Fiat lifts the lid off a hot baby hatch. Julie Mar­shall re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE -

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 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.

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