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2016 Abarth 500 and 124 Spider detailed

2017 Fiat Abarth 124 Spider

Abarth is a brand you have probably never heard of. Fair enough — we buy so few it doesn't rate a mention by name in the monthly sales results from industry statistician VFACTS.

It was founded in 1949 by Carlo Abarth in Bologna up the road from Alfa, Ferrari and Maserati. In 1971 Fiat took over and it's now Fiat's performance brand, as are AMG in the Benz empire and M in BMW world.

The local Abarth range, based on hotted-up Fiat 500s, is about to get a new entry level model which should put it on the radar of a few more buyers than the handful it attracts now.

The Abarth 500 ($27,500) is due in the second quarter. It will take on the Mini, Audi A3, VW Polo, Peugeot 208 and other premium priced Euro tiddlers. A cabrio version will be $31,500.

Powered by Fiat's 1.4-litre turbo T-Jet engine, as used in the other Abarth variants, the base Abarth will produce 104kW/203Nm with a five-speed manual. A five-speed automated manual adds $2000.

Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, seven-inch touchscreen, rear parking sensors and ventilated brake discs with red calipers.

It's designed to bridge the gap between the top end of the standard Fiat 500 range, the $25,000 1.4-litre Lounge cabrio, and the current Abarth starter, the $34,000 1.4-litre 595 Turismo.

The Turismo's T-Jet engine produces 118kW/230Nm, as it does in the 500 EsseEsse ($34,900) and the 595 Competizione ($37,000).

Abarth is heavily involved in racing in Europe, with its own sponsored series, Italian and international championships.

Atop the present Abarth lineup, with just a few $65,000 examples remaining unsold, is the 695 Biposto, with 140kW and race grade hardware. At the end of 2016, a 134kW high performance model is due.

Fiat Chrysler Australia is also deciding on where to position the 124 Spider, Fiat's iteration of the Mazda MX-5, also due at the end of the year. The Fiat-badged model shares its engine with the Abarth 500 but is rear-drive and has six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Abarth also has its scorpion badge on the 124 — a limited edition 127kW Abarth 124 Spider premiered at the Geneva motor show. Abarth Racing Team showed an even tastier 124 rally prototype, with a 223kW 1.8-litre engine.

What do you think of the Abarth 500 and 124? Tell us in the comments below.