Review

Abarth 500 hatchback

Price  £14,560 - £32,990

Abarth 500 hatchback

reviewed by Carbuyer

Pros
  • Sporty looks
  • Fun to drive
  • Cheap to run
Cons
  • Very firm suspension
  • Cramped interior
  • Expensive top-of-the-range models

At a glance

The greenest
1.4 16v T-Jet 595 160HP Competizione MTA 3dr £20,255
The cheapest
1.4 16v T-Jet 135HP Custom 3dr £14,560
The fastest
1.4 16v T-Jet 695 190HP Biposto 3dr £32,990
Top of the range
1.4 16v T-Jet 695 190HP Biposto 3dr £32,990

"The Abarth 500 is one of the most stylish small cars on the road, and thanks to sharp handling and an eager engine, it offers driving thrills to match."

The Abarth 500 is a performance version of the Fiat 500 city car, with sportier exterior looks, firmer suspension and a lot more power. Fiat relaunched the Abarth brand in 2007 with a hot Fiat Punto, but the name really took off with the Fiat 500 Abarth. You can also get a 500 Esseesse version, which has even more power, larger wheels, harder suspension and bigger brakes.

The 500 Abarth is more expensive than rivals such as the Renaultsport Twingo, especially if you get carried away with the vast range of personalisation options such as decals and interior trim. The Abarth 500 comes in three main specifications: Custom, Turismo and Competizione.

MPG, running costs & CO2

2.1 / 5

Reasonable fuel economy for a hot hatch, but beaten by MINI Cooper S

Both the automatic and manual versions of the Abarth 500 return economy of 43.5mpg and CO2 emissions that mean both cost £175 to tax.

While higher running costs are to be expected with a performance model, the MINI Cooper S (which is actually faster than the Abarth) can return economy of 49mpg and CO2 emissions that translate to road tax of £125 a year.

Engines, drive & performance

3.2 / 5

Sharp handling and a rapid engine make Abarth great to drive

The entry-level Abarth 500 is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces 135bhp, accelerating the car from from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 129mph. The basic car’s power can be boosted to 160bhp, which takes the 0-62mph time down to 7.4 seconds and raises the top speed to 131mph.

Although the 500 has a five-speed gearbox, rather than the six-speed found in many rivals, the powerful engine means this doesn’t hamper performance too much. All Abarths are fun in corners, thanks to stiff suspension that minimises body lean. Although tyre and wind noise can get quite loud, all Abarths have a nice exhaust sound that adds to their sporty appeal.

Interior & comfort

2 / 5

Solid suspension means a harsh ride on road

While the firm suspension fitted to the Abarth is what makes it so much fun in corners, it also gives the car a hard ride. That means the Abarth 500 can be uncomfortable on badly surfaced roads. And while the sporty exhaust noise is fun when you're in the mood, it can become intrusive on a long journey.

Practicality & boot space

2.4 / 5

Cramped cabin and small boot

The Abarth 500 offers 185 litres of boot space, which is a little more than the MINI hatchback does, but much less than what you get in a Citroen DS3. It's only really enough room for a small weekly shop or a few soft bags. The split-folding rear seats do improve matters by dropping 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 (which are easier to damage against kerbs) and weightier steering make it a slightly trickier prospect than your average city car.

Reliability & safety

2.6 / 5

Poor showing for Fiat 500 in satisfaction surveys

The only thing that saved Fiat from being at the very bottom of the Driver Power 2013 customer satisfaction survey’s manufacturer ranking is that two new manufacturers joined the table, so coming 30th out of 32 isn’t quite as damning as perhaps it should be. It’s safe to say that Fiat didn’t perform well in any category, including reliability and build quality, and no Fiat cars made it into the survey's top 100 models. The 500 was ranked 142nd out of 150 cars, which doesn't inspire much confidence.

Nonetheless, there have been no major faults reported on the 500, which uses many of 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 with driver, passenger, side, curtain and knee airbags, as well as electronic stability control, hill-hold assistance and torque transfer control, which maximises the grip of the front wheels.

Price, value for money & options

2.3 / 5

Exclusivity makes the 500 pricer than its rivals

Prices for the Abarth 500 start in the region of £14,000 – and because of the limited number of cars available, you're unlikely to get a discount. What's more, the bigger, more powerful Abarth Punto is cheaper, which highlights how Fiat is capitalising on the desirability of the smaller model. Adding the Essesse pack increases the price to around £17,000, which is quite a lot for such a small car. The very talented Renaultsport Twingo can be bought for much less, too.

There's plenty of standard equipment to make up for that, but exterior styling touches such as decals and chrome cost extra, which could push the price closer to £20,000. Resale values on the used-car market are also very strong because of high demand, so the Abarth 500 should hold its value better than some of its competitors.

What the others say

4.2 / 5
based on 3 reviews
4 / 5
The 500 knows how to have fun. It's an extrovert, pure and simple, and like all of life's characters, the Abarth is great to spend time with, leaving an empty space when it's gone.
4 / 5
Mini hot hatches don't come any more stylish than the 500 Abarth. It's fun to drive, too, and you get lots of luxury kit as standard
4.5 / 5
Thanks to a peppy turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, it performs as well as the striking looks suggest. Sharp steering and minimal roll in corners make it hugely fun to drive too
Last updated 
7 Mar 2014

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