First Drive

Fiat 500 Abarth review, test drive

A quick blast around Ranjangaon shows us exactly why Fiat should bring the brilliant Abarth 500 to India.

DETAILS
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It’s 9 o’clock in the morning and it’s already collar-wetting hot. My day started about four hours ago, so I’m feeling a bit washed out and in real need of a strong cuppa.

That’s till this little bit of wickedness blares up to the forecourt. Coffee forgotten, grogginess washed away, heat ignored, smile enhanced. 

The Abarth 500 glints under a glaring Indian sun. The first clue of this car’s sporting intent comes from the 205/40 ZR17 Pirelli PZero Neros. The Lamborghini Diablo and the Ferrari F40 used PZeros. The Ferrari 599GTB and the Porsche 911 use PZero rubber.

The next clue comes from the bulging chin. It’s bulging because behind it is the air-to-air intercooler. It feeds the turbocharger with cool air.

You can do this all day with the Abarth 500. It looks so delicious, you want to walk around it, picking out that diffuser at the rear, the twin tailpipes, that deep-set chin and those Abarth ‘Scorpion’ badges plastered around the car. What you won’t find is a Fiat badge.

It’s a sign. A sign to tell you that this isn’t a regular Fiat. It’s a 500 with a 1.4-litre, 16-valve, 136bhp turbo-petrol. It’s a 500 that weighs 1,035 kilos. It’s a 500 that almost matches the power to weight ratio of a BMW 325i. There’s a Sport mode which lifts the maximum torque peak from 19kgm to 21kgm and makes power delivery a little more peaky too. Let’s do some driving.

Founder Carlo Abarth was a bit of a nut. He’d stuff big motors into small cars. Whether they fit or not was another matter, but some ran with their engine lids propped open to keep them cool. So, to say I have expectations of this new Abarth 500 is understating things a bit.

I’m too excited to dwell on the red-on-black stitching on the seats, too excited to feel the fantastic cabin quality and too absorbed in twisting the key to glance at the boost gauge and the shift light. The sound from the twin pipes is a bit disappointing to be honest. It’s not as  deep or as loud as the car’s looks suggest. Anyway, Sport mode engaged, clutch in, first gear and off.

3000rpm is where it’s at. It’s where the turbo wakes up. It’s where you feel that push in the small of your back. It’s where you start smiling. Shift light, clutch in, grab second. More of the same. Shift light, clutch in, shift to third. I’m already at 120kph when the first bend appears. Back off a bit, take the turn and realise how quickly we went around that corner. It’s deceptive, this car. The tremendous grip from those wide tyres, the absolute lack of body roll and its big-car feel lull you into thinking you aren’t doing anything heroic, when you actually are.

Should you get carried away by the car’s seemingly endless grip, the Abarth has disc brakes all around and a very clever Torque Transfer Control system (TTC). It works like an electronic limited slip differential. The TTC system allocates power to the front wheel with more grip, and brakes the other one to kill wheelspin, without interrupting the engine’s power delivery. This last bit is important. It means that you won’t feel the system interfering when you’re having fun. It means you can throw the car at bends with relative abandon, knowing the electronics will sort things out. Within reason, of course.

Grouses? The steering wheel. It’s too big and it’s too artificial. The Sport mode adds weight to the wheel, but it still misses out on feel.

Fiat should bring this car to India. 

Fact File

Engine

Type 4-cyls in-line, 1468cc, turbo-petrol
Power 136bhp at 5500rpm
Torque 21.01kgm at 3000rpm*

Transmission

Gearbox 5-speed manual

Dimensions

Length 3657mm
Width 1627mm
Height 1485mm
Wheel base 2300mm

Chassis & Body

Weight 1035kg
See more about:  fiat, 500, abarth
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Autocar Magazine

Issue: 201 | Autocar India: May 2016

Toyota’s super popular Fortuner is due for replacement later this year, and we’ve got an exclusive first drive of the next-gen SUV. This and a whole lot more in the May 2016 issue.
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