First, the back story. Fiat, the Big One of the Italian auto industry, owns a large portion of Ferrari, all of Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Lancia...plus Abarth. Originally founded in the late 1940s by an Austrian, Karl Abarth, the company specialized for decades in making parts that made Fiats faster. The hoods of rear-engined FIAT 500
racers from the 1960s were always propped open, usually to make room for stuff from Abarth.
Having acquired Abarth, Fiat
has spent the last three years remodelling the brand. It's now established in Europe and beyond as Fiat's specialist partner for tuning kits, ready-to-go race cars, and premium-priced performance models. (Some 22,000 Abarth-branded cars have been sold over that three-year span) The Abarth 500C is the latest addition to the lineup. It gives the full Abarth street-racer treatment to the tiny front-engine cabrio with the roll-back roof.
Sometime after Fiat
re-enters the American market early in 2011 with the Mexican-made FIAT 500
and 500C, the plan is for Abarth to follow with its versions. Timing? Fiat
execs will only say that it will be done by 2013. They're still wrestling with the problem of how to brand the cars, which are shorn of Fiat
badges and wear only Abarth identification in Europe. The favored solution, according to one exec, is to tag Abarth onto the end of Fiat's names. If this is the choice that's made, America's future Fiat 500
C Abarth is sure to be different from today's Abarth 500C.
Executives confirm that the American-spec 500C Abarth will have a MultiAir-equipped 1.4-liter turbo engine. Developed by Fiat
Powertrain Group and eventually to be used on all the company's gasoline engines, MultiAir is a neat electrohydraulic variable valve lift and timing system that boosts both power and fuel efficiency. The European model has a non-MultiAir 1.4-liter turbo engine that delivers 138 hp. The addition of MultiAir tech should bring a gain in the 15- to 25-hp range.
In a car as light as 500C -- curb weight is a little more than a ton -- even 138-hp can be a lot of fun. On an entertainingly tight track inside Fiat's big proving ground outside Turin, the growly little turbo four easily built enough speed between the corners to make each and every one interesting. The engine feels eager to please, especially when 'Sport' mode is selected, sharpening throttle response noticeably, among other things.