Used Abarth 500
A history lesson…
Back in the day, there were a few kind of classless, kind of cool, little cars. Volkswagen had the Beetle, Austin had the Mini and Fiat had the 500. Roll on to the late 2000s and the Mini, now under the BMW umbrella, was back. VW were also bringing back the Beetle, so it came as no surprise when Fiat announced the return of the 500 at the start of 2008. The Mini was doing great business and much was expected of the Beetle, but how would the little Italian fare? Actually really well and the launch of the Abarth 500 a year later put the icing on an already delicious little cake.
Bang for your buck
Fiat are great at small cars and the standard Fiat 500 oozes retro chic with a genuinely compact body that is less bloated than the Mini when compared to the originals. Underneath, the 500 is based on the second generation Panda, which is a great little city car itself. What you lose in terms of practicality with the 500 when compared to its Panda donor car, you make up for with bags of style. Whereas the Panda resolutely refuses to turn any heads, the 500 induces neck strain in most passers-by. Inside, the cabin is a very clever combination of more retro touches and careful modern styling. The Abarth variant adds a sporty body kit with skirts and powerful looking bump at the front to accommodate the turbo. Flaring nostrils feed the intercoolers and a larger air intake above the front bumper adds to the snarl. There are also scorpion details everywhere. Subtle the Abarth ain't. Inside you'll find upgraded instruments, such as a turbo pressure gauge and an LED to tell you the best time to change gear.
What you'll pay
The standard Fiat 500 holds its price much better than the Panda on which it's based and the Abarth is no different. The approved used Abarth 500 comes in two variants, the standard 1.4 135bhp model and the even racier Esseesse specification. 'Esseesse' means 'SS' in Italian and this super sport version comes with a £2,500 bag of upgrades including up-rated brake disks and pads, remapped Electronic Control Unit, new air filter, upgraded suspension and bigger wheels. The transformation results in 160bhp. A 2009 09 plate Abarth 500 will kick off at about £8,500 with prices rising to around £14,000 for a 2012 Esseesse model.
What to check
So far the Abarth 500 has proved reliable and those Panda underpinnings are solid. There have been isolated reports of transmission problems and popping bulbs but no significant grumblings. These cars tend to be driven harder than their standard 500 siblings, so do check for wear and tear and those usual parking bumps and scrapes. Other than that, this little hot hatch is solid.
The Abarth shares most parts with the standard 500 whose parts are reasonable, with an alternator for around £85, brake pads are around £35 a pair and a headlamp is around £70. But remember that all those special Esseesse components are going to cost considerably more. Remember also that you have to take your Abarth to a special Abarth dealer for servicing and that again is likely to cost more than the standard Fiat garage.
How it drives
The used Abarth 500 will take you form 0-60mph in second gear in 7.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 128mph assuming you remember to change gear. The Esseesse takes 7.1 seconds to 60mph and returns a top speed of 131mph. On both cars drivers will experience a bit of turbo lag at low revs but this disappears over 3000rpm. The Abarth feels particularly solid and well planted on the road, more so than its Mini competitor. On smooth roads and on tracks it feels glued to the road but on bumpier tarmac the ride can feel decidedly firm. The steering is incredibly responsive and feels directly connected to the tyres, making for a sharp driving experience. When you want a little more oomph, pressing the sports button sharpens up the little scorpion and allows it to deliver its ultimate sting. All things considered, the Abarth produces exactly what a hot hatch should; bags of performance and fun in spades.