The Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC

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The Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC

ONCE upon a time it was deemed ingenious to fit any sort of transverse engine and transmission into a small front-wheel-drive car. Now the latest twist in the speed 1 power spiral crams the bonnet of a small hatchback with a powerplant from a full-size sports saloon. That engine is the 2-litre twin-cam from the Fiat 131 Sport, and its new home is in the Strada.

Therein no doubt, in the cut-throat world of dealers and discounts, that performance sells — or at least that the image of performance does. Just how vital 0-60 times are to the status of the GIi tag is open to question. Nevertheless, every manufacturer has learnt to top his hatchback range with a go-faster version, and Fiat’s go-fastest was until recently the Strada 1 osTc, which compared very closely with its peers, Golf GTi, Escort XR3i and Astra GTE. Whether it is harder for a “foreign” contender to penetrate the market, as opposed to the “British with European help” image of Escort and Astra, or whether it is the Leader of the Pack reputation Fiat are after, they have chosen to push their newest offering into a new league of performance.

Rather than opt for a higher state of tune, the expensive route taken by VW for next year’s 16-valve Golf, the Milanese giant has gone for increased capacity. very sensibly given that the ideal 2-litre unit was already available as a result of the Fiat Abarth rally programme. With 130 bhp and as many lb ft of torque, the resulting Strada Abarth is the punchiest sportshatch of them all, and boasts more cc than any European rival. (There is a 2.2-litre version in America of the Dodge Omni, or Talbot Horizon to us, but in that land of power-sapping emission controls, its output is only 110 bhp.) Onto this bulky block, surprisingly enough, has been grafted a ZF 5-speed gearbox, while stiffer progressive coils on the front struts reconcile the increased weight with the decreased ride height. Braking is improved through the use of 9.5 in ventilated discs, with drums at the rear, while roll is countered by a floating roll-bar, attached to the suspension but not to the body. The visible signs of all this extra grip, added to the doors, supposedly for body

opened over a pavement — very annoying and obstructive. design than mainstream British and German apart from the obviously lower suspension, are the large tyres: 185/60 14 Pirelli P600 alloy wheels, but the deep front spoiler and Abarth badges give the right signals to onlookers. External plastic sills have been protection, but they are unclose to the road that the door frequently grounds when Fiat have long been more adventurous in

car firms — witness the clean, bland lines of Escort and Golf versus the quirky but interesting chamfered edges of the basic Strada. This difference is highlighted in the interior, where Fiat, along with Alfa (in the 33) and Lancia (Delta / Prisms) prove that styling innovation can very well go hand in hand with good ergonomics, without following the Teutonic look-alike route. Having said that, the clear instruments are partly obscured by the small thick Abarth steering-wheel, but this is no worse than in most small wheel substitutions.

Recaro competition seats dominate the inside, and give rise to the other everyday irritation of this car — they barely tip forwards before’ the head-restraint hits the roof, making access to the rear seats very difficult indeed. They are, however, more comfortable than they look, and provide superb lateral support, something which is vital in this machine.

When I initially drove this car on home ground in Scotland, I came away exhilarated and approving. Since then, a full ten days’ driving based on London has tempered my feelings a little. The heavy gearchange becomes downright laborious in traffic, and is sometimes obstructive into or out of second when being used hard. The steering is not too heavy, but snatches strongly under acceleration; great care needs to be taken in first to prevent the nose darting sideways even with mild lock. On the other hand, the fourth and fifth gear pull is terrific so the lower gears can be left alone if desired, and the feel through the wheel at speed is excellent. I have already described this car in MOTOR Sl’ORT as “a sprinter rather than a grand tourer” and longer aquaintance

confirms that view. It is not noisy on motorways, the ride is solid bit well-damped, and the seats allow one to relax, yet it demands a lot of concentration to drive smoothly, and to keep within speed limits. It is, conversely, easy to drive fast on winding roads, unit seems to thrive on high revs and g-forces. The high driving position is a help, emphasising the very 110/ cornering, when the chassis clings fiercely to the road, even under the provocation of a wide-open throttle. Understeer is inevitably present, but is easily countered with the quick steering, and its very Mass (for is isi!° flyweight) helps both stability and gel) under braking. Two twin-choke side-draught carburetters nuzzle up to the radiator and combine with Digiplex electronic ignition to give a good spread of torque down to low revs, bur fuel consumption averaged about 24 mpg In town, which is below the class norm. I. improved to about 271/2 mpg on longer journeys, over devious fenland roads w Cadwell Park for instance, which fig,to would presumably rise further once the novelty has worn off. If you want to, y. can touch 60 mph in under eight seconds, but more relevant is the instant overtaking urge available in all gears, which makes the Abarth feel like a much bigger car. Th! sharp clutch is ideal for fast driving, thong; not rir ,triatthfic,:ettitlne:iLytar Lz:dithrigroug4,00.ttho, excelling on country roads. almost the same as a Golf GTi, it will have sell on outright performance (and 1„ suitability for Group N racing) rather th,,!; refinement, but it looks businesslike and If dsoruivnidngs p.ioe ansduerliu Gh e or a

G.C. f °

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