Fiat Stilo 2-4

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Description: Fiat's Style-Edgy Stilo.

Add to your short list of small, svelte excitements just beyond your reach the Fiat Stilo Abarth, raciest of a new 19-model line of three- and five-door Stilos introduced in September. The Abarth has a zesty 20-valve, 2.4-liter five-cylinder turning out 168 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque, hooked up to a five-speed manumatic called the "Selespeed," which works with paddle shifters at the steering wheel plus a conventional hand shifter. The Abarth three-door is about an inch longer than a Golf GLS, and at 2800 pounds, it's about 80 lighter. The strategy behind this very stylish Italian line is to offer premium materials and upscale options in what is traditionally a low-priced economy car—things such as a nav system, cruise control, dual-zone climate controls, rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlights, parking sensors, a small transponder that lets the driver unlock the doors and start the car without a key, an oversize power sunroof made of five glass slats, and power sport seats with memory that fold up and down in a variety of configurations.

Fiat hopes the Stilo will cut into the VW Golf's dominance of this four-million-car "C" market in Europe. It may not outrun a Golf GTI with the 1.8 turbo engine (Fiat expects the Abarth to get to 62 mph in 8.5 seconds, compared with 7.3 seconds to 60 for the last GTI 1.8T we tested, in June 2000), but it is a very handsome Italian certain to appeal to the holy youth market. Sources estimate that a fully dressed Abarth will cost $20,700, and the base Stilo will start at $16,000.

With GM now involved in Fiat, and with Fiat-owned Alfa Romeo set to reenter the U.S. market in 2005, possibly in Saab or Cadillac showrooms, it's not impossible that the Stilo, or a near relative, might wind up within reach.

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