This time, it's not about cute.

In less than a month, Fiat will unveil the next model of its 500 minicar at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show.

The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth will be the 'hot hatch' model, with actual performance upgrades for better acceleration, braking, and handling. The current Fiat 500 Sport model combines suspension modification with some unique trim, but has no powertrain changes.

The Abarth name is legendary among Italian car fans, and could be considered roughly the equivalent of "Cooper" for the British Mini line. Abarth was originally an Italian tuning shop that also built low-volume cars; it's now become a  factory brand.

Abarths can be recognized by their scorpion graphics, signifying lots of sting packed inside tiny vehicles. Or as founder Karl Abarth said half a century ago: "small, but wicked."

The 2012 Abarth model will add a turbocharger to the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine used in all North American 500s, along with a six-speed manual gearbox. Fiat hasn't given output specs yet, but they'll likely be close to the European figures of 135 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

Other changes include stiffer "track-tuned" suspension, larger and better brakes, and body modifications that incorporate a larger front air dam and a rear air diffuser.

We expect the 500 Abarth to be the priciest member of the growing Fiat 500 family, starting above the $19,500 base price of the current top-of-the-line Fiat 500 Lounge in three-door hatchback form--though perhaps not as high as the 500C Lounge cabriolet at $23,500.

Abarth models will start to appear at Fiat dealers after the first of next year.


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