Owner Review

2013 Abarth 500 ESSE Review

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Owning this bocconcini on wheels for almost a year now. I have come to learn all the little quirks of owning an Italian hot hatch. The hot-hatch market is getting an injection of life, washing out the dreadful mid-2000s renditions of Peugeot 207 GTi and the not-so-hot Polo’s. When entering the market with the new 500, enthusiasts prayed for Abarth to get its grubby hands on it and do what they do best. Make cheap-utilitarian transport and absolute riot to drive.

So to start with the price. Well it's a big one, especially in the hot hatch market, considering the Abarth’s pricing started to push into bigger and more ‘capable’ vehicle segments. So what separates the Abarth from the Fiat?

Well the Esseesse kit gets a poking with the racing stick. All new suspension system, upgraded brakes, upgraded engine internals, a big turbo, sports exhaust, racing bucket seats and a counted total of 21 badges to remind commoners this isn’t your daily “Fix It Again Tony” Fiat.

Other than that the Abarth interior carries over much of the same equipment from its utilitarian counterpart. Not that this is bad, but once again with threats of cars like the Fiesta ST, Clio RS and 208 GTi, you'd expect a bit more pizzazz from your pizza.

As stated above, the performance upgrades is where the money was spent, and boy was it spent well. The foundation of the car is a solid starting point. Being a short-wheelbase chassis it almost has a square footprint on the road, giving it the fabled ‘go-kart’ performance drive. The engine is a blessing from Italy. The Multi-Air unit loves to rev out and when you hit 2300 rpm the turbo barks and catapults the car to 100km in under 8 seconds. There are faster cars out there, but when you're hunched into a tiny cabin, with a nice snappy gearbox, clipping the apex of your neighborhood roundabout and a straight through exhaust system that backfires, the experience is an absolute laugh.

The road and handling of the car is as you could imagine with Michelin Pilot Sports and a SWB hatch; it grips hard. The Esseesse suspension pack is firm yet forgiving. In corners there is a tiny bit of roll, but the 500 has composure in its lunacy. On everyday roads you can feel every crevice in the tarmac and getting up to speeds of 110km/h there is little sound proofing from the exterior. Sitting only 3 inches away from your passenger, you still find yourself yelling at each other on a country road trip. Asking the Abarth to be a mile-munching highway cruiser is like asking a goat to pull a semi-trailer. The Abarth is best in city streets, back roads or the racetrack.

On track you can really get to experience the limits of when the 500 will lose traction. When it does get to close for comfort, simply lift off and enjoy the lift off over steer that ensues. * May need new pants*

So the compromise…

It is the size of a tic tac. So words like Practicality, Legroom, Cup holders and Space go out the window. The boot is reasonable for a super-mini and there is a surprising amount of headroom. The reliability eliminates the ‘Italian’ nature of car ownership. These things can take a bit of a beating and are built strong. There are scratchy plastics and harsh textures, but nothing ever feels like it's going to fall off or overheat like the Fiats of yesteryear.

So does this price tag pay off? I think so, I wouldn't have bought it otherwise. I've had a range of vehicles from different segments, and the one I will always miss the most was my Mini Cooper. The Abarth extorts the same ethos of its once famous hot hatches. Built with madness, go-kart performance and lovely exhaust noises. To me it is the quintessential Italian hot hatch and whilst cars like the Golf R are better ‘Cars’, the Abarth I feel is a better drivers car.