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Little bundle of joy. Image by Kyle Fortune.

Little bundle of joy
Cheap and incredibly cheerful, the Abarth 500 brings big smiles for not much money. Where else can you get that at the moment?

 



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| First Drive | Poole, England | Abarth 500 |

They say we need to spend our way out of the recession and after a drive in the Abarth 500 I have to agree. There really is no cheaper way to make yourself smile behind the wheel of a new car at the moment than a ride in this hotted-up little Italian.

In the Metal

Fiat's 500 is a cutesy looker; a cuddly toy of a car that's difficult not to love. The Abarth 500 builds on that, with almost comedic muscular additions to the diminutive, iconic lines of the standard 500. There's a Jimmy Hill style jutting chin, flared wheel arches, wider, lower and vented front and rear bumpers, a roof spoiler and more badges than a super keen cub scout. It looks great. Go daft with the options and you can cover your 500 with Abarth's Scorpion badges or add details like a chequered roof. Don't. It looks spot on in standard guise.

What you get for your Money

The 13,600 list price for the standard Abarth 500 gets you all the hot Italian you could really want. Under the short bonnet there's an eager little 1.4-litre turbocharged engine with 135bhp and it comes with a standard specification that includes pretty much everything you could want. If you really have to spend a bit more then leather adds some class to the interior, similarly the climate control option over the standard air conditioning removes the latter's rather cheap feeling rotary controls. We might be tempted by the pearl-effect white paint too, which highlights the Abarth 500's more muscular lines so much better than the standard colours. Figure on around 2,000 for that lot.

If you've money to burn then you might want to go for the Esseesse model. It's a 2,500 performance upgrade pack that's delivered to your Abarth dealer in a wooden crate - which you can keep if you want. In that crate you get a new ECU, a new air filter, perforated brake discs and new pads, lower springs, bigger 17-inch alloy wheels and a tyre pressure monitoring kit. The engine modifications boost power to 160bhp, peak torque to 170lb.ft (up from 152lb.ft) and drops the 0-62mph time from 7.9 seconds to 7.4 seconds. Economy and emissions remain unchanged at 43.3mpg on the combined cycle and 155g/km. If you're a bit skint when ordering you can have the Esseesse pack retro fitted within one year or 12,400-miles.

Driving it

The first thing you notice in the Abarth is just how high you're sitting. The sports seats seem to add some height to the standard car's seating position. The steering wheel looks and feels massive too and your forward view is partially obstructed by a rather unnecessary turbo boost gauge with a shift indicator on it. Pull away without pressing the Sport button and that indicator will be suggesting a shift before you're barely rolling - all in the pursuit of economy. Press Sport and the shift light only glows when you're hitting the limiter, the steering beefing up in weight too and a fatter 152lb.ft of torque at your disposal - in regular mode there's only 132lb.ft.

Weighty as the steering is there's precious little feel through the chunky rim. There's plenty of understeer though, but the little Abarth has a means of quelling that. It's called TTC (Torque Transfer Control) and it acts like a virtual limited-slip differential. Press the innocuous button and the effect is immediate, it tying the front end down so effectively you'd swear you were driving a completely different car. The suspension is firm and bouncy on our less than glass smooth roads, but it's very rarely harsh and improves markedly with speed. Gaining velocity isn't something you'll struggle with either, the 500 feeling far more brisker than the figures suggest. The gutsy sounding 1.4-litre turbocharged unit is very flexible, which, given the sometimes clumsy shift of the five-speeder, is no bad thing. The gearbox is the weak link in the driving experience, along with the 500's rather numb, lifeless steering.

While that doesn't sound like it adds up to the greatest driving experience ever, the 500's sheer character means you'll forgive it a great deal. A MINI Cooper is the sharper, more involving drive, but the 500 is a touch cheaper - and a good deal more exclusive than the ubiquitous Brit.

Worth Noting

Opt for the Esseesse and along with that boost in power comes larger alloys and a suspension kit. The alloys look great, but the effect they have on the ride isn't; throw in those suspension mods and you'll be spending more than 2,500 at the chiropractor. We'd only recommend if you're a real track fiend. If so then the Blue&Me MAP satnav and entertainment system might also be of interest. It can be loaded with circuit maps, will show lap times and real time telemetry with engine revs and vehicle speeds and even the gear you're in. It's all downloadable too, so if you want to prove to your Abarth 500 owning mates that you're the quickest at a track day then you can. Overkill perhaps, but fun too.

Summary

Abarth's interpretation of the 500 is a hugely entertaining small car with big performance and the ability to turn every drive into a special stage or a qualifying lap. Fast enough for road use, bubbling with character and a great looker, the Abarth 500 might not be as sharp as some of its direct rivals but it's still hugely appealing. If you're looking for cheap thrills during the credit crunch then look no further.

Kyle Fortune - 19 Feb 2009









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2009 Abarth 500 specifications:
Price: 13,600 on-the-road (2,500 for esseesse upgrade)
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Top speed: 128mph
Combined economy: 43.4mpg
Emissions: 155g/km
Kerb weight: 1035kg

Full technical specifications

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.



2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Fiat.
 

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Fiat.
 

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2009 Fiat 500 Abarth. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 






 

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