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Fiat 500 Abarth

Click to view picture galleryFiats hot Abarth 500 arrives in time
  for March
s new 09 plate sales, but if
  you want one you
d better get a move
  on because almost three-quarters
 
of this years allocation have already
  been snapped up!


FOLLOWING HOT ON THE HEELS of the fast-selling Fiat 500 range (with nearly 16,000 sold in the UK in a year), the Abarth 500 is now heading for UK roads. Even before an Abarth turns a wheel on British tarmac, 60% of the 700 Abarth 500 cars allocated to the UK have already been ordered with customer deposits paid. So no time should be wasted getting to an Abarth dealership and placing your order!

The new owners are either car enthusiasts who want to add an Abarth legend model to their collection or young blood customers, both male and female — or everybody in between.

The Abarth, a thoroughly re-engineered version of the hugely-popular Fiat 500 launched last year, is available in two 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine forms: the standard 135bhp model (128mph and 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds) or the 160bhp Esseesse version with a 131mph top speed and 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds.

The 'standard' Abarth 500 is priced at £13,600 on-the-road and the Esseesse version costs an extra £2,500. As usual, the Esseesse competition kit is transported in a 'designer' branded wooden crate from Abarth Corse direct to the customer, who then has the kit fitted by an Abarth dealer. This conversion has to be undertaken within 12 months or 20,000km (around 12,000 miles) at one of the UK's 16 Abarth dealers*.

Whichever model you choose, Abarth say it is a faithful modern incarnation of their 'small but wicked' mantra of the 1950s — a period which saw 10 world records from Abarth using Fiat models.

The Abarth 500 has potentially numerous competitors, but the MINI Cooper and Cooper S models are the main ones. It is likely that the Abarth 500 has the edge — not on performance, passenger comfort and space, but on niche 'must-have' appeal. Combining the demand for the Fiat 500 with the 'I want' heritage of Abarth will guarantee sales success, but we are not talking about big numbers.

Abarth has needed to restyle the front end of the Fiat 500 to squeeze in the turbocharger and intercooler needed to boost the 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, Euro 5-compliant petrol engine. The body now sports an aero package, cooling vents at the front to go with the new face, sports side skirts and a rear wing — so it now looks like a sports car rather than commuter transport.

Inside the sports treatment is continued with the usual high-backed — but snug — sports seats, sporty looking controls and dials and metal finished pedals. There are 'toys' for the 'go-faster' users as well. A Sport button on the dashboard does what it says: gives a boost of torque when needed for overtaking; and it makes the steering weightier for more precise control. Another 'toy' is the cowled turbo boost gauge, positioned right in the driver's eye-line on top of the dashboard. That is okay, but in the centre of it is a light which flashes at optimum gear change-up points — just like on a rally or race car. It is not needed, and it imposes on the driver's concentration too much… pass me the wire cutters.

The Abarth 500 really
does look good, sounds
great and is pretty
nimble...”
The brakes have been uprated with discs all round, and the lowered suspension thankfully re-designed with changed dampers and springs. While the ride over the standard Fiat 500 is less bouncy, it is now very stiff indeed and the experience of hitting potholes at speed is quite unpleasant.

Given the pace of traffic on our congested roads, I rather suspect that most owners will be happy to put up with the occasional spine-jolting moment. I just hope the car proves to be durable for UK use because some of the impacts experienced this week driving the Abarth 500 on our badly potholed roads sounded, and felt, terrible.

The road holding is nimble; never frantic, always controlled with seemingly good grip from the 16-inch 195/45 tyres. There are other wheel and tyre size options in the extensive Abarth range of extra-cost goodies. All models have seven airbags, Electronic Stability Programme, ABS and Torque Transfer Control — basically an electronic limited slip differential which provides the drive to the front wheel where most grip is needed during fast cornering.

Standard equipment also includes electric front windows, remote door locking, trip computer, air conditioning, sports seats and Blue&Me Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

The standard Abarth 500, the main seller with the 135bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, delivers up to 152lb ft of peak torque from 3,000rpm, giving it a top speed of 128mph and a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds. So it is acceptably quick without being mental. For those customers with an ego who must have the top version, then the £2,500 Esseesse dealer-fit tuning kit — which boosts power to 160bhp and torque to 170lb ft, gives a top speed of 131mph and cuts the 0-62mph sprint to 7.4 seconds — will be just the job.

Both versions use a five-speed gearbox with, I'm sorry to say, a slow and clumsy gear selection. A better solution for this free-revving engine would be a close-ratio six-speed unit. It would make far better use of the power and torque available, and do away with the ponderous gearchanges called for with the current wider spread gear ratios.

If you want one, be prepared for a very harsh ride, a tedious gearchange, limited rear seat and boot space and a seriously annoying gear-change prompt light. Making up for these imperfections are the Abarth 500's sporty looks, good grip, fun performance and rare iconic brand. Overall, the Abarth 500 really does look good, sounds great and is pretty nimble. So while it's not all good news, it is fun and provides the keen driver with something to smile about in a gloomy world. — David Miles

*Abarth UK dealers

Lipscomb — Aylesford | Wessex Garages — Cardiff | Autoworld — Chesterfield | Rockingham Cars — Corby | Arnold Clark — Glasgow | Le Mont Saint — Guernsey |
Polar Auto Italia — Jersey | Marylebone — London | Bauer Millett — Manchester |
Research — Nuneaton | Vospers — Plymouth | Westover Sportscars — Poole |
Glyn Hopkin — Romford | Thames — Slough | Platts — Stoke On Trent | SG Petch — York

Abarth 500
| £13,600
Maximum speed: 128mph | 0-62mph: 7.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 35.3mpg
Power: 135bhp | Torque: 152lb ft | CO2 155g/km | Insurance group 13