Abarth, the performance and racing subsidiary of Fiat that was relaunched at Geneva last year, debuted its sporty version of the modish Fiat 500 city car at this year's show.
The 500 Abarth benefits from aerodynamic improvements in the form of new side skirts, and revised front and rear bumpers. The rear bumper is integrated with a "slide" fitted to the underside to optimize airflow. The slide extends into the rear bumper; twin sports exhausts can be seen on either side of it. A large spoiler extends the roofline back over the top of the rear window.
Equipped with a Fire 1.4-liter 16-valve 135 horsepower engine, it also offers 30 percent more power than the sprightliest standard 500, which is transmitted to the front wheels via a new Torque Transfer Control system. This is designed to make the car safer and more fun to drive, and ensure smooth progress even under aggressive cornering.
To accommodate the turbocharger, the nose of the Abarth is longer than on other 500s; the intercoolers are fed by two additional air intakes clearly visible on each side, while the main air intake is enlarged.
Completing the visual transformation are red side stripes and door mirror caps, special alloy wheels, and chrome-rimmed Abarth badges. Inside, there's a sporty interior, with aluminum pedals, revised instruments, one-piece seats (no separate head restraint), leather-covered shifter, and sports steering wheel flattened at the bottom for increased spaciousness.
The Fiat 500, 2008's European Car of the Year, has had a good reception, for its practicality, sensible pricing, and beautifully executed stylish retro-chic appeal echoing the iconic rear-engined post-war Fiat 500. Developing a meaner version of it (Abarth's motto is "small but wicked") was not without risks, but while the Abarth is certainly less cutesy than the regular 500, it's just as charming. Next step is to find out if the technical improvements also pass muster.