Abarth 500e 2023 review
There’s already an electric version of the Fiat 500; now here’s the go-faster model, with the scorpion badge, a very useful 152bhp, and a rather lofty price tag to live up to
Tin hat on, here we go with another evo review of a car that isn’t powered by an internal combustion engine. However, bear with us because this could just be the EV that makes the most sense – at least for those who value small cars that are fit for the purpose they were designed for.
You see, the Abarth 500e doesn’t have a gazillion horsepower, only 152bhp and 173lb ft of torque. It doesn’t squeeze your internal organs into an uncomfortable mess under acceleration because it takes seven seconds to reach 60mph. It also doesn’t cost six figures and appeal only to those paying for it through their limited company and enjoying the associated tax benefits. That said, it is hilariously expensive, the tin-top Turismo costing £38,795 and the Turismo Convertible costing an obscene £41,195.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s certainly true to say that the Abarth makes sense for those who need a car for the everyday while their more evo automotive jewel sits on trickle charge and are dusted down for longer, more significant journeys. It’s the ideal second car for today’s world, in other words. For those who can afford it, obviously.
Why so? It comes down to the fit-for-purpose target. The Abarth has a 24mm longer wheelbase and its track width has been increased by 60mm over the now-defunct petrol-powered models, but you can still park it, bob in and out of suburban traffic, and nip through spaces that would otherwise have you wincing at the forthcoming alloy-wheel repair bill. Just like an Abarth 595 with a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, really.
It sits on a skateboard-style platform, with the 295kg 42kWh battery (the range is between 150 and 164 miles, depending on trim level) positioned between the axles and the nose stuffed with the 60kg, 113kW motor and the rest of the gubbins required for an EV – kit that would ideally be kept low in the car. So while its weight distribution is improved over the petrol Abarth (57:43 versus 63:37 front-to-rear) there’s quite a few kilos high up in the nose as a result. And it feels it, primarily because the Turismo enjoys being driven with what might best be described as the ‘hire car technique’, which inevitably gets you to a car’s dynamic shortfalls quicker than most.
There are three drive modes: Turismo, Scorpion and Track, with the first of these providing you with a reduced 137bhp, greater regenerative braking performance and the ability to drive using the single-pedal technique. In Scorpion and Track you get the full 152bhp, less regen (none at all in Track) and meatier steering to mask the fact that the EPAS system provides little to no feel. The steering is at least quick and direct, so what it lacks in feedback it makes up for with an unexpected level of accuracy and a willingness to go where you point it, the limiting factor being the grip provided by the EV-specific Bridgestone Potenza Sport tyres. They resist slip well enough and to a high degree, but when they run out of purchase the drop-off is considerable and pretty much instant.
Lacking the playfulness of some of the great ICE superminis, such as VW’s brilliant Up GTI, Ford’s Fiesta ST and Hyundai’s i20 N, not to mention its own petrol-powered ancestors, the sparky Abarth isn’t the flat-footed, fun-free zone that most small EVs are either. It makes you adjust your style to suit its capability and within a few journeys you’re in tune with its strengths, balancing grip and slip at moderately low speeds, being hooked into the process as you go and smiling as you do so. Just as with all good superminis.
It has its shortcomings, however. The ride isn’t terribly sophisticated (it runs MacPherson struts at the front and a beam at the rear) and can quickly get choppy across a poor surface if you keep your foot in and don’t temper your enthusiasm accordingly. And it doesn’t feel that quick, although to be fair, 1410kg is a lot for 152bhp to push around. Off the line to 30mph it is typically EV-strong and it reaches cruising speeds in a more than respectable fashion, but having just the single gear it lacks that sense of the performance building and feels incredibly one-dimensional as a result, despite its ‘in-gear’ performance being quicker by over a second than the petrol-powered models it replaces.
Unfortunately, it also sounds like it’s stuck in second or third gear thanks to the standard fitment of the speaker behind the rear bumper and the artificial sound that Abarth spent 6000 hours tuning. Apparently you can turn it off (although I couldn’t find the button to do so). Even better would be to throw it in a skip and save some weight.
Yet there’s a bigger problem facing the Abarth 500e. Despite looks that are as close to a modern-day interpretation of a Fiat 500 as legislation allows, and an interior that’s well appointed, like the majority of the small electric cars that make the most sense to make the biggest difference, the Abarth 500e simply can’t justify its price tag.
Price and rivals
£38,795, or an additional £2400 if you’d like to drive around with the roof open. Neither prices are particularly palatable, but we’re still early days for volume electric cars and the new prices have yet to fall (values of used Evs on the other hand…). In terms of rivals the market is a little up and down.
MG’s 4 Trophy starts at £32,440 but isn’t as characterful or interesting as the Abarth, although it is more practical. And its more powerful 429bhp X Power brother is £36,500, which adds a front motor to the MG4’s powertrain.
Cupra’s Born is also cheaper, starting at £36,475 and more practical than the Abarth, but like the MG 4 Trophy it feels a little flat footed after the Abarth. Maybe Alpine’s forthcoming A290 supermini will inject some life and competition into the sector.
Abarth 500e specs