DRIVEN: FIAT 500 ABARTH ESSEESSE
One of the cutest cars on the road today, but does it have a sting?
I have been looking at a new car to replace my battered old Subaru WRX, now that I have changed demographic boxes and ticked the married option. It isnít the vows that have made me come to this decision, but living in the centre of London, finding parking would be so much easier. Plus the wife only passed her test two years ago, and insurance on a 280bhp rally car is somewhat pricey.... A compromise needs to be found!
To sportify the cuddly 500, Fiat has given the car to their performance division for a ground up overhaul. Unsurprisingly as a car that has been fettled by Abarth - whose owner raced motorbikes and even the Orient Express at one time - the result has a heavy motorsport bias.
Abarth started by sticking a turbo to the 1.4-litre engine. But the engine bay was so small they had to completely redesign the front end of the vehicle. There's a deeper spoiler to direct air into the turbo, and a longer bonnet to surround the power unit. The esseesse kit also adds new springs and dampers, plus a torsion beam rear suspension as well as drilled brake discs and more power, but the sportier feel does leave it a little bit lacking in terms of ride comfort.
However, the essesse is incredibly quick for a town car, meaning the smallest gap in traffic is enough to poke the 500 into. Over a 60mph drag the 500 also feels quicker than our long term Renaultsport 200, for instance, so it's no city slouch when we hit the open roads. The chassis means you can throw it into the corners without worrying it will let go, and the torque helps steer you around anything slightly sharper.
Inside and out of the cabin you better not suffer from arthrophobia, as the little scorpion motif is adorned across the car - although some of the logos can be optionally 'deleted'. The rest of the cabin is usual 500, though a pod-like stalk with shift lights and turbo bar has sprouted on the dash and there is a slightly more metallic look to the finish.
You could argue that this is a little excessive but it does gain you 24 more horses over the Abarth (the standard 1.4 is 99bhp) and out of a total of 157bhp that is a noticeable percentage increase. Also you get the crate that the extra esseesse bits come in, if you fancy a nice ornament for your living room.
If you can cope with the very hard suspension and can justify the price then this is a very capable little pocket rocket. Just make sure you use its full potential and get it on a smooth race circuit for the odd track day, rather than council bumped roads - to remind yourself why you bought it between those visits to the chiropractor.