Fiat’s reentry into the American automotive market continues apace. Even though Alfa is delayed (again) Fiat’s diminutive 500 is already here, in both coupe and convertible form. And even better news for the performance minded among us gearheads is that the Abarth addition of the toaster-sized 500 will be rolling out in the City of The Angels.
Fiat, trying to be everso hip, made the announcement via twitter that its U.S. spec 500 Abarth performance model will take a bow before the klieg lights at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show this coming November.
Sure, we knew the Abarth variant was coming anyway, but confirmation like this is still nice to have. The 500 is aimed squarely at BMW’s Mini line of sub-compacts (and, by extension, the upcoming Scion iQ), so, if Mini gets the John Cooper Works performance package, then Fiat better have something to answer with in that department as well.
Enter the Abarth package. Of course Fiat would go with the venerable and respected Turin tuning firm of Abarth in much the same way that Mini going with John Cooper’s outfit made sense. Both firms, back in the 60s, took unassuming commuter cars and turned them into full-blown track terrors. Abarth, with the original 500 and Cooper with the original Mini. Abarth took the first 500 and doubled the horsepower output (which is sort of damning with faint praise, since the original 500’s plant put out something frighteningly low like 32 ponies) and made it into a terror in its class. And Cooper turned the original Mini into one of the most successful and well remembered rally cars of all time.
Fast forward 45 or 50 years, and here we go again.
Although we here in the good ol’ U. S. of A. won’t get a lot of the real cool goodies, like the sequential semi-auto gearbox (sniff-sniff), we will get the more powerful 1.4-liter turbo with Multiair technology that cranks out around 175 horsepower. Which is not bad for a car as small and light as the 500.
Yes, yes I know that’s not as much as the JCW package on the Mini puts to the tarmac, but then again, the 500 weighs a lot less – as in the order of hundreds of pounds. And why is it, by the way, that Germans still can’t figure out how to make something lightweight? Seriously, they’ve been doing this ‘more is more’ stuff since the 30s, near as I can tell.
No doubt the Abarth 500 will get some snazzy graphics to set it apart from its lesser brethren, but most likely they won’t be as over the top as what you see here. I believe these shots are from a Continental Tire event from a while back, and Conti did the graphics treatment.
And even though all this is good news (funner small hot rods to blast around urban environments in), it is still news that is, by and large, happening before the event, so to speak. Look, let me just put it this way: I would be all over the new 500 and especially the 500 Abarth except for two things (one minor and one major), no semi-auto box and reliability.
The 500 is an unknown quantity on these shores. Sure, the little guys have been running rampant all over Europe for three or four years now, but that’s cold comfort to me. Look at Citroens as an example. Huge seller in France, seemingly indestructible on punishing rally stages … but you get them over here, and they last about as long as a tissue in a flu ward. And Fiat, less face facts, doesn’t have the most stellar of reputations when it comes to reliability. So whoever jumps in first is going to be a fairly brave soul in some ways (or someone who’s rich and just wants to get “that cute little car” for his second trophy wife).
Fiat both knows that sad fact, and they also know something else: They have to make it in America this time round. Why? Because they own Chrysler now, and they are in the U.S. to stay AND they’re going to be bringing in a bunch of Fiat brands to our shores under the Chrysler banner (e.g. Lancias).
So, not only do we have some interesting cars from Fiat heading out way, we also seem to have the full might and backing of one of the worlds largest carmakers putting their full weight behind it. Now if they’d just put that semi-auto box in the little guy …