More like this:

Fiat 500 Abarth (2008) CAR review and video

Published:10 July 2008

Fiat 500 Abarth (2008) CAR review and video
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

Can the Fiat 500 Abarth live up to the hype? Now we've driven it, we have the answer. In the last year, no car launched anywhere has had the same impact on the buying public as the Fiat 500. It seems we just can’t get enough of its retro bubbliness, cheery smile and Italian chic.

But if you feel a little patronised by the unashamed plundering of the Fiat back catalogue, perhaps the new hot version, the 500 Abarth, will change your mind. It’s still working to the same template of rehashing past successes, but it's claimed to be bang up to date in performance and driving dynamics. It mixes pukka design with pin-sharp performance. In theory, at least...

So is Fiat serious about the 500 Abarth hot hatch?

Deadly serious. Or should that be, in the words of the Abarth mantra, ‘small but deadly’ serious. Where for years Fiat hasn’t really known what to do with the legendary Abarth name, now it has set it up as a stand-alone tuning arm producing its own models, with their own areas and salespeople in selected Fiat showrooms.

Abarth has taken the cute little 500 and injected some venom. The turbocharged 1.4-litre 16 valve T-Jet produces 135bhp, while most of the mechanicals on the car have been uprated: a roll bar at the rear, stiffer springs and dampers, Brembo disc brakes all round (ventilated at the front), ride height lowered by around 15mm and bigger, stickier rubber on either funky 16- or 17-inch rims.

And the styling? This is one chunky looking supermini...

And it’s not just the bits that make it go faster that have had the Abarth treatment. This little car is awash with new branding and restyling. All the Fiat badges have been chucked out, replaced by that iconic scorpion, while a few more Abarth logos have been added for good luck on the rear flanks, door mats and exhaust.

Then there’s the new boggle-eyed front which houses the intercoolers and radiator, and of course, looks uncannily like the Abarth 695 racer of the 1960s, while there are deeper side skirts, a large rear spoiler that gives the 500 a shape to press it to the road, and a new rear bumper with two very menancing pipes and rather redundant-looking diffuser.

Click 'Next' to read how the Fiat 500 Abarth drives on the road

Click here to watch the Fiat 500 Abarth on video, exterior and interior views. 
    

So does it all work, or is it just window dressing?

The standard 500 ticks most boxes but is let down by its ride. As a separate engineering division with its own racing cars and a race series on the way, there’s no way Abarth was going to just give this car a vacuous makeover.

Get in and the thick, contoured, leather steering wheel feels just right. There's a turbo pressure gauge, a light gearchange, heavily bolstered but rather high sport seats, a leather gearknob and aluminium pedals. Let's drive...

First driving impressions?

From the start, the Abarth 500’s intent is clear. It sits there humming like a wasp stuck in jam jar. Drive off and that buzz becomes much more bassy as the twin pipes start bellowing when you mash the throttle.

There’s decent performance, too. With 135bhp, it’ll manage 0-62mpgh in 7.9 seconds. Not the sort of time that impresses those who like to sit in McDonalds car park and play loud music, but for prospective buyers used to the sedate accelerative charms of arch-rival Mini's Cooper, it will feel pretty sparky.

And the Abarth's ride and handling?

Let's say the Abarth boys have tamed the sometimes unhinged ride of the Fiat 500, but what they haven’t done is turned this into a roller skate. It’s fun, but not hardcore. A Corsa VXR would blast this off the face of the track.

The tall body rolls, while the steering isn't exactly pin-sharp direct and there’s always a tendency to understeer. It’s not exactly washing the front end out hopelessly though, as the short wheelbase ensures the whole thing slides as one, and there’s plenty of daftness to be had at the wheel. But searing fast and hardcore, it is not. The Brembo brakes are great though.

For around £3500, you’ll be able to tune the Abarth 500 into an SS version, with 160bhp, a new ECU, further stiffened suspension and lowered suspension. Whether to spend the money depends on your point of view: do you want a fun, fast little runabout or fierce super hot hatch?

Click 'Next' for our first drive verdict of the new 500 Abarth

Click here to watch the Fiat 500 Abarth on video, exterior and interior views. 

So how much, when and where?

There’s no doubting the Abarth 500’s visual appeal. There’s a lot going on with vents and bulges all over the place, but Abarth has managed to give it enough of those looks from the '60s racers without looking quite as randomly homespun as they did then, and without putting off buyers who haven’t got a clue about Italian car racing history.

Although not confirmed, it’s likely to cost about the same money as a Mini Cooper. So that’s more power, more kit (it gets Fiat Windows-based media system as standard, too) and even more retro charm for around £13,500.

Getting hold of one might prove a little difficult though. In the UK there are only going to be 1500 a year and pre-orders are going well. Plus, only around 15 dealers will be authorised to sell Abarths when it goes on sale in January 2009.

Verdict

The Abarth 500 really hits the spot. It has plenty of charisma, looks fun, and is indeed a hoot to drive. Perhaps we’re slightly disappointed that it’s not quite the all-out go-kart it might have been, but hanging on for dear life in a mental hot hatch is not what this car is about.

Bringing a smile to your face is its role, and it does that brilliantly.

Click here to watch the Fiat 500 Abarth on video, exterior and interior views. 

Specs

Price when new: £13,500
On sale in the UK: January 2009
Engine: 1368cc 4cyl turbo, 135bhp @ 5500rpm, 152lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph 7.9sec, 127mph, 42.8mpg, 155g/km
Weight / material: 930kg, steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3600/1627/1473

Rivals

Other Models

Abarth 500 Cars for Sale

View all Abarth 500 Cars for Sale

Photo Gallery

  • Fiat 500 Abarth CAR review: side picture
  • Fiat 500 Abarth CAR review: rear three-quarter picture
  • Fiat 500 Abarth CAR review: engine picture
  • Fiat 500 Abarth CAR review: interior picture
  • Fiat 500 Abarth CAR review: rear three-quarter picture

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

Comments