We start our ‘home improvement’ project by upgrading to stiffer shocks; and boy does it make a difference.
The steering is oddly placed, the cabin is cramped, I don’t like the red highlights around the fog lamps, there are no parking sensors, there’s loads of turbo lag below 2,000rpm and when the power finally comes in, the engine consumes so much fuel, the numbers on the instant consumption meter are sometimes more frightening than the acceleration.
You could be forgiven for thinking I don’t like this car. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. I absolutely love it, warts and all. And the main reason for that is the old-school 1.4 turbo motor under the hood. For starters, this is the closest we have ever come to an affordable hot hatch; a genuine hot hatch, with enough power and performance to blow cars twice its price off the road. And what’s even more impressive is that it doesn’t feel all that nervous. Now 147hp can make tiny hatchbacks feel fleety and skittish. But no, this is a Fiat – it tips the scales at 1,198kg and that helps.
Yes, it does struggle to put all that torque down and the soft, almost standard suspension really doesn’t help. But what we’ve done recently is upgrade the dampers to stiffer Bilstein B6’s from Pete’s Performance Products, and that has made a world of a difference. The ride now is anything but comfortable. The suspension gets jiggly over even the smallest undulations in the road, and at low speeds, sharp ridges go ‘crack’ as the wheels slam over them. However, get to a corner, turn in and there is a noticeable difference. The Abarth now doesn’t roll nearly as much, the deliciously weighty hydraulic steering feels even more welded to the front wheels, and then when you exit a corner, you can put a bit more power to the road too.
There is still a bit too much understeer built into the Abarth, and as you get to the limits of performance, the nose does start to push, but drive through that, keep going past it, and the car does end up feeling nice and neutral in corners. And that really is when the fun begins.
Early morning excursions, as a result, are something to look forward to. Five o’clock departures, with the turbo motor drawing in the dense and cold ‘winter’ air, are an absolute blast and powering up the mountain roads above Lonavala, where we often shoot, is an absolute joy.
So, now, I put my foot down at every late night opportunity, the engine pulling hard from 2,000 to 6,000rpm, and I find myself making more early morning trips just so I can enjoy the tightened-up handling.
Next stop, more power from the engine. Things are going to get hotter.