2009 Fiat 500 Abarth Review
The famous Abarth badge is back and heading Down Under... and we've driven it!
2009 Fiat 500 Abarth
Abarth is to Fiat what Cooper is to Mini, and this tuned version of the little 500 hits all the right notes.
Its cheeky, retro design has been enhanced by the styling changes wrought on it: the nose is slightly longer and deeper to accommodate the turbo and air intakes, there are side skirts, spoiler, venturi, hot air vents and twin exhausts at the rear. Setting the whole car off are chunky 16-inch alloys with wheel arch filling 195/45 R16 rubber wear.
Inside, the sporting theme continues with one-piece leather-clad seats, complete with slots for racing harnesses, whilst a thick-rimmed flat bottomed steering wheel hammers home the car’s competition heritage.
Just to remind you of the car’s heritage – 10,000 competition victories and 10 world records – there’s a veritable swarm of Scorpion logos in the cabin and on the coachwork.
You can opt for a Sport setting that sharpens both the electric power steering and throttle response. Having tried the car for a few kilometres in standard mode I left it in Sport with its meatier steering and snappier throttle.
The ride is firm without being uncomfortable but as the pace quickens the car settles down, the stiffer suspension coping well with gnarled roads and the presence of a rear anti-roll bar, a la Ford Ka, means there’s a lack of body roll that’s so evident in the standard 500.
The blown 1368cc four delivers its peak torque of 206Nm at 3000rpm and 100kW at 5500, accompanied by a sporty roar from the twin exhausts that will keep you grinning all day long. A sub eight second zero to 100km/h and 206km/h top speed are on par for this sector, but because of its compact nature it can feel quicker at times.
Fiat laid on Gurston Down’s 967 metre hillclimb for us to put the car through its paces. Launching the car off the line with 3000 revs on the clock elicited some wheel spin in the damp conditions, but I was soon in third gear and braking for the tight right-hand uphill second gear Karousel where the Torque Transfer Control – think of it as a virtual limited slip diff programme in the car’s electronic management system – contained both wheelspin and understeer, but not my grin.
The 60km drive to Gurston through twisting country lanes peppered with snow and ice had already convinced me that Abarth has delivered one of the best hot hatches on the market. The rapid response to steering inputs combined with eager acceleration through and out of corners brought to mind the Mini Cooper – the original one I hasten to add and not today’s bloated pastiche.
For those who want a bit more poke you can opt for the Esseesse conversion that ups power to 119kW and 230Nm, you also get 17 rather than 16-inch rims and vented not solid discs at the rear. It all comes in a numbered wooden chest that Fiat suggests could double as a coffee table – if the other half allows it that is. There’s a marginal 5km/h gain in top speed and half a second knocked off the time to 100km/h, but it hardly seems worth the expense.
With only 5000 being a built a year, I’d get down to my local travel agent, book a flight to Turin and ship one back home. It’s that good.
2009 Fiat 500 Abarth
Body: two-door hatch
Drivetrain: front eng, FWD
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged
Power/Torque: 99kW @ 5500rpm/206Nm @ 3000rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
Performance: 0-100kmh – 7.5sec.
On sale in Australia: Mid-2009
Price: $35,000 (est.)
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