Abarth Expansion and Which-Wheel Drive

We’re sorry to relay it, brothers and sisters, but Olivier Francois ruled out an Abarth version of the 500L. “It’s not the right car,” he said—but there will be more Abarths in the future. That raises the question, though: Abarth versions of what? Fiat is determined to grow its lineup in the States. With what kind of models the company will do this, we don’t know. Anything bigger than the 500L, obviously, is a non-starter. What about some kind of rear-wheel-drive roadster? “Leave rear-wheel drive for Alfa,” Francois says, reminding us that Fiat’s upmarket brand is coming here next year. (Coincidentally, “next year” is when the Cubs are expected to finally win a World Series.)

Fiat will, however, begin offering some vehicles with all-wheel drive. The 500L is a perfect fit, given its pretend off-roader styling, and there’s a good chance that all-wheel drive also will be deployed to future Fiats simply to handle increasing amounts of horsepower.

  • 2012 Fiat 500 Sport – Long-Term Road Test Update
  • 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid – Instrumented Test
  • 2013 Fiat 500 Turbo – Instrumented Test

Factory Performance Upgrades for the 500

Tapping into—or perhaps stimulating—the lucrative market that is “personalization,” Fiat is opening a sub-factory to build individually spec’d cars on-site at the Toluca, Mexico, factory where the 500 is assembled. From the Fiat Custom Shop, customers we thought only existed in marketing presentations can order off a menu, so to speak, whether they want their cars sprayed with wacky colors or seats lined in higher-grade leather.

This is just the beginning, though, Francois tells us. The plan is to offer 500 customers the option of factory-installed, fully warranteed performance upgrades. Initially, the catalog will be similar to what Mopar sells: suspension tuning, body kits, exhaust systems, and the usual ride-pimping, In time, however, Francois would love to see it expand to real engine performance upgrades, too. One would figure that Fiat is covered with the basic 101-hp 500, the sportier 135-hp 500T, and the 160-hp Abarth, but in a few years’ time, Fiat’s little skunkworks factory could be mixing and matching the Abarth’s drivetrain and suspension under a body painted in the classic Tiffany blue.

By Justin Berkowitz