By Jonathan Crouch
Unmistakably a Fiat 500 but, at the same time, thoroughly modified to give a harder, faster edge, the Abarth 500 will appeal to a different market than its lovable standard sibling.
With at least 135bhp from a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, sharper steering and upgraded suspension, it’s a properly quick hatchback that retains the retro style of the original.
The conventional Fiat 500 is not a car that instantly strikes you as being ripe for conversion into a rip-roaring hot hatchback. It’s a little bit soft and bouncy in its suspension and although this helps it ride well over surface imperfections and makes it an amiable companion for scooting about town, it doesn’t exactly encourage you to hurl it into corners.
As befits its target market, the Abarth 500 is a very different prospect with far-reaching modifications designed to transform the driving experience.
First is the 1.4-litre turbocharged powerplant that produces 135bhp in manual form (or 140bhp with a semi-automatic paddle shift ‘MTA’ transmission) and a smooth flow of power from 2,000rpm. It’s capable of firing the 500 to 60mph in under eight seconds and on to a 128mph top speed, which is plenty quick.
If that’s not fast enough, then a ‘595’ series of models are offered with a 160bhp version of this engine that’ll get you to sixty almost a second quicker.
The suspension has also been firmed up significantly to increase composure through the bends and the brakes have been upgraded to sportier items for more secure stopping.
The Abarth 500 might be small but it’s equipped with some interesting technological trickery. Fiat’s TTC torque transfer system can detect wheelspin and by braking the wheel that has lost traction, divert the engine’s torque to the other wheel where it can be effectively deployed. It adds up to scrabble-free acceleration out of junctions and away from tight corners, increasing the 500’s poise and making it easier to utilise the car’s power.
Fiat’s famous ‘city button’ as featured in the standard 500 models is changed to a sport button in this Abarth. Instead of making the steering lighter, it weights the helm up for more feel and a sportier driving experience but that’s not all.
A press of the clear plastic domed button on the dash also frees an extra slug of torque from the engine. With the Sport mode engaged, the Abarth 500 has 206Nm of torque at 3,000rpm instead of 187Nm at 2,500rpm which equates to more muscle to make the most of the car’s handling.
The Abarth 500 is the car given the difficult task of replacing the standard 500’s cheery grin with the menacing snarl of a hot hatchback. Remarkably, the little car looks to have pulled it off in some style. Its look has been thoroughly revised from the badges to the bodywork but the biggest changes come beneath the skin where the suspension is firmer, the steering heftier and the brakes far more capable.
Even the labour saving City button is now a licence threatening Sport one that unleashes even more torque from the 135bhp motor.
There may not be a Fiat badge anywhere on the Abarth 500 but it’s unmistakably a 500 and the standard car’s retro charm will be a key reason why buyers take the plunge.
There are larger, faster and more dynamically capable models around for similar money but very few are as fashionable right now as the Abarth and that counts for a lot.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
CAR: Abarth 500
PRICES: £14,200 - on the road
INSURANCE GROUP: 26 CO2 EMISSIONS: 155g/km
PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 7.9s / Max Speed 128mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 43.5mpg
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Driver and passenger airbags
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: Length/Width/Height mm 3657/1627/1485mm
WHO TO SEE: Research Garage Group Ltd, Eliot Way, Eliot Park, Nuneaton, CV10 7RF, 02476 382807, www.researchgarage.co.uk
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Friday 24 May 2013
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