2012 Fiat 500 Abarth: The Edge

Who would have thought the rebirth of Fiat in the U.S. would include a passion for racing?

Born with the Scorpio Zodiac sign as a life avatar, I can truly relate to Karl Abarth, the Austrian tuner and race legend. He too was a Scorpio and rightfully badged his vehicle protégés with the deadly arachnid insignia. Call us what you want — rebels, romantics, or warriors — but don’t forget to first reflect upon Scorpios as figures who innovate, lead, and prophesize. Karl Abarth did this exactly in 1949 when he founded the “Abarth & C” aftermarket and performance exhaust brand.

To say the least, Fiat and Abarth go together like peanut butter and jelly. With over 60 years of performance experience in its history, racing was Abarth’s thing. It’s the reason why the Fiat brand brought Automotive Rhythms to Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch to experience the latest interpretation of the founder’s vision. Who would have thought the rebirth of Fiat in the U.S. would include a passion for racing? In fact, every $22,000 Fiat 500 Abarth purchase comes with a 1-day professional driving experience. Just by its visuals alone you see how giddy the Fiat 500 Sport has become after its Abarth transformation.

So how does the population know about the Fiat 500 as well as we do? Well, for starters Fiat has sold 800,000 units worldwide. Or maybe you happened to see some of the J-Lo spots with the little Fiat 500. Themed similar to choreographed music videos, the fast moving commercials were very popular. Fiat says the Latin pop star, actress and American Idol judge from the “block” raised the brand’s awareness significantly. I can personally attest to that as Grammy nominated neo-soul artist Carolyn Malachi specifically requested the Fiat 500 for her safe driving “Textual” video. But the more interesting statistic is that the vehicle is comprised of 60% male shoppers in the U.S. With that said, Fiat has no specific target for the brand. If someone is interested than that individual is welcome to the family. When the Fiat 500 Gucci was released it sold out in 60 days.

Now back to the Abarth. We were first introduced to the hot tamale of the Fiat brand by way of the company’s impactful Super Bowl commercial, though it’s been roaming around the world since 2007. You remember the Italian model who transforms into a Fiat 500 Abarth in the daydreams of a geeky aristocrat. Interesting enough, the ad was not originally scripted to go on TV. Fiat created it for their booth during the LA Auto Show. Yet it went viral on the Internet so they decided to place it on the biggest advertising stage of them all.

Does the Abarth live up to all of its newfound hype? Did Jeremy Lin drop 42 points on Kobe Bryant and the Lakers? First of all the vehicle looks good. It’s socially customized as if it spent college years at the University of SEMA. Nero, Rosso, Grigio, or Bianco — take your pick of trim levels — they’re all ready to rumble. The front-wheel drive Abarth begins life with the company’s new 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. That’s a whopping 70% increase in torque and 59% power increase! A 5-speed transmission is engaged to the 1.4L and 16” rims or optional 17s get things rolling. In route to the track we were able to enjoy the spacious comfort of the Abarth and the sporty, race-inspired interior, which had many attractive enhancements. For example, I loved the sport indentations on the flat-bottom steering wheel and the red contrast stitching throughout the cabin including the bolsters on the sports seats. The sound of the Abarth specific exhaust is incredible for such a small car and the Bose sound system doesn’t disappoint. But I would like to see an integrated navigation and multi-media center console opposed to the pop in Tom Tom navigation kit. Even the Toyota Prius has a touchscreen and Pandora integration. The Fiat 500 Abarth also doesn’t stop from high speeds in a straight line and showcases noticeable torque steer.

Despite the few quibbles, the Abarth is a blast to drive. We kept our vehicle in sport mode which optimizes the vehicle’s power. I wonder why this isn’t the default setting, but I guess that’s due to the EPA and their ever increasing fuel economy demands. The 130 mph top speed Abarth achieves 34 highway and 28 city mpg. Additional performance cues comes by way of a rear sway bar for more stiffness, 11.1” front rotors with red calipers, and a rear spoiler.

More is to come from the Italian micro brand as they are on pace for forging a team consisting of ten unique models. Their 4-seater Cabrio (under 20,000) represents 20% of sales while an electric version and a longer 500L are on the way.

Live smart, stay young, be you, but certainly live life on the edge.

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