Fiat unveils performance-oriented 500
Abarth model could be the best car at the L.A. Auto Show — period!
Fiat 500 Abarth
Fiat is situated to take a sizable nibble out of the retro compact market with its plucky 500. But while the base model offers buyers plenty of style, excellent maneuverability and impressive fuel economy in an affordable package, the vehicle does little to scratch the performance itch.
While European buyers have long been able to enjoy faster versions of the hatchback, American enthusiasts have been left to pine for unobtainable models from across the sea. Or at least that's the way it used to be. Fiat unveiled the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth here at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show, complete with all of the go-fast hardware that buyers will need in order to pass by the MINI Cooper S.
What is it? A tiny hatchback with more bite than bark.
What's hot? Fiat bills the 2012 500 Abarthas an everyday performance vehicle with the hardware necessary to take on track-day abuse, if necessary. The vehicle is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine with around 160 lb-ft of torque. Fiat says the turbo ups the power ante by 70 percent over the naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine found in the base 500, thanks in part to a dual-intercooler design. The engine is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission with an innovative Torque Transfer Control system that uses an electronically controlled differential to help put the engine's power to the ground in a disciplined manner. Fiat has also lowered the vehicle and bolted on a stiffer suspension all around.
What's not? While the Abarth offers buyers quite a bit more performance than the base model, the sharper 500 may have trouble keeping pace with the Cooper S, with its substantially more potent 1.6-liter 181-horsepower 4-cylinder engine.
How much and when? Pricing and availability have yet to be announced.
MSN Autos' verdict: European critics have long praised the Fiat 500 Abarth for its precise handling, abundance of power and light-weight demeanor. With 160 horsepower in a compact package, the hatchback is bound to be an absolute laugh riot on track and civil enough for day-to-day driving. We can't wait to get behind the wheel.
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trendand European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.