Fiat 500 Abarth to debut at LA Auto Show, but we take a quick look now

2012 Fiat 500

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth that will debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this month will be powered by the Fiat’s all-new 1.4-liter Multiair Turbo engine, Fiat announced today. The engine, which uses Fiat’s exclusive Multiair technology is rated at 170 horsepower in the European version of the Fiat 500 Abarth and could produce in that neighborhood for the Fiat 500 Abarth models that will be built in Mexico, along with other Fiat 500 models for the North American market.

Abarth logo

The Abarth logo with a scorpion on a yellow and red shield dates back to when Abarth-modified rear-engined Fiats carried a stinger in their tail.

The Multiair system is an electronically-controlled hydraulically-actuated system that controls the opening of the intake valve, not only determining when it opens and closes but also by how much. The infinitely-variable (within its range) opening can even include multiple openings per engine cycle. In naturally-aspirated form, the 1.4-liter engine produces 101 horsepower, and it’s in this configuration that the engine is used in the Fiat 500 and Fiat 500 Cabriolet currently on the market in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere.

If the North American production 1.4-liter Multiair Turbo engine is the same as in the Euro version, the North American Fiat 500 Abarth, at circa 2400 lbs, will have a 14.1:1 horsepower per pound ratio. With that power-to-weight ratio—and that’s what controls acceleration, at least until wind resistance becomes a factor—the performance of the Fiat 500Abarth should be quite zippy.

In comparison, the 2011 Dodge Charger with the 5.7-liter Hemi engine and all-wheel drive has a horsepower to pound ratio of 12.0:1, for which recorded a 5.4 second 0-60 mph.  For the 1.4-liter in the the standard Fiat 500, however, every horse in the naturally-aspirated 1.4-liter Multiair engine has to pull 23.8 pounds down the road.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth will have numerous body, suspension, wheel and tire changes from the standard Fiat 500.

The Fiat 500 with a 170 horse turbo engine rocks the standard Fiat 500, of course,  but would also compare favorably with the standard configuration Mini Cooper S 2-door. Although the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine of the Mini S is rated at 181 horsepower, the Mini it’s in has a curb weight of 2,668 lbs for a power to weight ratio of 14.7 pounds per horsepower. Mini claims a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds for the Mini Cooper Turbo with the manual transmission. Look for a 170 horse 500 Abarth to be quicker.

Of course, that’s assuming that the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth has the same 170 horsepower as the European 500 Abarth, and there’s no guarantee of that. It might be better. We might well wind up comparing the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth to the John Cooper Works edition of the Mini Cooper. Now that would be fun.

We’ll find out in Las Angeles.