The Fiat 500’s chassis used to be its weakest link, a choppy ride and rather ordinary handling a disappointing contrast to the polished appeal of the rest of the car. But with the debut of the soft-top 500C in 2010 came some suspension changes, mostly affecting the rear axle, which have done much to civilise this baby Fiat.
The sudden, occasionally bouncing progress – particularly acute aboard the sportier models – has mostly been banished, and small bumps are absorbed without much turbulence reaching the cabin. You sometimes feel the 500’s short wheelbase as it pitches over crests and into troughs, but the effect is far less disturbing than it used to be, and even the bigger 16in wheels don’t agitate the ride too much. The suspension is also quiet, there being less crash-through and road noise than you find in some cars of this class, all of which makes the 500 easier to live with than before.
Also improved is the Fiat’s electric power steering. It’s still not much of a communicator, but at least its artificial resistance feels more real, and without too much of the straight-ahead deadness that EPAS systems often suffer. Switch to City mode and the steering feels only semi-connected, but the effort required is certainly low.
The 500 handles better now, too. It feels far more settled with the reduced bounce, and that encourages you to corner harder, as does the crisper steering.
A firm ride in a hot hatch is something we can put up with, as long as the trade-off is sharp composure and handling. Here the Abarth is very good. On smooth roads it feels nailed to the surface, with little roll and a solidity that, say, a sporty Mini can’t match for the moment.
The Abarth steers well, too; the electrically assisted helm is quick, accurate and well weighted, albeit with a hint of springiness around the straight ahead and a touch of torque steer.