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Driven: 2023 Abarth 500e. Image by Abarth.

Driven: 2023 Abarth 500e
Can the notoriously rumbunctious Abarth possibly survive the transition to electric power?

   



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2023 Abarth 500e

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

For Abarth more than most companies, the switch to electrification is an issue. Here's a brand that has made its name as much with pops and bangs from the exhaust as with genuine performance. Yet here it is turning Fiat's electric 500e into a hot hatchback. But is the Abarth 500e doomed to fail, or will it be the diminutive surprise package of the year?

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2023 Abarth 500e Turismo
Price: £38,795 (as tested)
Motor: 113kW electric motor
Transmission: single-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Battery: 42.2kWh lithium-ion battery
Power: 152hp
Torque: 235Nm
Emissions: 0g/km
Range: 157 miles
0-62mph: 7.0 seconds
Top speed: 96mph
Boot space: 185 litres

Styling

The Abarth 500e is clearly an evolution of the Fiat 500e design Ė the link is immediately obvious Ė but itís a Fiat on steroids. As with the combustion-powered Abarths, the 500e gets chunkier arches and bumpers, as well as its own grille and the Abarth lettering across the nose. Big alloy wheels also help, along with a selection of outlandish colour schemes, including the bold Acid Green seen on our test car. It certainly stands out in a crowd, but it wonít necessarily be to everyoneís taste.

Interior

As with the Abarth's exterior design, the interior feels much the same as that of the 500e, albeit with some sporty lashings. The Abarth gets its own instrument display and touchscreen design, as well as lots of Alcantara trim in the higher-end Turismo model tested here. It's quite a dark cabin, though, even with the glass roof fitted to the Turismo, and it feels a bit bleak in some ways.

It's definitely sporty, though, as proven by the bucket-style seats. The driving position is a bit odd, because you feel as though you're sitting quite high, but the seats are designed to ensure there's plenty of lateral support. The problem is they promise more than they deliver, and you always feel as though you're perched on the seat, rather than sitting in it.

Fortunately, the Abarth has inherited much of the Fiat 500e's technology, which means it's much better than in any other Abarth model yet. It isn't perfect, of course, but the screen is sharp and nicely styled, while the system generally responds quickly to inputs. It will lag occasionally, though, and that makes it frustrating at times.

Practicality

The Abarth 500e is not practical in the traditional sense. Or indeed most other senses. The back seats arenít exactly useless Ė kids might just about cope Ė but adults wonít want to be shoehorned in there. Itís dark, too, thanks to the small windows and the sporty seats. The 185-litre boot, on the other hand, is sort of acceptable by the standards of small city cars, but itís hardly capacious. Combine that with the limited range, and itís clear that the Abarth 500e is more of a toy than the conventional 500e Ė a car that even Fiat would confess is designed for urban life, rather than touring the country or the continent.

Performance

By the standards of modern electric cars, 152hp doesnít sound all that much. But thatís the power Abarth has given the 500e, and it turns out that itís ample. With a relatively small car and a relatively small battery, the 500e tips the scales at 1.4 tonnes, and that isnít too bad for an electric vehicle. That means the 152hp motor is potent enough for a 0-62mph time of seven seconds and a top speed of 96mph, but the more impressive statistic is the 0-31mph acceleration. That takes less than three seconds, and it makes the 500e impressively nippy pulling away from the lights.

Of course, that performance comes with a noticeable cost, and thatís the electrical efficiency. Where a Fiat 500e gets 199 miles of range from its battery, the Abarth manages just 157 miles on the official economy test, and our real-world testing suggested even that was deeply optimistic. Around 125 miles is probably more accurate over a mixture of roads, while motorway driving will give you just over 100 miles of range. Admittedly, it should be better around town, but that depends on the driverís ability to steer clear of the acceleration that justifies the whole car. A conundrum.

Another conundrum is whether to use the Abarth Sound Generator that makes the electric Abarth sound like a petrol car, albeit with a futuristic twinge. In a way, the noise is quite endearing Ė itís a bit of a joke, but you feel as though thatís the entire point. The problem is that it gets tiring very quickly on longer journeys, and while itís fun for a few minutes, it will be turned off shortly after.

Whether you want the sound or not, you get the choice of three different driving modes, all of which tweak the motorís behaviour slightly. The Turismo setting is best for range, limiting power to 136hp, but the Scorpion Street and Scorpion Track modes give you the full 152hp. The difference between the two is that Scorpion Track turns the regenerative braking right down for maximum performance. Either way, performance is still plentiful, and a seven-second sprint to 62mph is more than adequate.

Ride & Handling

As well as adding power, Abarth exists to inject a little more verve into the 500eís handling, but the truth is that the standard car is already fairly well sorted. So while Abarth has fitted new suspension and other gimmicks, it was starting from a reasonable baseline already. The result, therefore, is a car thatís firmer and sportier than the Fiat equivalent, with sharper steering and a bit more feel, but it still lacks a little body control thanks to its height.

That isnít the end of the world Ė in fact, it adds to the fun Ė and the Abarthís home territory is really town centres. There, the compact dimensions come good and the car is really capable of darting around, which makes driving in urban environments more fun than it has any right to be. Even if you do need a slightly Italian attitude to get there.

The problem with the Abarth, though, is ride comfort. There isnít an awful lot in the way of suspension travel, which means it runs out of absorbtion quite quickly on bumpy roads, and though the ride isnít terrible, it is a bit stiff. Fortunately, the range means you can never go far enough to stop without a lengthy break, and therefore the ride comfort is hardly a massive issue.

Value

Abarth 500e prices start at £34,195, which is quite a lot of money for such a small car. And that's just for the basic version. Opt for this range-topping Turismo and prices start at £38,195, rising to more than £41,000 if you want the convertible model. Cheap it isn't then, and with the larger, more powerful and much faster MG4 XPower costing less, it isn't even good value. At least it's moderately well equipped, with Turismo versions getting cruise control, heated seats and a rear-view camera, as well as a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a JBL Premium audio system.

Verdict

The move to electric had the potential to spoil the Abarth 500s, but the 500e has proved ditching the petrol engine isn't the end of the road. The Abarth's biggest selling point has always been its sense of fun, and the 500e still has that in abundance. It's ridiculous, and while we'd never recommend it to anyone, we still kind of love it.



James Fossdyke - 13 Nov 2023



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2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.

2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.2023 Abarth 500e Turismo. Image by Abarth.








 

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