Fiat 500: A cute little devil

I have not seen anything as cute as the 500 Abarth on four wheels. There was something hugely appealing about the little machine’s retro bubbliness, cheery smile and Italian chic as it pulled onto the road outside the company’s Ranjangaon plant. A FIAT 500 with big wheels, a roof mounted wing and enough stripes to decorate an army general, the Abarth was ready to be taken for a spin. I was surprised to not find a single FIAT badge. Instead, the car is liberally sprinkled with enameled scorpions, fourteen of them to be exact and some even crop up in unexpected places (like the real thing) such as high on the rear wings. Abarth, for those who don’t know, is a company that specializes in tuning cars for performance and appearance.

Up front, triple air intakes feed air into the cars’ engine and the twin intercoolers. The nose of the Abarth has been extended to make space for the turbocharger. Running on ultra-low profile 17-inch alloys with red coloured rear view mirrors and racy red stripes, the 500 has been transformed into a naughty machine. The rear is equally chic. Twin exhausts on either side of the diffuser with skirts lend a smashing sex appeal to the car. The car might look minuscule in profile, but make no mistake; it is as long as small Indian hatchbacks.

This was a left hand drive variant, imported by the company for a few select media guys to experience the thrills and excitement of what this baby could do. Inside, the sporty theme continues. A black and white fascia with red leather seats adds bling. The three-spoke steering wheel (with a big Abarth logo) features shaped thumb rests with controls for the audio system, Bluetooth enabled phone, et al. The aluminum drilled pedals with a rubber trim have a decidedlyracy look. The gear knob follows suit and is covered with leather with a more anatomical grip for a spirited drive. Surprisingly, there is a lot of room in the front for two big adults but the rear will be able to accommodate only people of average sizes. Getting into the back of the car is easier than you’d assume for a two-door car – just flip the front seat, push it forward and step in.

Fire the engine and it responds back with a deep growl. It sounds and feels like an untamed rottweiler ready be to unleashed. Under the tiny hood is a 1368cc turbocharged engine pushing out an impressive 135bhp of power along with an enormous 206Nm of torque. A turbo boost counter on the left side of the steering and a sport button on the fascia further hint at the capabilities of this toy car. FIAT claims a sub 8sec sprint for the 0-100km/h dash with a top speed in excess of 200km/h. With the sport button selected, flooring the accelerator confirmed this. Though there was a noticeable turbo lag, once on the boil, the urgency with which the Abarth gained speed was phenomenal. Magazines abroad also praise the little FIAT for outstanding fuel economy – more than 15kmpl in urban traffic.

Sitting an inch lower than the regular 500, the stiffer suspension set-up and low pro tyres transform the way she behaves. A MacPherson layout in the front and interconnected wheels at the rear with torsion beam, both with anti-rollbars, take care of the dynamics. During my full day stint with the car, it turned out to be lot of fun – rock steady at high speeds, and the crown prince of roundabout hooliganism. The steering is direct if not perfectly weighted for pure fun and makes the Abarth entertaining and easy to drive briskly. The 500 willingly follows the line you choose to take without running wide and if it does, FIAT has equipped it with both traction control and torque transfer system to keep things under control.

In the city, it feels like a remote controlled car that’s super easy to navigate. A doodle in traffic, the downside of the stiff ride is feeling every single minor undulation on the road. The brakes though, along with grippy Pirellis inspire confidence.

FIAT has no plans of selling this hugely entertaining car in India at the moment. The price of the car plus the fact that it has a limited production run seems to the reasons for this. The Abarth 500 is a mini-sports car for the style obsessed. Tiny, yet exciting, it will bring a smile on your face every time you drive it.

Who would say this cute little machine could be a such devil. With all that power under the hood, it definitely is!

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