The Stilo was released in 2001 as part of Fiat's ongoing attempts to zhuzh up its brand, but in sales terms it was a dud. There was no real cohesion in Fiat's styling at that time, and the Stilo was no real improvement on the head-scratchingly ordinary Bravo/Brava it succeeded. It was just a different kind of ordinary. In one way, specifically the suspension way, it was actually more ordinary than its predecessor, which had a fully independent rear end compared to the later Stilo's oddly Flintstonian torsion beam setup.
Still, taking up the baton of the HGT Bravo, the Stilo Abarth looked the part with its various bits of branding jewellery. Excitingly, it had an uprated version of the HGT's 20-valve five-cylinder 2.4-litre petrol engine. Less excitingly, it wasn't as pokey as you might have hoped. With 170hp pushing the 3-door Stilo's 1340kg along - the 5-door version weighed around 20kg less - its 0-60 time in the low-to-mid 8s was slightly behind that of Ford's 130kg lighter (but also more expensive) Focus ST170.
Although neither of these two really impressed in the torque department -163lb ft for the Fiat versus 145lb ft for the Ford - the Italian car did at least generate its maximum twist at 3500rpm, a full 2000rpm lower than the raucous Ford's vein-throbbing peak. It also had a more characterful rasp from its smooth straight five engine, although Shed does recall the throttle response being comically slow in standard trim.
To try and convince folk of the Stilo Abarth's credibility, Fiat set up a couple of motorsports championships in Italy and the UK in the mid-2000s, wisely avoiding potential embarrassment by refusing entry to anything that wasn't a Stilo. Still, while road testers didn't go overboard with praise for the brake feel, the seat comfort or the electric Dualdrive steering which lightened up the wheel effort at city speeds, they did quite like the Abarth's slick 5-speed gearbox - although that might have been pure relief at not having been given a Selespeed version to test. Few motoring advances have supercharged depreciation quite as efficiently as the Selespeed gearbox.
The Abarth spec level was high, too. It had everything the Dynamic range-topper had plus a sporty wheel'n'tyre package and of course those cool Abarth accoutrements including a cool scorpion badge on the back. This example even appears to have a functioning reversing camera in its Pioneer double-DIN gizmo (insert your own Italian tank commander joke here, Shed's too scared).
Today, looking around our 2005 specimen, it's a struggle to see any obvious flaws. Structurally there are no warning signs anywhere in the MOT history. The only reference to rust is to the exhaust box in 2013. In terms of advisories, deteriorated suspension dust covers and worn tyres are about as bad as it gets. All this gives the lie to the commonly held theory that Fiats are poorly made. The current MOT runs to next August.
The surprisingly clean set of alloys are shod in at least two cases with 205/55 Michelin tyres. The other two look like they may be Roadstones, which if Shed's memory serves are made by Michelin in Korea, and are not necessarily of Ditchfinder status. Any tyre will wear down rapidly on a Stilo if the suspension components aren't well set up.
Other things that might put the wrong kind of vinegar on your chips are malfunctioning electric seats, airbag sensors, instruments, ECUs, dash warnings - let's just say electrics in general. The suspension can creak more loudly than Mrs Shed's reinforced deckchair after a big meal, but the engines are strong. Driven with gusto a Stilo Abarth will return 20mpg more often than it will 30mpg. If you don't mind that, you might also be interested to hear that a quick remap will take it to nearly 200hp and that a set of shorter Eibach springs will nicely hone the drive experience.
You won't see many Stilo Abarths on UK roads these days for the simple reason that there were never more than a thousand or so registered here. In 2019 there are only a hundred or so left. If you like the idea of mooching about in something that you're unlikely to see anywhere else, £1150 doesn't seem all that much.