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Fiat 500 Abarth

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Fiat 500 Abarth
7/10

Overall
verdict

An addictive little begger that is much better than its list of failings would have you believe.

Additional Info

  • Individuality, running costs and cool scorpion badges
  • Top Gear wildcard

    The two-cylinder TwinAir is as much fun, maybe more so, and costs significantly less to buy and run

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What is it?

In many ways an inspired attempt to inject a bit of machismo into the otherwise entirely effeminate Fiat 500, the Abarth fails to hit the mark quite as we’d all hoped, but is nonetheless a hugely entertaining and characterful hot hatch for comparatively little money. It’s even more compelling now, thanks to a price reduction for the standard car and some good-looking new trims further up the range, although. it’s still outclassed by cars such as the Ford Fiesta ST.

Driving

A fly in the 500’s ointment has always been its driving position. It’s far too high, even in the standard car, but this becomes a more serious problem when you’re trying to dial in some performance. That sense of being too far removed from the road is a deal breaker for us, a problem compounded by light steering that’s short on feel.

Nevertheless, the Abarth feels well planted on that widened stance and a heavily stiffened chassis keeps it stable to the limits of its mechanical grip. This does make the ride pretty awful, but in a shorty hot hatch you can expect nothing more.

The 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol engine in here is turbocharged to 135bhp. That may not sound like much, but there’s not much to the Fiat 500 so it feels exceedingly quick. And if you can afford the Esseesse upgrade, power is tweaked to 160bhp, which starts to feel bonkers. Turismo and Competizione variants get this pack as standard, along with upgraded front and rear dampers plus 17-inch alloys. The ultimate mini rocketship that grips as well as it goes?

 

On the inside

The normal 500’s cabin is a strong point: clear, fun and functional, and the Abarth takes it on a little with a meaty sports steering wheel, resplendent in leather and finished off with that evocative scorpion badge. But you do still sit way too high for a car with such sporting focus and the back is hopelessly cramped. See it as a mini sportscar rather than a genuinely practical high-performance citycar.

There are plenty of options available to customise your Abarth’s interior, but leather is probably the only one to worry about. You get sports seats front and rear and it’s a shame not to make a virtue of these.

 

Owning

Fiat has conceded nearly £15,000 was too much for the Abarth 500, so prices now start at under £14k. New Turismo and Competizione packs are pricier but look good enough to justify it. On all, you get a decent amount of kit and rarity that Mini Cooper owners can only dream of. 43.5mpg from a hot hatch is good, as is a comparatively low-insurance bracket.

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Latest road tests

4/10 Fiat 500 Abarth 595 50th Driven
January 2014
5/10 Fiat 500 Abarth Esseesse driven
November 2011
7/10 Fiat 500 Abarth C driven
August 2010

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