Is there a car enthusiast whose pulse does not quicken when he or she hears the brrrap brap of the exhaust when the North American spec Fiat Abarth fires up? TTAC’s managing editor Derek Kreindler is correct, the Abarth does indeed sound faster than it actually is, but it still sounds glorious. Don’t tell me that an inline four can’t sound as exciting as a V8 or even a V12. Saying that an eight or a twelve “sounds better” than a four is like saying that a big band sounds better than a trio, as if you can’t enjoy both Duke Ellington and Cream.
Long rumored to wear the Alfa Romeo badge, the next-generation Mazda MX-5 may instead don a Fiat or Abarth necklace in 2015 if Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has the last word.
Abarth was founded in 1952 as a “one-stop-shop” for Fiat performance gear. What does that have to do with the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth? Nothing. Seriously. In 1971 Abarth was purchased by Fiat, by the 1990s the “brand” had deteriorated to a trim level on questionable hatchbacks and by 2000 it was “dead trim walking.” In 2007 Fiat decided they needed a performance brand once again and resurrected Abarth with the inexplicably named “Fiat Grande Punto Abarth” and (more importantly) a complete line of clothing and accessories. Despite the apparent soft start for the brand in the Euro-zone, Fiat tells us they held nothing back for the launch of Abarth in North America. Our own tame racing driver Jack took the Abarth for a spin on the track back in March but this time we’re pitting Italy’s hot hatch against a bigger challenge: the daily commute.
Fiat’s 500 may be flopping early in the game, but then, what do you expect from a car with barely 100 horsepower? Though I’m sure the Cinquecento is better with a stick shift, my brief time in an autobox version left me feeling that Fiat’s italophile morsel could use considerably more brio. Well, consider the problem solved, as the 160 HP Abarth version has finally been shown in US-market spec, and sales should start sometime early next year. And based on European reactions to the Abarth, it should be a little firecracker. So, enthusiasm solved… now Fiat just needs to do something about its high prices, uninspiring fuel economy and wretched marketing. Then everything will be just fine… although I still wouldn’t hold my breath for 50k units per year.
I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli.
“Are there Fiats at Chrysler stores in Canada now?” he asks.
“Just the 500,” I inform.
“That’s not the real 500,” says Angelo, his younger brother. Two hours later, we’re in my Nonna’s garage. He pulls the tarp off a stunning, perfectly restored 1968 Fiat 595 SS Abarth. “Quest’è la vera Cinquecento!” he informs me.
Ahead of Fiat’s 5-year plan presentations, Automotive News [sub] is reporting that the Turin-based firm is developing a four-door version of its 500 subcompact. And not just to take on Europe’s Opel Meriva and company: the 500 Multipla will be then fourth and final member of the US-market 500 family.
Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has a handful of brand management on his plate, as he aligns his two firms for the future. Merging Lancia and Chrysler was an obvious move; creating one full-line brand (albeit with different names from market to market) is a lot better than trying to keep two distinct brands, although even with their powers combined, Chrysler/Lancia is going to have an uphill struggle. With Lancia “taken care of,” the biggest problem on Fiat’s plate is Alfa Romeo, which has reportedly lost €200m-€400m per year for the last decade.