Fiat Abarth 2012

November 21, 2011 by staff 

Fiat Abarth 2012, I’ll admit I was a little nervous when I picked up a 2012 Fiat 500 on my way from Portland to Seattle for that city’s early November auto show.

I was about to jump onto a freeway crowded with large semi-trucks in just about the smallest car in the world. Not only that, but my test model was a convertible, and cloth tops are notorious for shaking at higher speeds. The engine is also very tiny, just 1.4 liters producing a mere 101 horsepower. And let’s be honest — the Italian automaker stopped selling cars in America 26 years ago after earning a well-deserved reputation for unreliability.

But I’m pleased to report that all of my fears were unfounded. Yes, the Fiat 500 is a very small car, six inches shorter and two inches narrower than a BMW Mini. But it is four inches taller than a Mini and front seat occupants sit up high on thickly-padded seats, making the Fiat 500 feel much bigger than it is. Amazingly enough, I actually found myself looking down on the passengers in some older compact cars as I drove up the freeway.

The convertible top did not vibrate or shudder at freeway speeds. The design is more like a large cloth sunroof that retracts on rails, a trick that keeps the top stiff when it is up. Nearby trucks were louder than I imagine a hardtop would be, but not to point of being scary.

Though tiny, the four-cylinder engine provided adequate power, even though my test car came with the six-speed automatic transmission instead of the five-speed manual. I was even able to accelerate past slower cars and trucks on steep hills, although a heavy foot was sometimes required.

After returning from Seattle, I kept the Fiat 500 for another few days, eventually putting hundreds of trouble-free miles on it. Although that’s not a fair measure of reliability, legend has it that some earlier Fiats could not go that long without a repair or two.

As everyone who follows car news knows, Fiat is coming back to America through its partnership with Chrysler. Fiat gave Chrysler enough money to emerge from bankruptcy, and now controls the Detroit manufacturer. The alliance is surely one of the strangest in automotive history. Fiat makes some of the smallest, most fuel-efficient cars on the planets. Chrysler makes some of the biggest gas-guzzlers around. But the arrangement is already producing benefits for both companies. The Fiat 500 is now being sold throughout the country at stand-alone, Chrysler-affiliated dealerships. And Fiat money has allowed Chrysler to substantially upgrade its entire product line. Joint ventures are reportedly in the works that promise the best of both the old and new worlds.

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