500 come from Karl Abarth, a champion motorcycle racer, mechanic extraordinaire, and founder, in 1949, of "Abarth & C," the original Fiat tuner shop. Re-introduced in 2007 by Fiat, the Abarth name connotes the tuning arm of the make, akin to Subaru's STI, Mazda's MazdaSpeed, and Mini Cooper's John Cooper Works. All of these lines have commonalities--they are all small, lithe, nimble, and quick cars with a relatively humble pricetag. Affordable yet exotic, that's the idea.
Let's start with the engine, a sweet little 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo four-cylinder. Built in the US at Chrysler's engine plant in Dundee, Michigan, the tricked-out 160-horsepower, 170-pound-feet of torque engine are then shipped to the Fiat 500 plant in Toluca, Mexico for installation into the Abarth, which is equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.
The Abarth's engine system has 60% more power than the naturally aspirated model, thanks to an added turbocharger and FIAT's MultiAir fuel delivery technology. Says Fiat: "unlike engines that rely on direct action from fixed lobes on the camshaft to control intake valve opening and closing, MultiAir is an electro-hydraulic system that can control intake air, cylinder by cylinder and stroke by stroke depending on the demands from the standard electronic throttle control system [...] Fuel delivery is sequential, multi-port, electronic, with injectors located to direct the fuel spray at the intake valves in a wide spray pattern that increases fuel atomization and enhances complete combustion for a smooth driving experience."
Fiat also tuned the Powertrain Control Module, or PCM, with a sport mode for more power. That's in addition to a re-jiggered ride and handling with a new suspension design, boasting a 40 percent stiffer spring rate and a 0.6-inch lower ride height. The ride is helped along by Abarth-designed cast iron front-lower control arms to provide improved lateral stiffness as well as dual-valve Koni front shock absorbers for a sportier ride.
Fiat added a slew of body and interior changes--they stretched the front end and added a larger front fascia to accommodate the larger engine, decked out the 500 with optional Abarth-designed 17-inch wheels, added a new exhaust, and changed up the interior with sportier attributes and Abarth-badged gauges. It's a lot like your regular Fiat 500, just now in leaner, tougher fighting form.
The Abarth is really fast and quite nimble and, thankfully, it sounds like a sports car, thanks to the new engine and the twin-exhaust pipes. In terms of your basic "how fun is this thing to drive," the Abarth is right up there with the too-weird-to-own Mini John Cooper Works Coupe. While 160 horsepower may not sound like a lot in this day and age of 650-plus horsepower Mustangs and Camaros, the Abarth is the right mix of size and stealth speed.
Road noise inside the cabin is obtrusive at anything resembling highway speeds--it sounds like you're sitting next to the engine on an old 707 during a transcontinental flight. The Tom Tom Navigation system that mounts on top of the dashboard cuts viability and detracts from the drive, and the stereo controls are maddening, with more levels than a first generation BMW iDrive system. Honestly, we think the whole Fiat center stack needs a redesign. While its barebones aesthetic may play in other parts of the world, I prefer ease of use and thought-out product design, even in the smallest of cars. Also, the price, close to $27,000 for a nicely equipped Abarth, seems a tad bit high. We know there is a lot of bang for the buck, but for that much coin, we want more--perhaps a 6-speed manual transmission, which the Abarth needs to quiet its ride at freeway speeds.
The Drive: On our test drive, we were able to throw the vehicle into tight corners at, ahem, above posted speeds, and the Abarth held a steady line without much front torque spin, a rarity for a turbo-powered front-wheel-drive car. At freeway speeds, the Abarth feels firmer than the base model 500 due to its lowered stance and the extra weight up front from the new engine. The additional power also comes in handy when you pass a big rig on a windswept stretch of highway--there's no longer the feeling of dread like you have in the base 500 during a pass like that.
We had a chance to test the Abarth on the track, too, where the grippy nature of the car had a chance to show. Fiat says the Abarth is "track ready"--we're not sure about that, but lap after lap at the Spring Mountain Motorsport Ranch outside of Las Vegas was a hoot, if not something owners will want to do every weekend.
For an everyday city car, it's a pretty good option, as it doesn't have the same teeth chattering, bone splintering ride as some of its competitors. (We're looking at you, John Cooper Works.)
The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth has a base price of $22,700, including destination fees. By the time you add some options, say those lovely black 17-inch forged aluminum wheels, the nice leather seats, perhaps a power sunroof, that weird TomTom navigation unit and the Safety and Convenience package, you're close to $27,000. That's a lot of money for the Abarth, and bumps the car into a different territory that competes with the Mini Cooper John Cooper Works, the MazdaSpeed 3, the Subaru WRX and Volkswagen GTI. It's still not a pricey car, but there's some tough competition in that weight class.
The Fiat 500 Abarth is a fun little car in a crowded and ever-changing segment, and does a fine job of standing out thanks to clever packaging, a good power-to-size ratio, and a neat ad campaign. Do we see the Abarth as a volume leader for Fiat? Not at all. But as the halo car for the whole Fiat brand in America, it does a fine job of conveying the Abarth ethos. Come to think of it, "small but wicked" isn't really too far off the mark.
The last time I saw a car as ugly as the Fiat 500 was when Russia made the Yugo........
No thanks for buying a 'Fix It Again Tom' Fiasco!
I think it looks like a cute car! I like to take it for a test drive!
Science sees no further than what it can sense, i.e. facts.
Religion sees beyond the senses, i.e. faith.
Open your mind and see!
@ Gizmowitz. Yugos were made in Yugoslavia, Hence the name Yugo. Remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Fiat 500 is based on the original Fiat 500 built in 1957. The car was such a hit it they continued manufacturing them until 1975. Italy is a country know for its designers and artist. They kept this car popular for decades and think it is an attractive design, but an overall wearing redneck thinks its ugly, so it must be. Also the first time FIAT came to the States they did not design them for the climate in the northern U.S. They were designed for warm climates. The oil lines were narrow to allow the thinner oil to circulate. Using those cars, designed in and for a warm country like Italy, in cold climates like New York caused many of the problems that many people remember about the old FIATs. Today most car manufactures build cars for world environments, unlike back in 1957.
Pi * R^2? Pi are round, cornbread are squared
"While 160 horsepower may not sound like a lot in this day and age of 650-plus horsepower Mustangs and Camaros, the Abarth is the right mix of size and stealth speed."
Okay, 160 HP in a car that weighs____ ?
What's the Weight/HP ratio??
If it's more than 20, fugghedaboudit !
@gizmowiz @martiniduck I do believe the new Mini Coupe Convertible beats all other cars except for maybe the relient robin in how awful it looks.
"MultiAir is an electro-hydraulic system"... there is a reason car makers choose to use a mechanical cam shaft. It's called reliability. I can definitely see this complicated system plaguing many owners with reliability issues.
Obsolete. Where's the solar charged quick change battery? These fools are 20 years behind the times. Still sucking the big oil company's tit. Get off it. Where's the easy on the ears, non polluting electric model?
These are very popular here in the UK. I wish I had a vintage Fiat 500. Italian is always cool unless you're a redneck.
I bought a 1960 Fiat 500 about 1972 for $125... bought a second one that was identical except for the radio about 3 years later... they were among my all-time favorite cars for their stark simplicity and economy. One day I had a police helicopter circling overhead as I drove down the street, which had me wondering what I'd done wrong. A day or so later, I met up with that same helicopter pilot-- his name was Denny Rawlings, as I recall-- he gushed with admiration at my odd little baby-- it turned out he had a Subaru 360, which was a similarly small, humble road rat, but unfortunately the 360 had a very balky 2-stroke engine, for which it never gained favor here or anywhere else that I know of. But for their owners, many just enjoyed the Fiat 500 and the Subaru 360 just for the enormous attention they would garner.
I wonder where Denny is today.
I lived in a neighborhood with lots of kids 12- 14 years old, and they'd often show up at my front door begging me to take them for rides in the car-- one day, I was just going to ride them around the block, but amazingly, more and more kids came up, and before I knew it, they had all packed into my car, laughing and screaming, hands and arms sticking out the windows and rag-top roof-- a total of 17 kids, my dog, and myself-- we rode around the block slowly twice with all the parents standing at the front doors, laughing and pointing. It nothing anyone could do today, of course. It was like the old stunts college kids used to pull, trying to see how many they could stuff in a phone booth. That was back at a time when there were no seat belts, no seat belt laws, and no laws about how many people you could pack in a car. I can only imagine what kind of moving violation I would get to do such a thing today.
The 500's were such an attractive nuisance that on two occasions, when I left my house in one of them, I got home, and found the other one missing-- on both occasions, the some of the neighbor kids knew how to get into my house through a window, find my spare keys, and started driving it around the block in circles. On each of those occasions, I came home to find the car sitting in the middle of the street with a dead battery from them trying to restart it several times, not understanding how to use a clutch. The second time it happened, the kids got in serious trouble with their parents... they never tried it again.
I discovered one day that by gripping the front bumper at either corner, I could lift the whole front end completely off the ground-- one time even when it had two women, my dog, and a bag of groceries inside. That was something I did often, going to the supermarket or gas station, and lifting up the car, just to get some shocked reactions.
The 500 had "suicide doors" until 1962 or so, at which time they all changed over to the conventional doors used almost universally today. They were called suicide doors because if the door did not happen to be completely closed when you first drove off, and you tried to do what most people would do, which is to continue driving and open the door just a bit to slam it, as you pushed a bit on the door to slam it, the wind would immediately catch the door like a parachute and pull you right out of the car. Absentmindedness could be deadly.
I was surprised to find that the new 500 has the engine in the front-- even though the body looks very similar to the old 500 that had a rear engine, similar to the old VW Bugs.
Fiat 500's had no starter motor solenoids-- they had a lever between the front seats, and when you'd pull up on it, it would pull on a wire cable that ran into the engine compartment... that cable pulled the motor into the flywheel. A switch on the starter body would then close, allowing current to reach the starter motor. As soon as you released the lever, the electric motor would lose contact and stop turning. The wiring diagram in the 500 was so simple, there were only about 12 wires on the whole page... a far cry from the manual for my BMW 735i, which had 500 PAGES or wiring diagrams! If the Amish ever decided it was okay to drive a car, they'd feel right at home in an early 500.
I look forward to seeing the electric version of the Fiat 500 that is due out in the next year or so... I'll consider getting one.
Very nice car, thanks for sharing.
Anna @ http://www.griyamobilkita.com