Crunching the Performance Numbers

Crunching the Performance Numbers

When reviewing sports cars, horsepower is usually the first number talked about. The higher the number, the higher the rank. However, power isn’t everything. All the power in the world won’t matter if you’re trying to push around a four ton brick house. Weight, as a metric, is often ignored. This is unfortunate, because the ratio of power to weight is probably the most telling number of a car’s performance capability.

The tiny 101 horsepower engine inside the Fiat 500 doesn’t seem like much, until you realize the car weighs just over a ton. For comparison, the Cadillac Escalade weighs about 3.5 tons. To get that kind of weight onto the highway in a reasonable amount of time, you need a 400+ horsepower engine. The Fiat only needs a fraction of that power to feel sporty.

A Close Look at the Numbers

So how does the power and weight of a Fiat 500 compare to a other cars? Well, even the Sport version is actually quite slow. Weighing in at 2,363 lbs (according to Edmunds), with just 101 hp, gives it a ratio of 85 horsepower per (US) ton, or hp/t. Sadly, that is actually 3 hp/t less than a Toyota Prius, a car hated by auto enthusiasts worldwide. To compare, a 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo has 289 hp/t. You could however, buy seven Fiat 500s for the price of the Porsche, so you certainly pay a premium for speed.

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Enter the Real Contender

All this talk about the base Fiat 500 is moot anyway, considering we will have the Abarth available in 2012. Hopefully weighing close to the same amount, the Abarth should come with at least 170 hp (and possibly 185). Since none of the specifications have been released, we’ll have to guess at the exact numbers.

We’ll be using the reasonable 170 hp for the power. For the weight, let’s look at historical data. We know the Fiat 500 Sport weighs 2363 lbs. The European Abarth is somewhere between 2000 and 2300 pounds, depending on the source. Since the 500 added roughly 100 pounds for additional safety features when it came to the states, its likely the Abarth will need to gain just as much. That would put it at roughly 2400 lbs.

Based on those numbers, the power to weight ratio of the US Fiat 500 Abarth would be 138 hp/t. Not bad for $21k!

How about the competition?

The closest competitor available in the states is the Mini Cooper S. For 2012, it is heavier than the Abarth by about 200 pounds, but also gains 11 hp. Unfortunately that’s not enough to make up for the extra weight, putting the Mini behind the Fiat at 136 hp/t. That is only a 2 hp/ton separation, but a win is a win. If the Abarth manages to come in a bit lighter than estimated, or with a bit more power, the margin of victory will be even larger.

For comparison sake, I ran the numbers on a few other cars that I’ve been cross shopping lately:

  • 2008 Mitsubishi Evolution X
    291 hp, 3514 lbs., 166 hp/t
  • 2009 Nissan 370Z
    332 hp, 3232 lbs., 205 hp/t
  • 2011 Ford Mustang GT
    412 hp, 3605 lbs., 229 hp/t

In terms of bang for your buck, the Mustang wins hands down. However the Fiat 500 Abarth will provide an exciting amount of performance for a relatively low sticker price.