Abarth heat transforms Fiat 500 into hot hatchback
LAS VEGAS, Nevada — North America has certainly embraced the newborn Fiat 500. But Fiat aficionados and track-loving people of all stripes have been impatiently waiting for the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, the member of the 500 pack that stays up too late smoking cigarettes, always argues in a loud voice, and likes nothing better than kicking butt on a race track.
As luck would have it, the press launch for the little Italian pocket rocket here in Las Vegas included significant track time at Nevada’s Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch. We did not waste the opportunity. We left with helmet hair and a great appreciation for how Fiat was able to deliver both a value-conscious track car and a hot-hatch street car.
The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is the first North American Chrysler/Fiat to utilize the company’s turbocharged version of the 1.4L MultiAir inline four, good for 160 horses and 170 “torques.” With Abarth’s legacy of building performance exhaust systems, you knew they had to nail the dual pipes on this first, new-age Fiat Abarth.
On the track, this translates to a high-pitched growl rather than a high-pitched whine, and the ability to access torque at non-frenzy levels of engine revs.
So that’s a big plus, and so is its neutral handling. Get off the throttle and the Abarth makes a nice transition from understeer, to allow you to confidently whip the little Italian through a corner.
This is a small car that is great fun, and not intimidating at all, to hustle on a racetrack. And to prove the point, I only need say that journalists almost had to be forcibly removed from the cars at the end of the track sessions.
Fiat 500 Abarth fills a unique niche — track day-ready car for $23,995. Its nearest competitor appears to be the Mini Cooper S at $28,950.
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