The Fiat 500 Abarth, North American version, was unveiled on November 16, 2011, at the Los Angeles Auto Show. With turbocharged engines made in Michigan, the 500 Abarth is made in Mexico by Chrysler at the plant which once made Neons and PT Cruisers, and still makes the Dodge Journey.
Karl Abarth started out as a motorcyle modifier and racer; a bad accident left him with a weak leg and no license. He attained a sidecar license, and developed a method to vary the camber of the sidecar wheel while moving, which helped him win many races. To get attention, he raced against the Orient Express train from Belgium to Paris on a small motorcycle with a sidecar. On the trip to Paris, he suffered electrical problems and arrived several minutes after the train; on the return trip, he beat the train by 20 minutes.Karl’s first money-making products were exhaust systems, used at one point by Porsche. He later developed kits to transform ordinary cars. Karl’s birth sign was Scorpio, the reason for the image of the Scorpion. After World War II, Abarth aligned himself with Fiat because their infrastructure would be restored before Germany could rebuild. He was more interested in racing than making money (the win ratio for his cars was phenomenal), and Fiat eventually bought him out.
— Ray Alexander
The Fiat 500 Abarth sold in North America is different from, and some believe better than, the European version. The US Abarth team, a small group, joined the SRT team at its development test tracks for a year, observing and learning, and at least one of the SRT8 engineers helped with chassis tuning. The U.S. Abarth rotates on trailing throttle. While the Mini Cooper S remains a little faster, the BMW is far more expensive.
Using a red engine cover and front fascia, the turbocharged engine has a stronger five-speed manual transmission, equal-length half-shafts to avoid torque steer, a 3.35 final drive ratio, a 6,500 rpm redline, and a torque transfer control system.
The engine uses a standard cast-iron block, with an aluminum bedplate. Bore is 72 mm (2.83 inches) and stroke is 84 mm (3.31 inches) for a total displacement of 1368 cu. cm (83.5 cubic inches), smaller than any engine built by Chrysler in North America. The bottom end is toughened with a forged steel crankshaft, and select-fit main bearings supported across four main journals. The crankshaft has lightened counterweights to reduce overall mass for high engine rpm operation. Forged steel connecting rods have unique cross sections to reduce bending.
Full-floating piston pins add strength to the lightweight pistons, while cooling jets at the bottom of each cylinder squirt oil on the bottom of the pistons, cutting cylinder temperatures and reducing the possibility of hot spots along the cylinder walls or at the top of the piston that could lead to detonation. Noise is reduced and weight saved with a structural aluminum oil pan. As with the ordinary Fiat 500, the engine uses MultiAir (see 1.4 engines page).
The compression ratio is 9.8:1; the engine can run on regular but premium is preferred. The engine takes four quarts of oil, synthetic 5W-40 recommended, with oil change intervals are set at 8,000 miles. Coil-on-plug ignition fires dual-tip spark plugs. Fuel injectors spray at the intake valves.
The Abarth engine boosts output to an estimated 160 horsepower largely because of its turbocharger, which spins up to 230,000 rpm [verified by engineer David M. Schmidt], forcing extra air into the cylinders; it normally runs at 210,000 rpm. The system uses two charge air coolers (commonly referred to as intercoolers) behind the driver- and passenger-side air inlets; these reduce the heat of the high-pressure air, allowing for higher air density and reducing the potential for engine knock. Observers say boost peaks at a whopping 18 psi, far higher than past Chrysler limits.
To go along with the extra power is a fresh-air intake system with high-flow air filter, improved-flow air box, and smoother-flowing plumbing. A concentric “double tip” dual-exhaust system reduces exhaust gas restriction, boosting power.
An Abarth-tuned powertrain control module (PCM) integrates all of the MultiAir Turbo’s engine control functions, with specific engine calibrations for “Sport” mode; it syncs with the LED-illuminated shift light for additional driver notification at the redline.
An upgraded electrical system includes a high-output 140-amp alternator and 500 amp cold-cranking maintenance-free battery for increased vehicle system charging.
The Fiat 500 Abarth’s C510 transmission includes an intermediate shaft with equal-length half shafts to mitigate torque steer. Compared with the Fiat 500, the 500 Abarth uses 23 percent larger half shafts (28.1 mm diameter vs. 22.8 mm diameter in the Fiat 500) for strength and reduced torsional stress.
Larger constant velocity (CV) joints with 53% greater torsional strength (2600 N•m vs. 1700 N•m in the Fiat 500) deliver added durability.
The torque-traction control system in the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth has a differential locking system that uses the mechanical differential in the C510 transmission to control torque via the electronic stability control (ESC) system. Utilizing ESC enables the 500 Abarth to transfer torque from a front wheel that slips, to one that grips. When the Fiat 500 Abarth is in “Sport” mode, TTC automatically adjusts the degree of differential locking depending on dynamic factors, including speed.
The North American Fiat 500 Abarth has a unique MacPherson suspension design with a 40% stiffer spring rate and 0.6-inch (15 mm) lower ride height than the standard Fiat 500, for improved handling and minimal body roll. Abarth-designed cast iron front-lower control arms provide improved lateral stiffness, while an increase in negative camber to -1.5 degrees delivers improved grip and steering precision.
New dual-valve Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) KONI® front-shock absorbers replace standard twin-tube units and deliver an innovative two-in-one solution. The FSD system increases road holding while actively filtering out high-frequency suspension inputs from uneven road surfaces and adjusting for comfort.
In back, the Fiat 500 Abarth takes the Fiat 500 Sport model’s (already 300% stiffer than the European Fiat 500) twist-beam design further, with a reinforced rear axle with strengthened coil-spring supports for greater durability. A new Abarth-specific rear-stabilizer bar increases cornering grip. For improved handling, minimal body roll and ride-height control (when fully loaded), the new Fiat 500 Abarth has 20% stiffer rear springs with 0.6-inch (15 mm) lower ride.
The 15.1:1 (up from 16.3:1) steering-gear ratio is quicker; and the 500 Abarth has a uniquely tuned electronic power steering (EPS) calibration for increased steering response and feedback.
For stopping power, the Fiat 500 Abarth uses 2.1-inch (54 mm) diameter single-piston front-brake calipers with semi-metallic brake linings up front; 11.1-inch (282 mm) (up from 10.1-inch; 257 mm) diameter ventilated rotors provide additional surface-heat dissipation. The 9.4-inch (240 mm) rear disc-brake system features single-piston brake calipers with semi-metallic brake linings to mitigate brake fade at higher temperatures. Both front- and rear-brake calipers are lacquered in Rosso (red) paint.
An Abarth-tuned ESC system features a three-mode calibration. When ESC is set to “Partial Off” or “Full Off,” the 500 Abarth’s Torque Transfer Control (TTC) system maximizes throttle performance during on-throttle cornering.
Standard 16 x 6.5-inch cast-aluminum wheels are fitted with 195/45 R16 Pirelli® Cinturato P7 tires for all-season traction and low noise; they use a high tire pressure. Larger and wider 17 x 7-inch wheels are available, with forged-aluminum construction, and lighter weight (18.9 lbs. compared to the standard 16-inch wheels at 18.3 lbs.), with strength and track-tested durability. The wheels come with three-season 205/40 R17 Pirelli P-Zero Nero tires.
In addition to the 4 million development miles (6.4 million kilometers) of the North American Fiat 500, the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth was tested for 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) during its reliability and durability evaluations at the Chrysler Group’s scientific labs, proving grounds, race tracks and on public roads in various climates.
Early production Fiat 500 Abarth vehicles were tested day and night in different North American climates to identify any potential reliability issues. Chrysler Group’s trained drivers scrutinized functional aspects of each vehicle, such as heating and ventilation systems, storage compartments, and window operation. The development team reviewed the test results each day and made any necessary adjustments to ensure the quality of customer vehicles.
Taking a page out of Chrysler Group’s SRT® brand’s durability test manual, engineers subjected Fiat 500 Abarth prototypes to 24-hour endurance events on the harsh surfaces of the Nelson Ledges Road Course in eastern Ohio. Even with a high-end performance car, many race drivers consider it a feat to finish a 24-hour endurance race without brake system, engine or suspension failures. The Abarth prototypes not only survived the challenge, but delivered dependable performance as they clocked consistent lap times from start to finish.
The new 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth “Sport” mode calibration unleashes the full power of the 1.4-liter MultiAir® Turbo with linear throttle response and a more performance-weighted steering feel; and the Fiat 500 Abarth’s LED-illuminated shift light flashes as the engine speed approaches the redline. When Sport mode is not engaged, the Fiat 500 Abarth returns to “Normal” mode, and limits the torque in first and second gears to enhance fuel efficiency and minimize CO2 emissions. A boost gauge is standard.
BLUE&ME™ Handsfree Communication technology is an in-vehicle, voice-activated communication system that allows the Fiat 500 Abarth driver to operate a Bluetooth®-compatible phone while keeping his or her hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Using a series of voice commands, the driver can place phone calls, access the phone’s address book or listen to MP3s. BLUE&ME Handsfree Communication technology supports most mobile phones with Bluetooth technology. (Allpar note: this system works about how you’d expect a user interface created by Microsoft to work.)
The optional TomTom® Navigation adds a 4.3-inch (10.9 cm) TomTom portable navigation device that docks on top of the instrument panel. With its large touchscreen, simple map displays with available real-time traffic, weather and points of interests, TomTom Navigation with BLUE&ME Handsfree Communication technology is intuitive for the driver to use. Its direct integration into the Fiat 500 Abarth’s interior system lets the driver use steering-wheel-mounted controls.
For high-performance sound, the 500 Abarth features a standard Bose® Energy Efficient Series (EES) premium audio system with six premium speakers and a subwoofer; SiriusXM Satellite Radio is also available.
To improve aerodynamics, make room for more components, and allow airflow to the charge air coolers, the Fiat 500 Abarth’s front fascia is more pronounced and pushed 2.7 inches (69 mm) ahead of its signature “whiskers and logo” face, recalling the Abarth stylistic treatments from vintage 850 TC and 1000 TC models.
The signature “Abarth” shield floats on a finned surface that is actually an additional air intake. Below, the “triptych” of air intakes consists of three inlets with broader openings than the Fiat 500. For a more aggressive look, a blacked-out fascia accent integrates projector-beam fog lamps and helps direct air for engine cooling. Twin “nostrils” are precisely positioned on the front fascia to maximize airflow in and out of the two engine intercoolers (both intercoolers are visible through the “nostril” inlets).
More aggressive Abarth-designed side skirts provide a vertical and athletic profile, while highlighting the iconic curves of the Fiat 500 Abarth. Abarth-designed 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels, or optional 17-inch lightweight forged-aluminum wheels, fill the flared wheel arches and provide ventilation for the performance brake system. In addition, both wheel designs allow visibility of the lacquered Rosso (red) brake calipers.
From the rear, a large liftgate-mounted spoiler extends the roofline of the Fiat 500 Abarth and improves the vehicle’s aerodynamic behavior by creating additional down force. Below, the two-piece Abarth-styled rear fascia accentuates the road-holding stance of this high-performance 500 and optimizes airflow output with its black-accented rear diffuser. In addition, symmetric, twin exhaust cutouts deliver a powerful look, while large concentric “double tip” exhausts provide a tuned sound and Abarth-exclusive look.
Iconic Abarth shields are on both driver and passenger rear-quarter panels and feature a “shot through” Rosso-Bianco-Verde (red-white-green) tri-color arrow. Optional bodyside exterior decals pay homage to the historic models; available in Rosso (red), Nero (black), and Bianco (white), the signature Abarth triple-stripe logo runs horizontally along the lower bodyside and dissipates into a gradient rearward. Exterior mirror caps match the stripe.
17-inch forged-aluminum wheels are available in Hyper Black or optional Bianco paint.
Behind the steering wheel, the Fiat 500 Abarth features a large concentric instrument cluster with 160-mph speedometer, tachometer and trip computer. The cluster brow is wrapped in Nero leather with Rosso accent stitching. Aluminum pedal covers have rubber trim.
Unique front seats have a one-piece design with large side bolsters, racing-harness pass through, accent stitching around the perimeter, and integrated side-thorax air bags. The rear passengers’ upper seatbacks are raised and bolstered for added back support.
The Fiat 500 Abarth center stack, radio and climate control system, headliner, and pillars are finished in Nero, while the four-passenger seating is available in Nero (cloth or leather) or Rosso/Nero (leather) color combinations. The luggage compartment provides a maximum of 26.8 cubic feet for gear with the rear seats folded.
The Fiat 500 Abarth is an A-segment (mini-compact) hatchback assembled in Toluca, Mexico, starting in March 2012 as a 2012 model. The in-line four-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine is around 83 cubic inches or 1368 ml (1.4 liters) in displacement. A timing belt is used with MultiAir controlling 16 valves, a single overhead cam, and hydraulic end-pivot roller rockers.
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