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