"The Abarth 500 is one of the most eye-catching small cars on the road, and thanks to sharp handling and an eager engine, it has the drive to match."
The Abarth 500 is a performance model of the Fiat 500 city car, coming with sportier exterior looks, firmer suspension and a lot more power. Fiat relaunched the Abarth brand in 2007 with the Fiat Punto model, but it really took off with the Fiat 500 Abrath. You can also get a 500 Esseesse version, which has even more power, larger wheels, harder suspension and bigger brakes. The 500 Abrath is more expensive than many of its rivals, such as the Renaultsport Twingo – especially if you get swept into the vast range of personalisation options like stickers, decals and interior trim. The Abarth 500 comes in three main specifications – Custom, Turismo and Competizione.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Both automatic and manual versions of the Abarth 500 return economy of 43.5mpg and their C02 emissions mean both cost £175 for annual road tax. While higher running costs are to be expected on a performance model, the MINI Cooper S that is actually faster than the Abrath can return economy of 49mpg and CO2 emissions that translate into road tax of £125 annually.
Interior & comfort
While the firm suspension fitted to the Abrath is what makes it so much fun in the corners, it does come at the cost of a hard ride. That means that the Abarth 500 can be a bit uncomfortable over badly surfaced roads. And, while the sporty exhaust noise is fun when you are in the mood, it can become intrusive on a long journey.
Practicality & boot space
The 500 offers 185 litres of boot space, which is a little more than the MINI hatchback, but much less than a Citroen DS3, and it's still really only enough room for a small weekly shop or a few squashy bags. The split-fold rear seats do improve matters by folding down to expand the load capacity to 550 litres – however, if you go for anything other than the Turismo specification you’ll have to pay an extra £153 to get them. Thanks to its compact dimensions, the Abarth is very easy to park and manoeuvre around town, but its bigger wheels (being easier to damage) and weightier steering do make it slightly trickier than your average city car.
Reliability & safety
The only thing that saves Fiat from being at the very bottom of the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey's manufacturer's rankings is that the survey actually added two extra places, so coming 30th out of 32 isn’t quite as damning as perhaps it should be. It's safe to say that it didn’t perform well in any category, including reliability and build quality, and no Fiat cars made it into the list of the top 100 cars. The Fiat 500/Abarth 500 placed 142nd in the top 150 cars, however, but that isn’t going to inspire anyone with any real confidence. Nonetheless, there have been no major faults reported on the 500, which uses all the same mechanical parts and components as the Abarth. Interior build quality is also good, with expensive materials like leather and aluminium used throughout. The Fiat 500 secured the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, and all Abarths come fitted with driver, passenger, side, curtain, and knee airbags, electronic stability control (ESP), hill-hold assist and torque transfer control to maximise the front wheel's grip.
Engines, drive & performance
The entry-level Abarth is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine that delivers 135bhp and is a strong performer, accelerating from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds, with a top speed of 129mph. The basic car's power can be boosted to 160bhp, which takes the 0-60mph time down to 7.4 seconds and raises the top speed to 131mph. Although the car has a five-speed gearbox, rather than six-speed versions of many of its rivals, the Abarth's power means that this doesn’t hamper performance too much. All Abarths are fun in the corners, thanks to stiff suspension that cuts body lean. Although tyre and wind noise can get quite loud, all Abarths have a nice exhaust sound that adds to the car's sporty appeal.
Price, value for money & options
Prices for the Abarth 500 start in the region of £14,000 – and because of the limited number available, you're unlikely to get any discount. What's more, the bigger, more powerful Abarth Punto is cheaper, which highlights how the company is exploiting the desirability of the smaller model. Add the Essesse pack and that rises to around £17,000 – which is quite a lot for such a small car, when the talented Renaultsport Twingo can be had for much less. There's plenty of standard equipment to make up for that – but all the exterior styling – stickers, decals, chrome etc cost extra, which could push the price closer to £20k. Resale values on the used car market are also very strong because of the limited number on the UK roads, so the Abarth 500 should hold its value better than some of its competitors.