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Fiat Abarth Venom: Fiat’s retro hatchback reveals its dark side

Fiat Abarth VenomWhen Spider-Man encountered an alien symbiote, he got a new costume and a bad attitude. The “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” became Venom, history’s most murderous doppelganger. Thanks to an infusion of performance parts from Magnetti Marelli, the formerly cute Fiat 500 has a sinister new look, but does it have the personality of its namesake?

Magnetti Marelli is an aftermarket parts company owned by Fiat, analogous to Chrysler’s Mopar parts division. Last year, it put rally car suspension on a Dodge Avenger to test the waters of the U.S. Market. Now, the company is back with the Abarth Venom, which was unveiled to a group of journalists in Las Vegas.

The biggest change is in the Fiat’s weight. Magnetti Marelli (and Mopar) installed a carbon fiber hood, mirrors, and front splitter. The dashboard trim and seats also got a carbon makeover. As a result,the car lost 200 pounds, bringing its weight down to around 2300.

Under that carbon fiber hood, a reprogrammed engine control unit, as well as a new air intake and exhaust, will boost power output. Fiat said the modifications give the Venom 25 percent more power than a regular 500 Abarth, which on a U.S.-spec car means about 200 horsepower. The Venom also gets front and rear strut braces to stiffen the chassis.

A lighter 500 with more power and attitude seems like a pretty good idea. A carbon fiber hood on a bright yellow Honda Civic might be a little too Fast & Furious, but on a totally blacked-out car, it looks downright sinister. The fact that this is a Fiat 500, one of the most un-intimidating cars around, just makes the effect cooler.

Magnetti Marelli and Mopar said they had no plans to bring the Venom’s parts to the U.S. And, admittedly, it may not be as appealing in America as it would in Europe. On the Continent, small hatchbacks like the Vauxhall Corsa Nurburgring and the forthcoming Ford Fiesta ST are popular. In the U.S., performance junkies prefer larger, C-segment cars like the Subaru WRX and Volkswagen GTI.

Still, not every trend needs to be followed. Mini continues to sell the John Cooper Works versions of its cars; they come with plenty of performance add-ons and, and inflated price tags. If Fiat is going to remain a one-model brand in the United States, the company might want to follow Mini’s example and build several different versions to tap different market segments. The Venom could show customers that the 500 isn’t all about being cute, the same way that symbiote showed comic book readers Pter Parker’s dark side.