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First Look: 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

Performance model aiming to pump some life into Italian brand.

by on Oct.31, 2011

Fiat is betting the Abarth edition will pump a little more lift into the slow-selling 500.

Despite some ambitious sales goals the little Fiat 500 hasn’t exactly set the U.S. market on fire.  So the Italian partner of Detroit’s Chrysler LLC will be turning up the energy level with the upcoming launch of the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth.

Due to make its debut next month at the L.A. Auto Show, the sportiest version yet of the Cinquecento will feature an all-new 1.4-liter Multi-Air engine bumping the horsepower count to 130 – with an optional performance pack that can deliver yet another 30 ponies.

Whether Americans will recognize the Abarth name remains to be seen, of course, but those who do will know that it has a history of living up to the “small but wicked” tagline used for its cars over the years.

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Born in 1908, Karl Abarth was originally known as an aggressive motorcycle racer before a near-fatal accident ended his career on the track – shifting his focus to the production of exhaust systems and other performance parts.  In the ‘40s and ‘50s, “Abarth and C” had a successful career campaigning a variety of Fiat products, including a heavily modified version of the original Fiat 500 microcar.

"Abarth and C" originally made a name for itself racing Fiats, including this version of the original Cinquecento.

Fiat purchased the company in 1971 – eight years before its founder’s passing.  But it wasn’t until 2007 that Fiat decided to make a serious push to turn Abarth into a performance sub-brand along the lines of BMW’s M and the AMG arm of Mercedes-Benz.

Fiat has been promising to steadily expand the range of 500 variants, starting with the basic coupe, following up with a cabriolet and eventually adding a battery-powered version of the Cinquecento.

The maker is holding back some of the details, but it has confirmed it will offer the new Multi-Air engine, at 130 hp, with the Esse-Esse performance pack expected to bump that to 160.

The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth will get a track-inspired design with a modified front fascia and rockers and what appears to be an emphasis on ground effects.  Beefed up brakes will be included in the package as well as what Fiat somewhat mysteriously describes as “technology features not traditionally included on a small car.”

We’ll be looking to find out more at the L.A. Auto Show, with the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth expected to reach showrooms in the U.S. soon afterwards.

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