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Tiny and terrific: That’s the Fiat 500 Abarth

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Tiny and terrific: That’s the Fiat 500 Abarth

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“Small but wicked.”

Remember that phrase because you’ll be hearing it again as the advertising and marketing campaign for the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth ramps up.

Karl Abarth was a legendary rally road racer who racked up more than 10,000 victories, 10 world titles and 133 international titles during his racing career. His philosophy was that a spunky engine in a lightweight car can be fun to drive.

Abarth and Fiat collaborated for 45 years on some legendary Fiats with the Abarth badge. In that vein, the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is coming to American streets.

Based on the Fiat 500, the subcompact car weighs a scant 2,500 lbs. That’s downright feathery for a car.

What’s more, the Fiat 500 Abarth gets 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. That’s a lot of performance from a very small car and all those statistics come out of the press kit.

But the truth was when we put the rubber to the road as they say; the first thing I noticed was the engine note. Fiat engineers spent a lot of time making the car growl.

Our test car was white, one of four colors offered, and it had white 17-inch alloy wheels. When we started on the 70-mile drive to the Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump, Nev., the next thing we noticed was that the Abarth’s suspension was firmer than that of a normal Fiat 500.

The car cornered well, acceleration was better than average. Gear shifts were smooth and the clutch was precise. In some small cars with manual transmissions, it takes a while to get the clutch and engine timing synchronized during shifts, but not with the 500 Abarth.

It’s hard to describe but the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth felt good. The flat bottom steering wheel was soft without being cushy. The car had a special interior to match the custom exterior paint job and the seats felt and looked like thick easy chairs.

One of two quibbles I had was that the passenger seat position was pretty high; there wasn’t a lot of room between my head and the headliner. However, our test car had a sunroof which no doubt ate up some head space.

We also noted some excessive wind noise. But gusts were 30 mph to 40 mph on the way to Pahrump and that made it hard to determine whether it was the car or the wind. I do know those gusts didn’t blow the little car around; it tracked true in the windy conditions.

There was a large sport button on the dash that changed the car’s accelerator pedal response, the steering ratio and the power level as well. It made a distinct difference in the car’s response to driver input. We pushed the sport button and the steering got quicker and the gas pedal got stiffer as the torque required to depress it increased.

The Fiat 500 Abarth’s chassis has been lowered 15 mm, the spring rate has been increased 40 percent and the rear axle has been revised. The car’s front fascia was two inches longer to make room for the turbocharger.

Fiat 500 Abarths have dual exhausts, side skirts and special Abarth badging which is a black scorpion inside a red and yellow crest. A scorpion was the zodiac sign of the car’s namesake.

Multi-air technology is precise air intake valve control. There are five modes and the technology increases fuel efficiency. Thus, Fiat will position its 500 Abarth as a subcompact with efficient performance.

Prices start at $22,000. Our test vehicle had 17-inch forged aluminum wheels, Abarth exterior decals and accent mirror caps, leather seats, Tom Tom Navigation and a power moonroof.

The sticker came to $26,900. That price ought to be very appetizing to those customers who want a car they can drive to work and then take to the nearest race track.

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.

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