Two value-oriented track-ready propositions

2019 marks Abarth’s 70th anniversary but also and Fiat’s 120th anniversary, so the company brought out some of their latest products to the world-famous Laguna Seca Raceway during the Monterey Car Week for some spirited driving and we were not disappointed.

2019 Fiat 500 Abarth

2019 Fiat 124 Abarth and 500 Abarth
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The Fiat 500 Abarth has always been a fun small car. It is a fantastic car to drive on tight twisty roads but it is also a great track car for the enthusiast. Go to a local track event and you will see the usual Porsches and BMWs, but the Abarth provides incredible value that is hard to beat.

The Fiat 500 Abarth was designed, engineered, and tested to deliver the high-performance driving and enduring capabilities needed for track use.

You can get almost everything that the enthusiast needs as stock equipment on the Abarth to get it to go faster. It features a unique MacPherson suspension design with stiffer front spring rates and 15-mm lower ride height for improved handling and minimal body roll. Abarth-designed cast-iron front lower control arms provide improved lateral stiffness, while an increase in negative camber to 1.5 degrees delivers improved grip and steering precision. In addition, dual-valve frequency selective damping (FSD) Koni twin-tube struts deliver road control and maximum grip.

2019 Fiat 124 Abarth and 500 Abarth
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The beefier rear suspension design of the Fiat 500 Abarth takes the Cinquecento model’s twist-beam design further, with a torsionally rigid rear axle designed with strengthened coil-spring supports for greater durability. A 22-mm Abarth-specific solid rear stabilizer bar reduces body roll and understeer. For improved handling, minimal body roll, and ride-height control, the Abarth also features 15-mm lower springs.

Steering is another area that has received attention for a response that’s 10 percent quicker, enhanced responsiveness, maneuverability, and high-performance feel, courtesy of a tweaked steering rack tuned to a 15.1:1 (up from 16.3:1) ratio.

Compared to the standard 500 models, the Fiat 500 Abarth features a uniquely tuned electronic power steering calibration for increased steering response and feedback.

In addition, a road-crown and crosswind algorithm automatically compensates for temporary situations where there is a constant push of the car to one side or another, assisting the driver against such movements.

2019 Fiat 124 Abarth and 500 Abarth
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Brakes are very important on a track car and the 500 Abarth features a high-performance brake system with semi-metallic brake linings at all four corners and larger 11.1-inch ventilated rotors for greater stopping power (up from 10.1-inch).
To improve aerodynamics and the necessary engine cooling, the Abarth models feature a more pronounced front fascia with additional air vents for cooling and engine air intake. The air intake feeds a 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that puts out 160 horsepower and feeds the power to our test car’s optional 205/40-17 Pirelli P-Zero Nero tires. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard while an automatic is an option.

The 500 Abarth is a sweetheart on the track with very mild manners.

The steering is direct and provides good feedback to the driver. A telescopic steering column would be helpful but does not diminish the fun that the Abarth provides. With only 160 horsepower from the engine, the Abarth is not super quick, but it is light with a curb weight of 2,500 pounds which is about half the weight of your average SUV today. We found the 500 to be very playful and perfect for beginners. The beauty of the handling of the 500 Abarth is that it never seems to do anything to bite you. It is the good child in the family that always listens and never causes trouble. Beginners would find the steering with lots of feedback very helpful in recognizing what is going on and the gentle understeer will be very comforting to build up your confidence without being annoying.

2019 Fiat 124 Abarth

2019 Fiat 124 Abarth and 500 Abarth
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If you want a bit more zest, we recommend the Fiat 124 Abarth. The 124 was designed in Centro Stile in Turin, Italy and it borrows cues from the original 124 Fiat of the 60s and 70s. Under the hood of the 124 Abarth is the same engine that you find in the 500 Abarth. The difference is that the 124 is rear-wheel drive and has a six-speed manual transmission as standard.

The 124 has even more performance-oriented parts than the 500 and you can feel the difference.

The 124 has a multi-link rear suspension with the Abarth also including Bilstein dampers and a mechanical limited-slip differential. Brembo 11-inch front brakes are fantastic for slowing down the Fiat and Recaro seats hold the driver in place during serious driving.

2019 Fiat 124 Abarth and 500 Abarth
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While the 500 feels perfect for the entry level driver, the 124 requires more advanced skills. The responses are even more direct and it is perfectly balanced and can be very rewarding to a skilled driver but the direct response can put off a beginner. There is minimal understeer and the car can easily be provoked to get sideways, which makes it so much fun to drive.

The six-speed manual transmission has well placed gear ratios and a very direct shift linkage.

The fantastic gearbox is bolted to the same 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 160 horsepower. It is even lighter than the 500 but only by about 30 pounds but it feels like it is 200 pounds lighter. The engine feels stronger and more responsive in the 124 with 0-60 mph being accomplished in about 6.7 seconds.

2019 Fiat 124 Abarth and 500 Abarth
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While at the event we got a chance to take a look at an original Fiat 500 and 124 from the 60s which reminds you how simple cars were back then. The original 500 was even smaller and lighter than the current car and the styling of the original 124 is a masterpiece. We also managed to go for a ride in the 124 Abarth race car. Although the race car looks very close to its street counterpart, under the skin lies a completely different animal. This car has a 1.7-liter engine from the Alfa Romeo 4C. In stock form, that engine puts out 237 horsepower but the engine has been modified to pump out over 300 horsepower currently. It is mated to a sequential transmission that shifts with authority. The entire suspension has been beefed up as well with a custom rear cradle.

Final Thoughts

2019 Fiat 124 Abarth and 500 Abarth
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The Abarth family is all about value. The 500 Abarth starts out at only $20,745. The 124 Abarth is considerably more expensive and it starts at $29,540. There are many other companies that make performance cars that are geared towards the enthusiastic driver who wants a car that he can take to the track. Most of those cars cost considerably more and some are not as much fun.

A BMW M3 has considerably more power but BMW customers demand lots of luxury which is why the current M3 is so much more expensive and heavier. The Abarth family feels more like the original M3. It is pure and playful but unlike many others, it remains affordable. Can you name another new car for under $21,000 that is designed for track use?

Further reading

2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth
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Read our full review on the 2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth.

2018 Fiat 500 Abarth Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Fiat 500 Abarth.

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