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Fiat 500 Abarth -- We Don't Quite Get It

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On: Tue, Jun 12, 2012 at 10:19AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Fiat 500 Abarth -- We Don't Quite Get It

By now you're probably seen them. One of the commercials for the new Fiat 500 Abarth -- either the scorching hot supermodel posing as a Fiat or the other commercial with the same girl being flaunted about by the notorious Charlie Sheen. Fiat has arguably gone overboard trying to convince us that we should undoubtedly desire the 500 Abarth above just about anything else on the road. And while we appreciate the effort, when it comes right down to where the rubber meets the road -- we don't see it. There have been so many cars marketed by manufacturers over the years that although we have not become completely desensitized to the whip-around-a-corner, go-fast-in-a-straighaway-with-nothing-else-around-it-to-give-us-perspective marketing gimmicks, we have become substantially more skeptical about taking advertisers at their word.

Putting aside the question of why anyone would think that Charlie Sheen would help sell a car, let's just take the car itself and gain a little perspective shall we? So aside from the cool black paint and snazzy scorpion logo, the Fiat looks like the exact antithesis of its tall, rail-thin supermodel spokesperson -- the Abarth looks short, stout, and arguably portly. Fiat has given the 500 Abarth all of the little sporty amenities it could squeeze into the little car -- red stitched seats, a fun dashboard, even a shift light, but really, for all its sporty features, when it comes right down to it, it seems like the Abarth is a-bark, not a-bite.

Weighing in at just under 2600 pounds, it's not as if the Fiat can brag about being a true lightweight. That heft combined with a turbocharged four cylinder engine that makes a reasonable 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque makes for adequate power, but with a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds, 0-100 mph in 17.9 seconds and a quarter mile pass of 15.1 seconds @ 92.5 mph, and a top speed of 129 mph, a shift light seems just a bit overkill. In fact, the whole motif seems a bit overdone, because really, the car is just not that fast.

Beyond that, doesn't it kind of feel like we've seen all this before? To us, the 500 Abarth seems like a Mini Cooper variant that is just a little late to the party. Aside from price, just about all of its important numbers are beyond those of the Mini Cooper S. The Abarth is slower, does not handle as well around the skidpad (0.85 vs. 0.92 for the Mini), takes longer to brake (129 feet to go from 60-0 mph vs. 119 for the Mini), and is slower around the slalom (70.2 mph vs. 70.7 mph). The Fiat even gives up a gear to the Cooper S (five-speed vs. six). The Abarth does come in cheaper with a base price $22,000, but that's about it. Even fuel mileage is a push.

Now, we aren't here to promote the Mini Cooper S, but what we are saying is that the Cooper S has been around a bit longer than the Abarth, and we still don't think of the Mini as some ravishing, gorgeous, super-sporty, hot rod that we have to have -- the same feelings we have about the Abarth. It's not that we don't like the Abarth, it’s certainly a spunky little about-town car, but we just wish Fiat would realize that maybe they are overselling the 500 Abarth and implying promises its little firecracker simply can't and won't live up to. If the Abarth 500 is something special and can outgun its competition, don't worry, we'll figure it out pretty quickly and be the first to tell all our friends. Numbers don't lie, and we're a lot more likely to believe what our stopwatch has to say than someone who claims to be bi-winning on a mercury surfboard.

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