2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

From Car and Driver

Passione at Play

Our driving consisted of motoring from Las Vegas to the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch near Pahrump, Nevada, by the California border.

The public-road elements gave us an appreciation for the Abarth’s increased power—fifth-gear acceleration, something that’s pretty much absent in the basic Cinquecento, is actually extant, for example.

Beyond that, our trip notes remark on a fair amount of wind noise and occasional episodes of pavement noise transmitted by the suspension. We renewed our kvetching about the steering column, which doesn’t offer enough downward rake adjustment and no adjustment for reach whatsoever. It’s a problem in the standard 500 and makes it all but impossible for some drivers to achieve an optimal relationship with the controls.

The track notes, however, were much less neutral. Despite a pronounced forward weight bias—64/36 front to rear, according to Fiat—the Abarth attacks corners like a terrier working a roomful of rats, and cornering can be managed with the throttle. A little feathering puts the front wheels precisely on the apex, and with the traction control completely shut down (there are three levels of intervention), it’s not difficult to induce some easily managed oversteer.

The rack-and-pinion power steering is not only quick but also gratifyingly tactile for an electric unit, and the braking is potent and very tolerant of hard use. We could wish for a little less body roll, but this probably represents a trade-off for smooth ride quality. And in vigorous use, the shift throws feel a bit long.

All of this is enhanced by a resonant tenor exhaust note that adds just the right element of audible menace to the Abarth’s more-aggressive looks.

Elements of Style

Besides wheels and optional trim items, the Abarth is distinguished from the other 500s by a revised fascia that includes twin inlets for the intercoolers, a bigger rear wing extending over the hatch, and of course its lower stance. The optional stripe and mirror-color package that adorned all our test cars is something your humble narrator would omit if he were ordering this car. That goes for the white 17-inch wheels, too; the darker magnesium hue looks more sophisticated. Interior elements include sportier seats; a three-spoke, leather-wrapped, multifunction steering wheel (very satisfying to the driver’s hands); a docking port atop the dashboard for a Tom Tom navigation unit ($400, includes Bluetooth integration); and the big scorpion logo made famous by the late Karl Abarth.

The options list is short. Beyond those already specified, it includes attractively stitched leather upholstery ($1000), a sunroof ($850), a Style and Convenience package (auto climate control, satellite radio, anti-theft alarm, $600), an engine-block heater ($50), and a smoker’s group package ($30).

That’s it. At $22,700, the 500 Abarth is $4500 more than a 500 Sport, but it undercuts the Mini Cooper S hardtop by about a grand and the admittedly more practical VW GTI three-door by almost two. It amplifies the Italianate style of the standard 500 with a hint of street-fighter persona, a persona vindicated by lively performance.

Look for the 500 Abarth to begin rolling into Fiat’s U.S. showrooms by mid-March.

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