As I was walking out the door on Wednesday morning, running late as usual, I checked my pockets for the essentials. Car keys, phone, breakfast of granola bar and diet soda…all check. What didn’t I have on me? My scorpion belt, which normally would be something I could live without, but not today. Not on the day I get to take the 2012 Fiat Abarth, with it’s scorpion logo prominently displayed front and center, out on a super quick autocross course to test her turbochargediness and quick steering capabilities.
You may have seen my first drive review of the Abarth and the accompanying track video from Spring Mountain Raceway in Nevada. Why would I need any more time in the car? What could be better than the 3.1 mile track? For those of you not in the know, autocross driving is completely different than track driving. The Sports Car Club of America describes autocross as “…lighting your hair on fire and jumping down an elevator shaft.” And it’s true. It’s a quick, usually under a minute, high revving course laid out with cones with fast direction changes that really challenge you as a driver to get the most out of your car. You won’t go fast. In fact, you probably won’t get the car out of second gear, but you will get a feel for how the car handles.
Joe Grace, one of the vehicle line executives for the Fiat 500 Abarth, instructed us to turn on sport mode, naturally, and turn off the traction control. The traction control can be turned off half way, which we were encouraged to try first, or completely, which most of us journalists did right away.
The Abarth is a FWD car and it will (fortunately) only be offered in a five speed manual. I normally autocross my RWD Miata, so getting the feel of the front wheel drive Abarth took a little getting used to. You’d think it would be prone to understeer, and she did a little, but a quick tap of the left foot on the brake brought the rear around in the downhill sweeper and set me up perfectly for the next quick slalom.
After a few laps around the 30 second course, I felt my times improved (we weren’t formally timing anything so I can’t say for sure) as I figured out the correct line to take. I found I could go wide and then tuck in quickly due to the responsive steering, and that the performance brakes on the Abarth meant I could brake much later than ever could in the Miata with her stock brakes.
The Abarth can be yours at about $22,000, which is a fantastic price for such a fun little car that gives you great performance while still maintaining a combined fuel rating of 31mpg. What would keep me from buying this car? It’s a girlie thing and I don’t really care if you ding me for it, but as of now it’s not offered in a convertible. And I’m not talking that glorified sunroof of a convertible on the 500, I’m talking an honest to goodness convertible, no B pillars. I realize this would add weight due to the reinforcements that would have to be done, but I don’t care. I like my cars small, sporty, and convertible, but there are plenty of people out there for whom that is not an issue, and I think they’ll be extremely satisfied with their purchase.
On a side note, it turns out the Abarth and the 500 are not legal in SCCA autocross. The SCCA has a formula for determining roll over possibility, and the Fiat just barely misses the cut off. The rule is on the books mostly to prevent SUVs and other high center of gravity cars from coming out and trying their wheels at autox. I’m sure people will start showing up to events in their Abarths and it remains to be seen if an exception will be made, but for now, consider yourself warned.