Many in the U.S. have been hoping to receive the wildly popular Fiat 500 minicar for the past couple of years but a lack of interest in small cars has largely held it back. Now, with Fiat's alliance with Chrysler in place the Italian auto giant has a gateway to the lucrative U.S. market and the first model to arrive under the new alliance will be the 500, and according to latest reports it won’t be the ordinary model that’s coming first but rather, the high performance Abarth.

The 500 is scheduled to hit showrooms in 2011 and it’s set to be the only Fiat-badged model coming here. According to Ward's Auto, Chrysler dealers have been advised that the first batch of 500s will be the Abarth.

To differentiate the Abarth 500 from the standard version, the new car comes with a sporty bodykit with larger air intakes, side skirts, a rear diffuser, pumped fenders, Abarth decals and new alloys plus the famed scorpion logo on the grille. Up back is an integrated rear diffuser and dual exhaust tips finished in chrome. The interior continues the sporty theme with new bucket seats, alloy pedals, leather trim and 16 inch wheels.

Power comes from Fiat’s turbocharged T-Jet petrol engine, developing a peak 135 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 132 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. Drive is sent to the front wheels and 0-60 mph times should fall in the low 7 second range. Mileage rates in around 25-33 mpg.

Fiat forecasts first-year sales of 20,000-25,000 Abarth 500s in the U.S., with pricing coming in around the $18,000-$19,000 mark.

[Ward's Auto]