With the introduction of the Abarth 500 Esseesse (SS), Fiat’s cheeky little 500 city car has developed into a plaything with sting that justifies the iconic Abarth scorpion logo
com.au More at home on the track than the road, Fiat’s Esseesse has more power than most WITH the introduction of the Abarth 500 Esseesse (SS), Fiat’s cheeky little 500 has grown a sting that justifies the scorpion logo.
It’s a product of Fiat Motorsport and Performance division formerly known as Abarth, which has a history with Fiat and Fiat subsidiaries going back to 1952.
Abarth (pronounced AyBart) was started by a car-mad Austrian named Carlo Abarth.
He was responsible for a swag of highly successful race cars in motorsport disciplines including rally, sports car racing and even open-wheelers.
Perhaps his most famous effort was the 1957 Abarth 500— the Bambino with the rear engine hatch open for extra cooling. Many a motor racing career was kick-started behind the wheel of this ridiculously quick tiddler-size car with an engine seemingly hanging out the back.
The name Abarth 500 was resurrected last year along with the even more hairychested Esseesse model, which is what we get here.
Though a size smaller, Esseesse goes in against stovehot competition in the form of VW’s Polo GTi and pint-size hotrods from Alfa and others.
The Esseesse is claimed to be more motorsport oriented than these cars, more of a track day toy with race components
liberally used throughout.
VALUE Though on paper the five-speed manual Esseesse looks the goods, it’s priced up at $34,990 plus on-roads, nearly eight grand more than the Polo GTi, which has more power and torque, a seven-speed DSG gearbox, quicker acceleration and a roomier interior. On this basis alone, the Esseesse is likely to struggle. But it does have plenty of kit to sweeten the deal: you get a decent audio system, climatecontrol airconditioning, electric windows, seven airbags, 17-inch alloys, Blue&Me hands-free communications system and hill holder.
TECHNOLOGY As the Esseesse is all about performance, perhaps the most important piece of electronic trickery is its switchable Torque Transfer Control, an advanced electronic system that replicates the effects of a limited slip differential on the front driving wheels to ensure maximum driver engagement and safety. The system limits understeer, enhances cornering turn in’’ and maintains stability on bumpy corners.
Other clever stuff includes a sophisticated stability control system that doesn’t intrude during fast cornering and dualdrive electric power-steering offering light feel at slow speeds and more resistance at high speeds.
The 1.4-litre turbo engine features twin intercoolers and the engine itself is not a MultiAir unit increasingly used by Fiat/Alfa. Instead, it’s from the "Fire" family with twin cams. Power output is a substantial 118kW with 230Nm on tap from 2750rpm. Quality internal components are used in the engine including forged pistons and racing conrods that are designed to cope with continued heavy use. The turbo is a Japanese IHI unit.
DESIGN A wheel at each corner, short wheelbase, tall-boy styling, low ride height— get the picture? It’s a Fiat 500 on roids, a rocket-powered rollerskate albeit a cute one.
The Esseesse retains its fourseater capacity and has presence on the road though the white livery is missable.
It’s relatively easy to drive with simple controls although you can accidentally press the clutch and brake pedals at the same time due to the cramped pedal box. We couldn’t see the gear change/economy mode indicator because it’s not bright enough. The boot is tiny— one medium-size suitcase only and perhaps some soft luggage
‘‘ stuffed around it. Big doors mean easy front seat access and headroom is not an issue.
SAFETY Inherently safe thanks to finely honed dynamics, the Esseesse also features seven air bags, sports stability control, brake assist, tyre pressure monitoring and hill holder in its safety arsenal. It scores a five-star crash rating in European NCAP testing.
DRIVING The Esseesse is hard as the hobs of hell on a bumpy road — jiggle city to the point where your teeth could rattle loose. But the nasty little beast comes into its own once you aim it at some corners. Here the Esseesse shines as it has a kart-like feel reminiscent of theMini Cooper S John Cooper Works model, which costs a whole lot more.
The tricky differential keeps it pointing the right way and allows ridiculously quick cornering. Boot the right pedal and it rockets out the other side accompanied by a raunchy exhaust cackle. We couldn’t provoke understeer despite front-wheel drive and copious torque available virtually from idle speed.
The steering is sharp and responsive as are the brakes, which don’t fade even under continued abuse.
But who drives their car like this every day? Nobody. That’s why the Esseesse should only be considered as a weekend
toy’’ that can be trotted out for a Sunday morning headclearer or a day at the race track.
You couldn’t live with it day to day.
Pocket rocket: The nasty little beast comes into itsown once you aim at some corners