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FCA set for Abarth boost

Pocket sized: Abarth's range is set to grow and FCA's Italian sports arm is looking at a possible spicy version of the 500X crossover (left).

Fiat go-fast division Abarth set to get bigger in Australia

Abarth logo9 May 2016

By DANIEL DeGASPERI

AN ABARTH brand offensive has begun that will see the Fiat performance offshoot match the mainstream car-maker with the number of available models in Australia.

The Abarth brand has this month expanded to include an entry-level $27,500 (plus on-road costs) 140hp (104kW) 595 hot hatch to complement the existing 160hp (119kW) 595 Turismo and Competizione, and flagship 190hp (142kW) 695 Biposto.

GoAuto understands that a 180hp (134kW) 595 will join the range before year’s end, to sit above the $39,500 Competizione but below the $65,000 695 Biposto, while the 124 Spider will arrive in September in Abarth guise only.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia senior manager of product planning and strategy Alan Swanson has also now revealed that the Abarth line-up could expand further in future to include a performance version of the 500X crossover that would align closely with the local market’s love of small SUVs and sports models.

“There’s a lot of potential for (other) Abarth products,” Mr Swanson told GoAuto at the launch of the 104kW 595 last week.

“The 500X is something that is being discussed at (a) high level. There isn’t any confirmation that the car will or won’t come, but I think it’s obvious Abarth would look at that type of thing and see if there is an opportunity to do something globally.

“As far as I know, a decision hasn’t been made, but there has been discussions around that.”

Mr Swanson said the company’s Abarth push follows Australian market trends that favour a higher portion of performance variants within a model range.

“Nearly all brands who have a performance arm in this market tend to be outperforming the rest of the world through those ones,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s premium brands or whether it’s more mainstream brands.”

He pointed to this as a reason for the decision to import only the Abarth 124 Spider rather than a Fiat version as well.

“The performance part of it (models) does tend to be well above the norm in the Australian market, so that automatically let us know that there’s more opportunity here for the top end of the (124 Spider) range than there would be through the typical global outlook with that car,” he said.

“When we looked at the opportunities for it, not just for selling cars but the opportunities for what it can do with the brands we wanted to focus on, keeping things relatively simple and offering the best things possible, we thought that was the way to go in the current period of time.

“So naturally if we focus at the top end we’ll get more than a typical fair share of things.”

Distancing the 124 Spider from its near-twin the Mazda MX-5 also appeared to be a priority for FCA.

“With the Spider we knew the story that we wanted that car to tell and we wanted it to be a performance story and we will bring good equipment levels in that car so it wasn’t really coming with a ‘bargain basement’ version of the car,” Mr Swanson added.

“Obviously our focus on bringing a more performance-oriented version of the car is something that maybe differentiates us very slightly from what’s being done with the vehicle on the same platform.

“There’s very big potential with that car and moving it away from the rest of that competitive environment.”

The Abarth 124 Spider produces 126kW and 250Nm from its 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine compared with 188kW/200Nm for Mazda’s 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder MX-5. It is expected pricing will begin in the $40-45,000 bracket, versus its Japanese rival’s low-$30,000 starting price.

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