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Drooling Over a Fiat

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On: Fri, Oct 9, 2009 at 4:32PM | By: John Welch

Drooling Over a Fiat

If Car and Driver test drives a car once, said car may end up being sold in our country. If they test a foreign market vehicle twice, the chances of it being sold in the US are considerably better.

The car in question is the 2010 Fiat 500 Abarth. This car has been on sale for several years in the rest of the world, and now that the Chrysler take-over is all but said and done, Fiat can focus on a return to the US market. This is great news for those Gen-Y Americans who were too young to experience Fiat ownership. Though they may have a reputation for poor reliablity in this country, Fiats are as modern and well put together as Volkswagens and Hondas; they're also monumentally more exciting . . .

Bulbous and oddly proportioned, the Fiat 500 may not appeal to everyone. I'm a sucker for a slightly awkward face, as long as it works. The Mazda3 does not work. The new Hyundai Sonata, it just doesn't work. These tiny Fiats, on the other hand, they work, for me anyway.

The headlights integrate into the fenders in an effortless manner, pulling the eye upward, over the muscular (for such a small car) fenders and toward the pleasing hatch-back roof line. The glass between the A and C pillars is just right; ditto the styling of the rear end of the car. Excuse me for avoiding puns relating to "Celebrities with perfect asses", that sort of cheap-humor would be selling the 500 short. It has a fantastic rear three-quarter view, the normally ungainly hatch spoiler integrating impressively with the overall shape of the car. This tiny effer is a joy to behold in pictures; I can only imagine how gorgeous it is in person.

Abarth is a storied name for Fiat enthusiasts. The firm has been tuning Fiats for the better part of forty years, with a short absence between 1997 and 2007. Well, Abarth is back and Fiat wants you to know it. There are no fewer than eight 'Scorpion' badges and 'Abarth' stickers adorning the 500 Abarth's scandalous skin. This is overkill, really, but who cares? Unlike a Mustang with cheese-ball lower door stickers announcing it is, in fact, a Mustang, and usually a V6, nobody will know what this little Fiat is. So, come to think of it, the Abarth driver is helping to bestow a small amount of rich Italian culture on his fellow motorists, making the stickers, badges, and other flamboyant 'heylooggitme' styling cues a little less obnoxious.

Inside you are also greeted with badges and stickers, but the organic shape of the dash and control surfaces will help you forget all about that hideous chrome dealie stuck to your glove box. Some chrome that isn't hideous: the door handles are the most attractive execution of exterior chrome accents I've ever witnessed. They blend into the door seamlessly, and look especially fetching against the eggshell white paint scheme shown in most of the press images.

Yank on one of those gleaming handles and pull open the door, sit down, and begin situating yourself in the little 500's cabin. Exceptional shoulder and leg room greet the occupants of the front seats, while the rear passengers have to deal with chewing on their own knees; at least it's a hatch-back, affording ample headroom in the back.

The interior control surfaces are works of art. The Italians really do have this 'furniture' thing down, even when it comes to automobiles. The instrument panel is reminiscent of a VW New Beetle or a Scion xD, but it makes more sense. Instead of a tiny, offset tachometer, such as you would find inFiat 500 info center, complete with exotic red dash stitching. the Veedub or Scion, the tach is large and located directly under the speedometer, making critical information gathering that much easier. Try driving a warmed-up boosted Beetle without looking at the tach. Okay, when the boost came on at 3,500 rpm you weren't ready for it, and you nearly clipped a tree as the front wheels dug in and wrenched the steering wheel out of your lazy grasp. Now, watch the tach this time. You took your eyes off the road for so long trying to find the tach that you did, in fact, clip the tree, decorating the enormous Beetle dash with the contents of your lacerated face. Fiat has fixed this inherent issue with combined gauges, and added a boost gauge/shift light to the left of the main IP. Very trick, better then the "Summit Special" Autometer gauge you get in a Cobalt SS.

Overall, this car represents two things to me. Number one: if the American public latches on to the 500, it will do wonders for Chrysler dealers' bottom lines. They need anything they can sell, and Challengers are just too expensive and thirsty to do any large numbers. Ditto Chrysler Mini-vans. This is a quality small car, something Chrysler has avoided selling for over thirty years (yeah, the Neon was a success, but quality? I don't think so...) and it will rival the Mini for 'cutie of the year'.

Number two: I don't care how much of a sissy car this may be, the Abarth is straight up exotic. For a mere $19,000 you can own a pure Italian beauty, complete with fancy dash stitching and a crappy radio. It must be said that any Italian car, even brand new ones, come with a certain personality, a charisma that seduces its owner, lulling him into a sort of coma, making him forget all about the ratty sounding stereo and the weird clanking sound coming from the rear suspension. Italian autos, even lowly Fiats (eh, maybe not the Fiat Panda, that thing is a complete dog) have a soul that can't be matched at any price. Call me smitten, I'll be selling my first born and its mother for a chance to pilot a Fiat 500 Abarth.

And of course, Top Gear has tested it. Beautiful video production and Stiginess below.

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)


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