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2012 Fiat 500 Abarth (photos)

Fiat strapped a turbocharger to the 500's engine and tuned the suspension, turning the stylish little Italian city car into a loud little beast.

Wayne_Cunningham.jpg
Wayne_Cunningham.jpg

Wayne Cunningham

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1 of 24 Josh Miller/CNET
Abarth is the tuning division of Fiat, with its own unique badge. The name comes from Karl Abarth, who began tuning Fiats in 1952. He chose the scorpion for the badge based on his astrological sign, Scorpio.
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Fiat began selling its small 500 model in the U.S. last year. It has previously been very successful in Europe. The Abarth version includes a turbocharger, lower gear ratios, and a sport-tuned suspension.
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Cosmetically, the Abarth is not very different from the standard 500. It has the Abarth badges and different paint options, but the same roofline. The modern 500 is a good retro take on the historic 500, although the new car is much larger than the old one.
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The engine is a 1.4-liter using hydraulically actuated intake valves, similar to the standard 500. For the Abarth version, it gets a turbocharger, which brings the horsepower up from 101 to 160.
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The roofline of the 500 is a little high, giving the Abarth version a slightly top-heavy feeling.
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These wheels are optional 17s. The tires did not feel particularly grippy at higher cornering speeds because of a smallish contact patch.
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Fiat did an excellent job with the suspension tuning, limiting body roll substantially during cornering. The Abarth version includes a rear stabilizer bar, not found on the standard 500.
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These dual exhaust pipes emit a loud growl, and can be made to backfire for a little extra drama.
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The cargo area is the same as in the standard 500, not huge but suitable for a few bags of groceries.
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The interior of the Abarth version is equivalent to the top trim from the standard 500, with a few extra sport touches. The TomTom navigation system is a factory option.
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These sport seats are very comfortable, although the seating position is more upright than would be expected in a sports car.
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Rear-seating room is minimal; the headrests don't rise up enough for tall passengers.
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The electric power steering is very responsive, but as with most of these types of systems, does not provide much in the way of road feedback.
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Fiat's Blue&Me system gives the car a voice command system, but it is only really useful for the Bluetooth phone connectivity.
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The speedometer is cleverly designed, featuring both speed and tach needles.
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The five-speed manual uses lower gear ratios than the standard 500, but the throws are a little long for really quick shifting.
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The Blue&Me message comes up on the radio display when you push the voice command button. During voice command operations, this display does not show much useful information.
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When an iPod or USB drive is plugged into the USB port, the radio display shows track information.
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Despite the navigation option being a TomTom Go device, it is very worthwhile at $400 because of the excellent route guidance and the integration with the phone and stereo systems.
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Fiat includes this Car Menu on the TomTom's standard interface, which leads to the phone and stereo integration.
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The phone interface on the TomTom shows a paired phone's contact list. Most drivers will probably want to rely on voice commands for phone operations.
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The music interface is very useful, as it lets you access the music library of a drive plugged into the car's USB port. It is a much better interface than that afforded by the car.
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The TomTom mount easily slides into a port in the car's dashboard.
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The Abarth comes standard with a seven-speaker Bose audio system, producing nicely balanced sound.

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