New Fiat Abarth is a surprising jolt in the lineup

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    Fiat Abarth_side_profile_webI know, when you think Fiat the idea of “wicked” doesn’t necessarily come to mind. 

    A car this small hardly conjures up thoughts associated with say the thrill of a 300 or so drop on a rollercoaster, or that feeling you get in your gut when the coaster starts making those final clicks up the hill before the descent.    

    Question:  Is it just me, or at that point right before that drop, do you ever wonder why you’re even up there?

    Call me a wimp if you want, but I ask myself that just about every time I get on one of those wild amusement park rides, always amazed of the rush afterwards and a little eager to try it again.   

    REALLY WICKED 

    My recent test drive of the new Fiat 500 Abarth (pronounced AH-BART) on a racetrack in Nevada left me with a similar look of surprise considering that I just never expect a Fiat 500 to be able do what it does on some pretty wild twists and turns. 

    The goal for the Abarth model, says the Fiat team, was to add a vehicle to the lineup that would appeal to more performance enthusiasts — and that it does.

    Of course, for those who are more familiar with the history of Abarth, the thrill of driving the car probably comes as little surprise.  

    Founded by Karl Abarth more than 60 years ago, in 1949, the Abarth marque is synonymous with performance, raking up more than 10,000 individual race victories, 10 world records and 133 international titles. Abarth and the Fiat brand have a history of collaboration going back 45 years and resulting in six international records and nearly 900 individual race victories.

    To stay true to the legacy of Abarth, Fiat considered every element of the Fiat 500 to figure out what needed to be done to develop a higher performance model.

    About the only similarity between the Abarth, which uses the scorpion symbol as a distinguishing mark, and the standard Fiat is the overall body design. Everything else has been completely modified to give the car more performance capabilities. 

    BUILDING ON THE BRAND 

    The Fiat Abarth features the debut of the new 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine that delivers 160 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque, and a heavy-duty five-speed manual transmission with an estimated MPG of 28 city/34 highway. The addition of a turbocharger coupled with the MultiAir technology delivers 73 percent increase in torque, 58 percent increase in power over the base 1.4-liter Fiat 500 engine. 

    For improved handling, the front- wheel-drive Fiat 500 Abarth features a unique MacPherson suspension design with a 40 percent stiffer spring rate and 0.6-inch (15 mm) lower ride height compared to the front-suspension design of the Fiat 500 Sport model.

    The exterior styling of the new 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth was also designed with a specific focus on improving the car’s performance capabilities with features like the signature “Abarth” shield floats that serve as an additional air intake; the twin “nostrils” are precisely positioned on the front fascia to maximize airflow in and out of the two engine intercoolers; and a rear spoiler.

    Inside, the Fiat Abarth features a race-inspired interior with features like Abarth inspired steering wheel with perforated leather and a flat bottom increased roominess during “at-the-limit driving” (nice touch). 

    Behind the steering wheel, the Fiat 500 Abarth features a large instrument cluster wrapped in Nero leather with Rosso accent stitching that displays its 160-mph speedometer (I saw it at 95) and a tachometer and trip computer.  The Abarth also features race inspired seats and an available Bose audio system, although you tend to be more tuned in to the car’s exhaust note when driving. 

    IS IT ENOUGH?

    Considering what else you can get for the money, however, pricing seems a bit steep once you start moving up from the $22,000 base model and start adding on a lot of those extras, which I imagine most in the US would want if buying a vehicle in this segment. That is, unless you’re the type who prefers buying a vehicle bare bone and doing a lot of the customizing yourself. 

    Still, convincing consumers that the Fiat Abarth is worth considering if they’re in the market for a small sporty car won’t come easy – especially for those thrill seekers who are inclined to be drawn to more familiar brands even if the Abarth does cost less than, say, a high-performance Mini Cooper.  

    But if you’re willing to take a chance, the Fiat Abarth promises to be one surprising ride. 

    HIGHLIGHTS 

    n Sticker: $22,000 (base)

    n Unique exterior features 

    n 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds 

    n Race-inspired interior 

    n Optional Bose Audio System

      Marcus Amick can be contacted at Marcus@Wheelside.com.

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