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Feature Drive: Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Dom Mernock.

Feature Drive: Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse
We take to the hills in Fiat's hopped-up 500 Abarth esseesse.

   



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| Feature Drive | Doune Hillclimb, Scotland | Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse |

The Fiat 500 Abarth is a MINI-seeking missile that we have a great fondness for, but to give it some real claws in its paws the esseesse kit is what we really love at Car Enthusiast.

To find out just how much more bite the 500 Abarth has with the 2,500 optional esseesse pack, we headed for the Doune Hillclimb to pit a small car against a big challenge. Kyle may have had to contend with the outlandish power of the Holden VXR8 at Goodwood, but the Abarth's 157bhp still feels like plenty at the Scottish hillclimb. It's noted for being one of the trickiest hillclimbs in the UK and it has the steepest section of any climb in the country at East Brae.

Far from feeling intimidated or out of its comfort zone the feisty little 500 Abarth is right at home lining up for the start line and having its rear wheel chocked. The only things I have to remember, aside from where the hillclimb course goes, are to switch off the air conditioning and engage the Sport button to sharpen up the steering and throttle responses.

Despite a cautious start to the first of six runs, the times are decent and the compact size of the 500 Abarth helps a great deal through the incredibly narrow first half of Doune's hillclimb course. Every corner in this section is blind, so getting the right line is essential for a decent time, and a small car allows the driver to use more of the road.

There are only a couple of big braking zones on the Doune course, so the esseesse kit's upgraded brakes over the standard 500 Abarth's come in very handy - or footy more precisely. The discs are no bigger than the standard items, but they're cross-drilled to help heat dissipate better. On a short hillclimb course fade isn't an issue, but it's reassuring to know the car will retard speed easily as it slams into the ascent of East Brae before jinking right towards the Esses and the finish line.

There are no concerns with the go part of the equation. The esseesse kit lifts power from the standard car's 133- to 157bhp with the help of a new exhaust and some tweaking of the ECU computer brain. From rest to 60mph takes 7.5 seconds and top speed is 131mph. For the hillclimb, third gear takes care of most of the run and the engine's flexibility is impressive for a small turbocharged unit. The gearchange could be snappier, sharper and more precise, but well-spaced pedals allow for heel 'n' toeing that is essential for smooth progress up a hillclimb.

With my memory refreshed about where the course heads, the next runs are all about pushing harder and trying different things before the final two timed runs on Sunday. The Abarth 500 comes with TTC (torque transfer control), which is essentially an electronic version of a limited slip differential. It makes little difference off the line, where some wheel spin is needed, but through a couple of the tighter corners it helps reign in wheel slip. Without it, the 500 Abarth's front wheels can tug at the steering as they scrabble for grip.

As the weekend rolls on, the big challenge proves to be getting off the line cleanly. Hot weather and the sticky slicks of the more serious hillclimb machines leave a near-perfect surface for getaways. Only problem is, it takes my mind some catching up to learn that a big right boot-full is needed to overcome the Fiat bogging down and losing momentum into the first corner.

Lead foot in place and any sympathy for the car discarded, the times improve and I record a best of 59.77 seconds. It's not the quickest in class, but it's a personal best and this, as much as anything, is what is great about hillclimbing. Taking part in a completely road legal car is also part of the appeal, especially when a Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse is setting times on a par with some very well driven Ferrari 308 and 328 models.

The firmer suspension, better brakes and larger alloy wheels (17-inch versus the standard Abarth's 16-inch items) of the esseesse kit help this diminutive Italian hot hatch to be a real hoot for a weekend's hillclimbing. The firm ride is in keeping with the nature of the beast and there's a point and play nimbleness to the handling that gets better the harder the driver presses on.

Is the esseesse kit worth 2,500 on top of a standard Fiat 500 Abarth's 14,155 price tag? Yes, is our answer, as much for the added braking and handling benefits as the power gain. You don't need to go hillclimbing to enjoy the extra abilities of the esseesse version, but it's certainly worth a go.

Alisdair Suttie - 15 Jul 2010



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2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.

2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Max Earey.



2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Dom Mernock.
 

2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Dom Mernock.
 

2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Dom Mernock.
 

2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Dom Mernock.
 

2010 Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse. Image by Dom Mernock.
 






 

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