Expensive, and too compromised on UK roads

Our Verdict

Fiat 500 Abarth
Cheeky small Fiat gets the Abarth performance treatment

This raucous little Fiat adheres to the golden rule of warm hatches: put a broad smile on the driver's face

What is it?

It’s hard to dislike the Fiat 500 Abarth; it would be like trying to kick a baby seal. So it’s always been with much pleasure that we’ve found Fiat’s fiery supermini lives up to expectations in terms of entertainment, even if there are also glaring flaws regards ride quality and in the case of the convertible 5000C, the acceptable but uninspiring five-speed robotic manual that was its standard and only transmission.

So this updated Abarth 500C, complete with manual gearbox and softer suspension should be the best of the lot.

What’s it like?

It’s certainly not the best Abarth. In fact, in the Esseesse trim as tested here, it’s the worst. The Esseesse pack doesn’t only bring with it a power upgrade from 138bhp to 158bhp, it also gets lowered suspension front and back, new Koni dampers and 17-inch alloys that makes the 500C crash over most surface intrusions, whilst looser body control makes it feel a touch more unsettled than the hatch.

Perhaps worse than this was the pronounced turbo-lag. Even after selecting ‘Sport’, which you’ll want to do for every journey to avoid the too-soft throttle response that is a common complaint in Abarths, the power trickles along until it all arrives in one torrent of turbo-boost.

We’ve driven the 500C Abarth without the Esseesse kit and with the automatic box, and whilst far from perfect it was still a much more enjoyable car than this. It’s a shame because on paper the manual 500C Abarth tested here looks to be hugely relevant in today’s market – hot-hatch fun with open-air thrills in a desirable and economical car. And it is still entertaining thanks to the general flamboyance it offers, and it offers decent cornering agility provided you can find a smooth-enough stretch of tarmac.

But whilst other Abarths are compromised but justifiable, this one simply doesn’t work on UK roads.

Should I buy one?

The Abarth 500 is generally a thing of great joy, but this particular combination has enough significant dynamic failings that it’s just about un-recommendable. And if that isn’t enough to sway you away from this particular Abarth, the hugely optimistic price of £20,096 (£16,856 without the Esseesse kit) surely will be.

Fiat 500C Abarth Esseesse

Price: £20,096; Top speed: 130mph; 0-62mph: 7.6sec; Economy: 43.5mpg; Co2: 155g/km; Kerbweight: 1040kg (est); Engine type: 4cyl, 1368cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power: 158bhp at 5750rpm; Torque: 170lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual

Join the debate


12 August 2011

I love it.

It's not a BMW.

12 August 2011

7.2 secs to 60 - faster than my old Porsche 924S.

12 August 2011

Why oh why, is it with every car manufacturer that every increase in power must come with larger rims and dropped suspension. Is it to much to ask for a relatively normal suspension/tyre set up, with a more powerful engine. I personally would like the extra shove for overtaking easily and safely, not hammering round corners.

12 August 2011

[quote audiolab] I personally would like the extra shove for overtaking easily and safely, not hammering round corners.[/quote]

I think you have very good point there!

13 August 2011

By the looks of it the turbo lag appears to be a case of pushing the tuning a little too far with too little development.

The standard car with a manual box does look (especially considering the price) the best option though.



It's all about the twisties........

13 August 2011

[quote Nobby Hightinkle]

I love it.

It's not a BMW.

[/quote] Me too. I love BMWs too. They're great.

15 August 2011

I wanted to trade in our 135 coupe for a 500 Abarth. The best offer was about £5000 off book, we bought another BMW! Fiat are having a laugh with Abarth pricing - but haven't woken up to the fact they're not selling many. Scour the dealer websites, and in 3 months time much of the stock won't have shifted.

15 August 2011

Considering there are no mechanical changes to the cars engine over a stock 500C bar a remap and air an filter I fail to understand how it could have more lag?

15 August 2011

[quote audiolab]I personally would like the extra shove for overtaking easily and safely, not hammering round corners.[/quote] well, you would have loved my golf tdi mark iv. chipped to 160 bhp, went like the clappers on the straights, but the underdamped suspension plus balloon 15inch tyres, meant if you were still doing warp nine into a bend, you mostly ended up going straight on!!! a frightening experience!!!

15 August 2011

@ il sole

Know what you mean had a vw bora 150bhp tdi, 3rd gear was a dream 30-90mph. I dont mean i want a totally normal suspension setup, just not a bone shaker.

Not only but also, why is it you can only get xenons fitted to upper trims levels. Do lower levels not deserve the saftey afforded buy improved lighting !


Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    23 September 2016
    Aston kicks off its ‘second century plan’ with an all-new turbo V12 grand tourer
  • Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka
  •  Maserati Ghibli Diesel
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    Maserati releases another range of updates for its range best seller, the Ghibli. We've driven the diesel version, but there's little improvement on before
  • Tipo Front
    First Drive
    21 September 2016
    New Fiat Tipo offers impressive space and practicality for a reasonable price. We try the 1.6 diesel on the demanding roads of North Wales
  • Seat Ateca 1.4 TSI 150
    First Drive
    20 September 2016
    The Seat Ateca 1.4 TSI 150 makes perfect sense: it's spacious, tidy to drive for an SUV and cheap to run