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Fiat chief says new 500 Abarth is "a car that arouses without need for prescription"

November 16, 2011|By Susan Carpenter
  • Oliver Francois, CEO Fiat Brand and chief marketing officer of Chrysler and Fiat Group, introduces the Fiat 500 Abarth at its North American Debut at the L.A. Auto Show.
Oliver Francois, CEO Fiat Brand and chief marketing officer of Chrysler… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

When Fiat brought its 500 back to the U.S. market last year, Americans greeted the Italian subcompact with an enthusiastic "Ciao Bello." Now, one year after Fiat unveiled its modernized 500 at the L.A. Auto Show, it's revealed a new, souped-up version, the Fiat 500 Abarth.

"This is a car that arouses without a need for prescription," said Fiat chief Olivier Francois, who introduced the car posing a series of rhetorical questions. "What happened to fun? What happened to romance? Is the thrill gone?"

Not as far as the Fiat Abarth is concerned. It's powered with a new turbocharged, 1.4-liter Multiair engine that boosts the stock Fiat 500 from 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque to a whipsmart 160 and 170, respectively.

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"When you put a turbocharged engine in a car, by virtue of doing that, you drive a lot of change into the product both from an aesthetic standpoint as well as a functional one," said Joseph Grace, vehicle line executive for Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology Division, which collaborated with the Abarth team at Fiat.

Aesthetically, the Fiat 500 Abarth has been aerodynamically fine-tuned with a more pronounced front fascia that's also been pushed forward in a styling nod to vintage Abarth models, such as the 850 TC. The rear end also gets a large liftgate-mounted spoiler.

The cockpit is designed for the track-oriented with a turbo boost gauge and shift light that illuminates  when it's the best time to shift.

So many performance enhancements have been made to the Fiat 500 in its Abarth transformation that it's almost an entirely different car. The front and rear suspension have been track-tuned, the torque is managed with an Abarth-tuned torque transfer control system, and the front shocks have been upgraded with frequency selective damping. The steering is more precise and the exhaust has been upgraded. The chassis is lower and the wheels are larger than the stock Fiat 500.

Still, Fiat says, the 500 Abarth isn't so extreme that it can't be employed as a daily driver. Mio dio.

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