Fiat 500 Abarth U.S.-Bound

Chrysler Group LLC dealers have been advised that their first Fiat 500 car, due in the '11 model year, will be the Abarth edition, an up-contented sporty subcompact. The Abarth is similar in dimensions to BMW's Mini Cooper, but goes the Mini one better in that it has a race-car heritage dating back to the 1950s and 1960s. That's when Karl Abarth produced Fiat-based race cars and supplied parts for

Chrysler Group LLC dealers have been advised that their first Fiat 500 car, due in the '11 model year, will be the Abarth edition, an up-contented sporty subcompact.

The Abarth is similar in dimensions to BMW's Mini Cooper, but goes the Mini one better in that it has a race-car heritage dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.

That's when Karl Abarth produced Fiat-based race cars and supplied parts for the small Fiats of that era. Fiat Spa purchased the Abarth firm in the 1990s, not reviving the Abarth name until 2007 on the Grande Punto hatchback body style.

For recent emanations of Abarth junior editions, Fiat has moved upmarket with a number of sports-like features.

The DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine is turbocharged, now delivering 133-hp and a zero-to-60 mph in seven seconds.

The front-wheel-drive powertrain has a 127 mph top speed and fuel economy of 25 to 33 mpg. Styling touches include liftgate spoiler, twin tailpipes, 16-inch wheels, modernized front bumper, aluminum pedals, a beefy steering wheel, leather-trimmed shifter for the five-speed manual transmission, sporty seats and a boost gauge.

Without a turbo, the Fiat Abarth is rated at 99 horsepower. To reduce understeer, Fiat has introduced a ‘torque transfer control’ system which brakes a spinning wheel.

The Abarth is expected to sell for $18,000 to $19,000 when it arrives in the U.S. The European model is designed to seat four persons. Its shocks and springs are upgraded from those in the base-model 500.

Fiat forecastss first-year sales of 20,000 to 25,000 Abarths in the U.S., as it strives to compete with the Mini Cooper, which has similar delivery numbers.

Chrysler dealers will sell Fiats as part of Fiat obtaining a controlling interest Chrysler this year.

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