2012 Fiat 500 Abarth at the 2011 L.A. Auto Show


  • Competes with: Mini Cooper S
  • Looks like: A Fiat 500 Sport with new bumpers
  • Drivetrain: 160-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with five-speed manual transmission; front-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: March 2012

In a widely expected move, Fiat finally gives us the turbocharged 500 Abarth. Fiat relaunched the Abarth designation four years ago, but it dates to modified Fiats in the 1950s. The sub-brand arrives in March in the form of a high-performance version of the four-seat 500 hatchback.

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Functional changes to the 500 include a front bumper that sits farther forward, adding nearly 5 inches of length compared with the regular 500. Additional inlets — a slat below Abarth's scorpion logo, five lower openings — funnel air to the engine's two intercoolers. Extended side skirts, a rear spoiler and twin exhaust pipes finish the look. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, but 17s are optional, as are high-performance Pirelli P-Zero Nero summer tires. Neither one is available on the non-Abarth 500.

Unfortunately, the whole package — plus a quicker steering ratio with fewer turns, lock-to-lock — adds 23 percent to the car's turning circle. It lands the 500 Abarth at an SUV-like 37.6 feet, so no more back-alley U-turns.

The 500 Abarth's four-cylinder has the same 1.4-liter displacement and MultiAir technology as the normally aspirated 500, but a single turbocharger raises output to an estimated 160 hp at 5,500 rpm and 170 pounds-feet of torque at 2,500 to 4,000 rpm. A driver-selectable Sport mode calibrates the engine for maximum power, while a torque-transfer system works like a virtual limited-slip differential. We'll have to drive the car, of course, to see how well it actually works.

Given the 500's 101 hp and 98 pounds-feet of torque make for adequate acceleration, the extra power should prove fun. Fiat has yet to give gas mileage figures (the 500 with a manual transmission gets 33 mpg combined), but like the regular car, the Abarth recommends premium gas. Cheap stuff is acceptable, but you'll sacrifice some power.

The sole transmission is a heavier-duty five-speed manual. We wonder why Fiat didn't add a sixth cog, and the Abarth's lower 3.35:1 axle ratio (compared with 3.73:1 in the 500) perplexes us, too. Seat time will prove how it all gels.

The Abarth adds 170 pounds of curb weight versus the 500, but it gets some dynamic upgrades: larger front disc brakes, stiffer springs, new front shocks and a rear stabilizer bar. Total ride height drops 0.6 inches, but both models have the same 4.1 inches' minimum ground clearance. The standard electronic stability system has a partial-off mode that allows some wheel slip; you can also deactivate it.

Inside, the Abarth adds a flat-bottom steering wheel and leather-wrapped instrument hood. The instruments get a turbo boost gauge, too. Other changes include aluminum pedals and a leather-wrapped shift knob. New one-piece front sport seats have racing harness openings; we hope they're more comfortable than the 500's seats, which are anything but.

Pricing has yet to be announced, but Fiat promises the Abarth will be "attainable." The quasi-convertible 500C adds $4,000, however, making us wonder exactly where the Abarth will fall.

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Packard 2011 FIAT 500 FIAT 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show Auto Show L.A. L.A. Auto Show

Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price.  Email Kelsey