Fiat 500 Abarth buying guide and checklist

The reborn fast 500 is reliable, holds its value well and is a hoot to drive. Here’s what you need to know

Fiat Abarth 500. To a certain generation prone to misty-eyed, Castrol R-scented nostalgia, the instant mental image is of a tiny car with an exhaust note like an angry bee, scooting around Europe’s racetracks in the 1960s. British Abarth fans would beat a path to Radbourne Racing in Wimbledon, where kits could be bought and cars converted. Happy days.

Today it’s different. What you see on these pages is something else altogether. The reincarnated, xeroxed-up, modern-day 500 recreates and reinterprets the look of the original brilliantly, and of course it has been a huge success. That much was guaranteed as soon as the world saw the Trepiuno concept car that sired the whole 500 idea. ‘Even my mother told me we had to make it,’ said then-Fiat CEO Luca de Meo, ‘so we did.’

The Abarth name, long kept in Fiat’s deep freeze apart from occasional thaws on hot Stradas and warm Stilos, was the obvious tag for a hot ‘new’ 500. There hasn’t been a real Abarth tuning company for many years, but there is nowadays a separate Abarth division within Fiat which handles the styling, the marketing and the engineering.

It’s all sufficiently corporate for Fiat not to have sought commercial relationships with specialists in past Abarths, instead selling today’s Abarth-tuned models through a few chosen Fiat dealers. But, with those scorpion badges and stripes, the intended aura is very clear.

Fiat actually sees Abarth as a separate brand, and the cars bear no Fiat badging. In these days of widespread turbocharging of small-capacity engines, extracting extra power is mainly down to electronic tweaking of boost pressures, with a freer-flowing exhaust to let the extra gases out. So the Abarth 500’s 1.4-litre engine gets 133bhp instead of the standard T-jet unit’s 118, but in the 500’s case there’s a bit more to it than that, because non-Abarths with petrol engines don’t have turbos. The 118bhp T-jet is meant for bigger Fiats.

So the Abarth’s deeper nose with its broad air intake is designed to accommodate the intercooler, and there’s a deeper rear valance in similar style with a pair of fat tailpipes beneath. Inside, the seats are racier-looking with bigger bolsters, there’s a boost gauge in a dash-top pod, and the annoying change-up light within it becomes a rev-limit warning in Sport mode. This mode also sharpens the throttle response, firms the steering and adds 20lb ft of torque to the regular 132lb ft.

500 Abarth

Standard wheel size is 16in, with 17in optional. The lowered, recalibrated suspension caused alarm bells to ring in road-testers’ minds when it was announced, because even regular 500s had been pretty poor at coping with UK roads. But we needn’t have worried, because the Abarth turned out to have a much better ride than the regular car as well as tidier, keener handling, despite retaining an oddly ‘digital’ feel to the electric power steering. The cute-looking 500 had morphed into a proper driving machine.

You could attempt to make it more so with the Esseesse version, which involved an Abarth kit (£2500 at the 500’s March 2009 UK launch) fitted to the 500 after registration (up to a year after, in fact). This comprised a chip remap and freer-flowing air filter to give 158bhp and 170lb ft, along with the 17in wheels, cross-drilled brakes and lower, much stiffer suspension. There’s no doubt that an Esseesse goes well, with the claimed 0-62mph time falling from 7.9 to 7.4 seconds, but the ride quality on British back-roads is truly dreadful.

A better, and cheaper, bet is to get a tuning firm to do the power boost and either keep the standard suspension or fit a less unyielding ‘upgrade’. Nuova 500, for example, can uprate the engine to 170bhp for £295. Now that sounds a lot of fun.

What we said at the time

'Let’s not pretend otherwise: the Fiat is no Ford Fiesta ST or Mini John Cooper Works. The addition of 20bhp, stiffer springs and dampers, meatier brakes and a fruitier exhaust over the regular Abarth 595 doesn’t re-write the rules for this hyperactive tot. But that’s hardly surprising. The most extreme ‘hardcore’ version of Fiat’s normally harmless city car hasn’t been honed to deliver the ultimate hot hatch experience. 

'Its sweet spot is somewhere around seven- and eight-tenths. Don’t stray too far from there and you’ll find the charm shines through.'

Full review of the Fiat 500 Abarth 595 50th Anniversary

 

500 Abarth

'I bought one'

Alex Gadd - Alex is British but lives in Holland, where he took delivery of his black Abarth 500 on New Year’s Eve 2009. He kept it for 10 months, during which he covered 12,000 miles, including driving it to Rome and back via the Stelvio Pass and the south of France.

‘Last summer I took my Abarth to G-Tech in Stuttgart for a chip upgrade and a titanium exhaust, which gave it 175bhp and 184lb ft. It became a giant-killer, a real cheeky chappie attracting the right sort of attention.

‘The Blue&Me went on the blink and had to be replaced, and the Abarth stripes flaked off. The new ones were fine. Normal Fiat dealers aren’t meant to touch Abarths, though. The standard dealer wouldn’t even go near the Blue&Me even though it’s the same as a normal 500’s.

‘It liked to eat front tyres – mine lasted only 10,000 miles – but the Torque Transfer Control [an electronic, understeer-inhibiting, virtual LSD] worked well. I used Sport mode all the time – why wouldn’t you in an Abarth? – so it averaged only about 25mpg.

‘It was reliable, it had no rattles, it held its value well and was easy to sell. We did an organised rally in Holland, competing against Ferraris and the like, and we won the whole thing…’

Recommended

​SEAT Leon Cupra (2014-2021) review - more excitement than a Golf GTI?
SEAT Leon Cupra hatchback

​SEAT Leon Cupra (2014-2021) review - more excitement than a Golf GTI?

The SEAT Leon Cupra is at the end of its lifespan, but has only become better with age
10 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
Cupra Leon 300 2021 review – VW’s GTI Clubsport usurped from within?
Cupra Leon 300 header
SEAT Leon Cupra

Cupra Leon 300 2021 review – VW’s GTI Clubsport usurped from within?

One of the sharpest hot hatchbacks money can buy right now, despite weird branding and a very long name (which we’ve simplified for you).
14 May 2021
Best superminis 2021 – quick compact hatchbacks reviewed and rated
Best superminis 2021
Best cars

Best superminis 2021 – quick compact hatchbacks reviewed and rated

The best high-performance superminis on sale now, offering hot hatch thrills in more compact and affordable packages
13 May 2021

Most Popular

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn
MAT Stratos – front tracking
Lancia

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn

It’s been a long time coming, but this Ferrari F430-based reimagining of the Lancia Stratos is finally here
11 Jun 2021
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition – slide
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act

Immense performance from about the coolest modern muscle car out there. It’s expensive, but there’s nothing else quite like it
12 Jun 2021
Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers
Tesla Model S Plaid
Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers

The long-awaited Tesla Model S Plaid has finally come to fruition, with first US examples hitting the road
11 Jun 2021
BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance
BMW M5 CS – front cornering
BMW M5 saloon

BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance

Nonsensical on paper, but sublime in practice. Never has a modern supersaloon been more tactile or more engaging
14 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
2021 Maserati GranTurismo to go EV-only – IC option ditched
2021 Maserati GranTurismo spy – track
Maserati

2021 Maserati GranTurismo to go EV-only – IC option ditched

GranTurismo coupe and its soft-top GranCabrio sibling to be reborn later this year, but controversially without the proposed combustion alternative...…
11 Jun 2021
Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder
Posaidon Mercedes-AMG E63
Mercedes E63 AMG

Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder

Three new Posaidon power upgrades are now available for Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S, bringing hypercar numbers to the four door supersaloon
9 Jun 2021
Used car deals of the week
Used car deals 11 June 21
used cars

Used car deals of the week

Here's what caught evo’s fancy this week on the second hand car market
11 Jun 2021
Best small cars 2021 – pocket rockets reviewed and rated
Best small cars 2021
Best cars

Best small cars 2021 – pocket rockets reviewed and rated

You don’t need 200bhp or more in a small hatchback to have fun – these ‘warm’ small cars are the proof
7 Jun 2021
Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement mule spied – will it emulate the McLaren Artura?
Ferrari F171 spy 2021 – front
Ferrari

Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement mule spied – will it emulate the McLaren Artura?

Ferrari’s going hybrid and V6 for its next mid-engined supercar
9 Jun 2021
BMW announces entry into LMDh class from 2023 – to fight Audi, Porsche and other big names
BMW Le Mans header
BMW

BMW announces entry into LMDh class from 2023 – to fight Audi, Porsche and other big names

The 2023 LMDh class is shaping up to be a big one, with BMW getting back in on the action with its own racer, but only in the USA
11 Jun 2021
HKS in development of a supercharger kit for new 2021 Toyota GR 86
HKS Toyota GR 86
Toyota

HKS in development of a supercharger kit for new 2021 Toyota GR 86

Japanese tuner HKS is in development of a supercharger upgrade package for the new GR 86
9 Jun 2021
Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?
Jethro opinion header
Opinion

Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?

The boot struts have gone saggy and the hatch slams onto my head three times a week, but the Clio Trophy is hard to resist
8 Jun 2021
2021 Alpina XD3 and XD4 update revealed – extra torque from Alpine’s quad-turbo diesel SUV
Alpina XD3 and XD4 2021 – header
Alpina XD3

2021 Alpina XD3 and XD4 update revealed – extra torque from Alpine’s quad-turbo diesel SUV

The updates to the Alpina XD3 and XD4 are largely of the aesthetic kind, but more torque and new chassis calibrations are also part of the package
10 Jun 2021