OPEN FIAT, OPEN ROAD
Fiat lifts the lid off a hot baby hatch. Julie Marshall reports.
THERE’S no doubt the 500 has been an unmitigated success for Fiat.
Since it was launched, in 2008, it has captured the imagination of a whole new generation of motorists who would never before have considered a Fiat – at any price.
Since then, it has appeared as a soft top, a hard top Abarth and now, with the two merged, a soft-top Abarth.
Abarth was established as a stand-alone brand within Fiat in 2008 and has been hugely successful. It claims to have the youngest average customer of any car brand in Europe.
Karl Abarth founded the company 60 years ago with the principal aim of tuning and extracting the maximum performance from Fiats. The 1950s were his glory years with the tuning of the original 500, in 1958, particularly memorable. The little car won 10,000 track victories and took 10 world records.
Abarth died in 1979, Fiat brought the firm in-house and has continued to compete around the world since then.
Although retaining the basic shape of the cutesy original 500, the Abarth has been toughened up, with deep skirts, twin tail pipes, a deeper windscreen and a third brake light set in a spoiler. Abarth badging is everywhere – you’ll be hard pushed to find much of a mention of Fiat anywhere at all.
The engine is the same as that which graces the Abarth 500 hatchback model, a 1.4litre turbo with a bit of extra poke to give 140bhp as opposed to 135bhp. Top speed is 128mph and 062mph is managed in 8.1 seconds.
Despite this, the new engine emits only 151g.km of CO2. And despite its undisputed power, the low weight of the 500 means fuel economy is still an impressive 43.5mpg.
At the UK launch in a very windy and wet Yorkshire Dales, we were unable to have the roof down, which was a shame. Despite the weather, the plucky little 500 performed admirably along the route, the suspension coping with some rather badly damaged road surfaces without too many problems.
As befits a car that is designed for spirited driving, it has plenty of gizmos and gadgets to help keep it on the tarmac.
Torque Transfer Control ( TTC) detects wheelspin and there’s the more usual Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) and ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution.
I wasn’t overly thrilled by Fiat’s Abarth Competizione gearbox. In fully automatic mode, it was sometimes slow to change up and I got my fingers in a bit of a tangle when I tried to use the paddles on the steering while in semi-automatic mode.
To be fair, with more miles under my belt I’d probably have become more accomplished so I didn’t hold this too much against it.
The interior of the Abarth 500 is very similar to the standard car. A slash of bodycoloured plastic across the dashboard is the focal point with most of the controls set in circles.
The automatic box is particularly nifty with four buttons set high up on the console.
And the price? £17,500 will get you the basic car and then you can have a whole lot of fun choosing from the list of optional equipment. More: 0800 342 80000.
SUCCESS STORY: Fiat’s 500 Abarth soft-top.