2012 Fiat 500 Abarth: Finally, we get the good one

Fiat's been promising a Fiat 500 Abarth for those of us who don't own capri pants, but we've wondered if it would be the wimpy 135-hp lame one or the Bunga Bunga 160-hp version. Wonder no more. This new econobox is as wicked as Berlusconi.

The name "Abarth" means almost nothing to North Americans not well-versed in Italian ways, but to the most of the world its a reminder of a time when a guy named Karl Abarth attempted to make performance cars out of Fiats. The legacy continues in this latest U.S. version of the Cinquecento.

Fiat's taken the 1.4-liter MultiAir engine, swapped in a turbocharger with two small intercoolers, and boosted power to an impressive 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 RPM. That's a nearly 60% improvement in power over the base Fiat 500 with what Chrysler promises is a 70% increase in engine RPM torque.

Aesthetically, the gigantic Abarth scorpion logo pokes out like Superman's chest to let you know this isn't J. Lo's Fiat 500. A more pronounced front fascia blends into flared wheel arches and an aggressive look that finishes in a spoiler mounted above the liftgate.

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Back in the '60s Karl Abarth himself might have laughed at you if you told him you'd be putting 16-inch wheels on a Fiat 500, but now you can even get 17-inch lightweight forged aluminum wheels backed by 11.1-inch vented rotors up front and 9.4-inch solid rotors in back.

They're calling this car "track ready," which means a modified MacPherson suspension up front with a 40% stiffer spring rate, lower ride height, and KONI shock absorbers featuring dual-valve Frequency Selecting Damping. The rear suspension is still a twist-beam design, just modified with a stronger rear axle and tighter rear-stabilizer bar.

All of this should translate into a car that'll go from feeling like an underfed purse-sized dog to, at the very least, a feisty Chihuahua.