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In the fast lane

The day is sweltering hot. I’m feeling washed out and could really benefit from some caffeine. I’m tired, until a very wicked version of the cute little Fiat 500 drives into my line of sight banishing any sign of fatigue.

STYLE FILE

This isn’t just any 500. It’s the Scorpion-badged Abarth 500 and the first clue of this car’s sporting intent comes from the 205/40 ZR17 Pirelli PZero Neros, tyres that you see on the Lamborghini Diablo, Ferrari F40, Ferrari 599GTB and the Porsche 911. The next clue comes from the bulging chin. It’s bulging because behind it is the air-to-air intercooler, which feeds the turbocharger with cool air.

It’s easy to spend a whole day gaping at 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.

UNDER THE HOOD

The absence of the Fiat badge is a sign 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 1,035kg. 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.

INSIDE STORY

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.

DRIVER’S DEAL

The turbo wakes up at 3000rpm. It’s where you feel that push in the small of your back. 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 (a system that tries to balance wheel speed motion between the left and right tyres). 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. Also, 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 the feel.

FINAL VERDICT

The price. At Rs 16.8 lakh (estimated), it’ll be more expensive than the Fiat 500 Multi-Jet — worth it really, considering just how much fun the Abarth is. Fiat should bring this car to India mainly because it has already sold every one of the 45 ‘regular’ 500s it brought into the country. And if they want to up their game even further, they can bring in the wilder 160bhp 500 Abarth Esseesse.

All about Abarth

Abarth is to Fiat what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz and M is to BMW. Founded by Austrian Karl Abarth (who became known as Carlo after he moved to Turin, Italy) in 1949, the company specialised in tuning Fiats, particularly the rear-engined 600s.

These cars began winning races, so much so that Fiat would pay Abarth every time one of its cars came first or second. Abarth’s successes led him to develop prototype racing cars of his own. In 1971, Fiat bought over Abarth, using the name for various high performance models over the years, the latest being the Punto Abarth and the 500 Abarth.

spec check

Fiat 500 Abarth

Price (est): Rs 16.8 lakh
Length: 3657mm
Width: 1627mm
Height: 1485mm
Wheelbase: 2300mm
Kerb weight: 1035kg
Engine: 4-cyls in-line, 1468cc, turbo-petrol
Power: 136bhp at 5500rpm
Torque: 21.01kgm at 3000rpm (depending on fuel quality)
Gearbox: 5-speed manual

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