There aren't many manual-transmission-only offerings on the US market, and now there's one fewer. The 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth has just gone into production with a newly available automatic option.
We've known that the hair-raising, high-performance Cinquecento has been scheduled to get a two-pedal setup for some time, but now we have more specifics on the gearbox itself. According to Fiat, the six-speed automatic is derived from the same Aisin unit used in the standard 500, but it's been substantially reengineered to cope with the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine's added power. Allison Singer, a vehicle integration engineer on the 500 Abarth's development program tells Autoblog that the modifications to the gearbox include "gears that have been reinforced and a few extra clutch plates," among other changes. Unfortunately, there are no paddle shifters, as the 500's steering wheel was not designed to accommodate them, but at least there's a +/- manual gate on the gearshift lever.
Interestingly, the automatic brings with it substantially different power numbers than its manual counterpart. The new model receives 157 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque, which is 3 horsepower less than the manual, yet it packs a whopping 13 pound-feet more torque, which should aid drivability. By comparison, the five-speed manual 2015 Abarth registers 160 hp and up to 170 lb-ft. New features that come with the auto include a dedicated sport mode, rev-matched downshifts, fuel-cut upshifts, shift logic that holds gears in corners and 'fast-off' situations, along with sharper throttle tuning. Despite the added torque, Singer admits that "The manual will probably be a tiny bit quicker as far as performance goes," but she is confident that the transmission's availability will open the car up to a much broader market of buyers.
Ariel Gavilan, Head of Communications for Fiat North America, concurs, telling Autoblog, "There are some young kids who might not know how to drive a manual... yet [with the automatic] they still won't miss the essence of Abarth." That widened appeal should help improve Abarth sales, which are already on a solid upswing, with sales up 16 percent year-to-date through the end of May, according to Gavilan.
All 2015 model-year 500s feature a new seven-inch screen (like that of the battery-powered 500e) that replaces the analog gauges in last year's instrument cluster, among other minor changes.
2015 500 Abarth models in both hardtop and convertible bodystyles have begun rolling off the line at Fiat's Toluca Assembly Plant in Mexico as you read this, and production of the first auto-equipped 500 Turbo models (which share the Abarth's powertrain without most of its visual upgrades and hardcore suspension) are also getting underway.