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Sponsored feature: The Legend of Abarth

23rd May 2017 4:00 pm

Under the sign of the Scorpio, Abarth has been engineering smiles on drivers’ faces for nearly seven decades. Here’s a closer look at the Abarth story.

The Magic Of Abarth

Hot hatch. Every petrolhead wants one. A practical hatch that you can drive to office with a stonker of a motor in the engine bay. A family car that can lay down smoking strips of rubber when you want it to. In a country obsessed with fuel economy, there didn’t seem much space for a hot hatch until Fiat came out with the 101hp Palio 1.6, but that is now history. Over the years, there were attempts by other manufacturers to fill this space but a true hot hatch continued to elude the Indian enthusiast – until Fiat entered the game again. And this time there was a sting in its tail. It was the Abarth.

For those who know, Abarth is to Fiat what AMG is to Mercedes and M is to BMW. Abarth, founded by Carlos Abarth in 1949, had a rich heritage of racing and performance upgrades. The company was bought over by Fiat in 1971. Since then the Abarth badge has got every driver’s pulse racing.
While the Fiat Abarth Punto gave Indian drivers an affordable hot hatch, Fiat didn’t stop at just the Abarth-spec Punto for India. The Urban Cross, too, got an Abarth makeover. Plus, Fiat got in the Abarth 595 Competizione. Here, we recount the magic of Abarth through the pages of Autocar.

7 Facts About Abarth To Blow You Away.

1  Over 10,000 individual race victories, 10 world records and 133 international titles are part of the racing heritage behind the Abarth marque.

2 The company was founded by Carlo Abarth and Armando Scagliarini in Bologna. The company’s main activity was producing aftermarket accessories and performance parts for production cars. Abarth produced high-performance exhaust pipes, diversifying into tuning kits for road vehicles, mainly for Fiat.

3  A racing exhaust was produced for the 1950’s Lambretta models D and LD.Original Abarth LD exhausts are now valuable collectors’ items.

4 The company’s famous scorpion badge came from Carlo Abarth’s astrological sign, Scorpio.

5 Abarth entered everyday language in its native Italy to mean power. Customers in cafes and restaurants would not ask for a strong coffee, or a coffee with a shot of alcohol, but instead ask for an “Abarth coffee”.

6 When Fiat released the new 500 Cinquecento in 1958 to meet the post-war market demand for inexpensive and practical motoring, Carlo Abarth saw other uses for the Fiat 500. Abarth took a standard Fiat 500 and gave it the full Abarth treatment. This included raising the compression ratios on the small 479cc engine, fitting a Weber 26 IMB carburettor, optimising the fuel and intake systems and adding a full Abarth sports exhaust system. The combined result dramatically improved the handling and doubled the horsepower from 13 to 26. The car’s exterior remained largely unchanged, apart from having wider wheels and tyres and some discrete Abarth branding.

7 Yes, the Abarth badge can be found on motorcycles too. The 2017 Yamaha XSR900 Abarth is a limited-edition high-performance retro bike. The Abarth-spec Yamaha gets a carbon-fibre nose cowl, and a rear seat cowling, handlebars that are low-slung ‘clip-on style’, traction control, a slipper clutch, and an Akrapovic titanium exhaust. It’s a rare Abarth, since only 695 motorcycles were built. But this is not the first time Yamaha has collaborated with Abarth. In 2008, they created the Yamaha FZ1 Abarth Assetto Corse Concept bike to mark the 100th birthday of the Italian firm’s founder Carlo Abarth.

First Drive:

Excerpts from ‘Scorpion king’, published in Autocar India Magazine, September 2015.

  • Look at the engine specs and you can understand the cause for celebration. When we first broke the news of the Punto getting the Linea 1.4 T-Jet’s 115hp engine, it created some excitement. Then we found out that Fiat was bringing the Punto into the Abarth fold and so, to make it befitting of the Scorpion badge, there was talk of power rising to a soul-stirring 137hp. But the story didn’t end there. When the final specs were released, power was up to an unbelievable 145hp. It was like getting the Diwali bonus you didn’t expect.
  • Fiat wanted to give its die hard fans a genuine successor to the Palio 1.6, the best hot hatch of the day. So, the engineers pushed for as much power as possible and somehow managed to achieve a higher output on the dyno than expected.
  • Just standing in the BIC pitlane, you know it’s got all the ingredients to make traditional driving enthusiasts rejoice. The strong engine apart, you have a conventional five-speed manual and an old-school hydraulically-assisted steering. There are disc brakes at the rear for improved stopping power, which underpin an extremely stiff (but heavy) chassis, which is at the core of the Punto’s brilliant ride and handling. And let’s not forget those Italian looks.
  • In Abarth trim, it’s even more evocative, with lots of chrome bits on the grille, fog and rear light housings, door handles and exhaust tip. The alloy wheels, shod with lower profile 195/55 R16 tyres, look simply stunning,
  • Spend a few minutes with Abarth Punto and you’ll find that it has more scorpions than Saharan Africa.
  • The instant you engage the clutch, you experience a different level of performance. Let’s talk numbers first. With the front wheels scrabbling to put all the power and torque down, the Abarth rockets to 100kph in 9.54sec, making it the first mainstream hatchback car to crack the 10-sec barrier. With the turbo spinning strongly, there’s no let up in power, especially in the short, lower gears. The 6,500rpm rev limit comes up in no time and each upshift puts you smack in the meat of the powerband. Because you don’t need to rev the guts out of this engine, the Abarth, riding on a massive wave of torque, feels deceptively quick.
  • Below 1,800rpm, there’s a bit of turbo lag, but it’s far from sluggish. Even off-boost, the bigger capacity engine will demolish other hatchbacks and you’ll rarely find yourself starved for more power. It’s the amazing real-world performance and ease with which the Abarth Punto gathers speed that sets it a world apart from the naturally aspirated 1.2-litre hatch pack. Put your foot down and there’s a strong surge in any gear.
  • The Abarth’s suspension setup is stiffer than the standard Punto’s to better cope with the increase in power, and this is quite obvious in the way it rides. The reworked spring and damper ratings give it a firm edge over uneven surfaces, but it doesn’t feel harsh in the least. So good is the original Punto’s long-travel suspension that even the sportier Abarth, with its low-profile tyres, copes well over sharp edges and potholes.
  • The best bit about the Punto remains the steering. It’s accurate, full of feel and delightfully quick off the straight-ahead position. Despite its high kerb weight, the Abarth Punto changes direction with far more eagerness than lighter hatchbacks, and with strong turbo power to back it, it would be an absolute blast on a mountain road.
  • With so much torque, it’s easy to break traction when you mash the throttle wide open in a lower gear.
  • The tyres do struggle for grip, so it’s best to back off mid-corner to quell the understeer. The brakes are absolutely brilliant, which gives you a lot of confidence when driving hard.
  • Smiles per hour or bang for your buck, whichever way you look at it, Fiat fans and enthusiasts haven’t got it better.

FIRST VERDICT

Has all the ingredients of a true hot hatch and is incredibly fun to drive.

Comparison:

Excerpts from ‘CHEAP THRILLS’, published in Autocar India Magazine, May 2017.

The Whole Abarth Experience

  • The Abarth goes a little further. It gets red and yellow contrast stitching on the seats and gear lever, all the Fiat badges are replaced by Abarth ones and the cabin is all black.
  • The Abarth is like the hot bowl – covered, so densely in sporty bits that you could spot it coming from
  • a mile away.
  • With its racy colour scheme and flamboyantly designed dashboard, the Punto sucks you into the whole ‘Abarth’ experience; the seats too are nice and snug.
  • Which brings us to the Punto, which threw out the rule book, set it on fire and then drove over it three or four times to make sure it was dead. 145hp and 212Nm were just unheard of in a car of this price until the Abarth came along and, still, no other hatchback, until the Rs 25 lakh mark, even comes close. Sure, it feels the tallest from the driver’s seat, thanks to that high perch, but really it’s been lowered by 10mm from the standard Punto Evo, making it the lowest to the ground of these three. And, old it may be, but the Fiat does have an inherently solid chassis setup, and even an old-school hydraulically-assisted power steering, which has a lot of promise around the bends.

Looks the Business

  • The Abarth Punto is in no way practical. But, as a mechanical package, it’s just spot on. The motor puts a grin on your face and holds it there until you turn the car off, the steering just sucks you into the driving experience and the chassis manages to be both taut around corners and comfy over bumps. Plus, it really looks the business.
  • If you plan to launch the Abarth as fast as it can go, forget effort, you need to have all your faculties about you. All that torque going through the front wheels and the not-very-grippy Bridgestone tyres make for quite a challenge. You will be fighting wheelspin and torque steer in first, second and third gears; so you have to be very careful not to overcook it. Impressively, the higher 1.4-litre displacement means there’s enough grunt off-boost, so you don’t feel as much of a ‘snap’ when the turbo kicks in. Still, there’s just so much torque that you can hardly call it manageable.
  • This car is a thrill-a-second hatchback – a bit of a handful, but so much fun in the process.
  • …the Abarth is a proper hot hatch, and that’s why it’s our pick.

VERDICT
Not the most modern, sensible or practical, but easily the most thrilling to drive here.

First Drive:

Excerpts from ‘Small sting’, published in Autocar India Magazine, November 2014.

  • Like the Fiat 500, the Abarth is also blessed with a friendly and fresh look, but the bit of tough-guy swagger that has been injected into it makes it immediately endearing. The Competizione looks more confident too, as it sits lower and has large 17-inch rims with 205/40 Pirelli Zero to anchor it further. The coarse graphite-like finish for the plastic parts, such as the door handles, wing mirrors and grille shimmers in the sunlight, giving it a more exotic, work-in-progress race-car-like feel too. The chin juts out a bit obstinately and has a large mesh air dam cloaking the intercooler underneath.
  • You might think of the 595 as a precocious child of the car world, talking tough to the sportscars. But there is some substance behind the show – the Competizione packs a 1,368cc T-Jet motor, with a meaty 160hp on tap. This, in a 1,155kg car, means a power-to-weight ratio of 138.68hp. To put that in perspective, it is not too far off from the Mini Cooper S’ 147.98hp per tonne.
  • From behind the wheel, there’s no dismissing the Abarth’s dynamic ability. The 595 has tremendous grip and excellent body control, which makes it incredibly chuckable. Fiat’s Torque Transfer Control, activated by a switch on the dashboard, transfers torque from a spinning wheel by braking it. It also makes the traction control a bit more lenient, allowing for more wheel spin.

FIAT ABARTH URBAN CROSS
Engine size 1368cc
Power 142hp at 5500rpm
Torque 210Nm at 2000-4000rpm
Gearbox 5-speed manual
0-100kph 9.82sec
Front suspension Independent, McPherson strut, coil springs
Rear suspension Non-independent, torsion beam
Steering assist Hydraulic
Tyres 205/55 R16
Length 3989mm
Width 1706mm
Height 1542mm
Wheelbase 2510mm
Price* Rs 9.90 lakh

FIAT ABARTH PUNTO
Engine size 1368cc
Power 147hp at 5500rpm
Torque 212Nm at 2000-4000rpm
Gearbox 5-speed manual
0-100kph 9.54sec
Front suspension Independent, McPherson strut, coil springs
Rear suspension Non-independent, torsion beam
Steering assist Hydraulic
Tyres 195/55 R16
Length 3989mm
Width 1687mm
Height 1505mm
Wheelbase 2510mm
Price* Rs 9.90 lakh

FIAT ABARTH 595 COMPETIZIONE
Engine size 1368cc
Power 160hp at 5500rpm
Torque 210Nm at 3000rpm
Gearbox 5-speed AMT
0-100kph 10.58sec
Front suspension Independent, McPherson strut, coil springs
Rear suspension Non-independent twist beam with coil springs
Steering assist Electric
Tyres 205/40 R17
Length 3657mm
Width 1627mm
Height 1485mm
Wheelbase 2300mm
Price* Rs 29.85 lakh
 

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