Certain names can resonate with consumers. Fiat tried it with J. Lo, with some success, but they scored with Gucci—the 2012 500 by Gucci model is practically sold out— and I would bet that women had something to do that. The latest Fiat 500 incarnation, the Abarth, carries a name that may strike the same chord among men as Gucci did for women, but some girls will like it too.
Named for the famous racer and car builder Karl Abarth, the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth launched recently in Los Angeles but its coming was heralded on YouTube in November and then in a Super Bowl ad in January. Personified by a beautiful Italian model who entices a nerdy bystander, the 500 Abarth asks, in Italian, “What are you looking at?” According to Tim Kuniskis, head of Fiat brand for North America, that ad was intended for YouTube only until it went viral and became a national ad. The current campaign with Charlie Sheen was also supposed to stay on YouTube but you can guess what happened.
The point of all this reinforces what Abarth, the man, said to describe his own lineup of racing vehicles, “small but wicked.”
Fiat accentuates the features commonly associated with performance vehicles—power, suspension, steering, and brakes—to make this Cinquecento, the most affordable performance car on the market.
For starters, the Fiat Abarth gets its power from an all-new 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine with 160 horses. It’s matched to a five-speed manual transmission; there is no automatic option. The peppy engine can be calibrated for fuel efficiency or power by switching from normal to sport mode on the instrument panel—you can definitely discern a difference.
On the outside, the fascia juts out an extra 2.7 inches for better aerodynamics, optional red pin striping along the side and the unique Abarth shield featuring a scorpion for its namesake who was born under that sun sign, set this car apart from its siblings.
Assisted by technology and design elements, like better engine respiration and aerodynamics, to help improve performance as well as fuel economy, the Fiat Abarth manages an impressive EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.
The suspension includes a 40 percent more torsionally rigid rear axle and 20 percent stiffer rear springs. The Abarth-tuned electric power steering accentuates the steering response and the high-performance brake system helps push the 500 Abarth to accommodate more aggressive driving.
On the test drive in Las Vegas, the 500 Abarth took to curves like a pro and while the ride is a bit bumpy, the responsive steering and braking improved driver confidence, which ultimately means, made it more fun to drive. In comparison drives against the Mini Cooper, the 500 Abarth excelled on the performance side, as well as styling.
Some of the rough edges that were noticeable on the 500 Cabrio I test drove two weeks before this event, seem softened on the Abarth and the pull strap to deploy the front seat for access to the back was a big improvement over the plastic lever in most 500s.
The Abarth comes in four exterior colors: red, gray, black and white. The black and red accented interior includes extra bolstered seats, for added sportiness.
Other creature comforts include an AM/FM Bose stereo with CD player and auxiliary input jacks, air conditioning, a leather wrapped cluster brow with accent stitching, and the Blue&Me hands-free communication system.
There are 35 active safety features including side curtain and knee airbags, electronic stability control, remote keyless entry, and anti-lock brakes.
Pricing for the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth starts at $22,700.