Abarth 500C Esseesse

Sizzling new flagship is this summer’s most entertaining soft-top

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Our main problem with the Abarth 500C was a slow-witted auto box that detracted from the car’s sportiness. The five-speed manual isn’t perfect, but it’s a huge improvement. The Esseesse kit ups the fun factor with an extra 23bhp, a burbling exhaust note and improved handling. The trouble is, while the manual box costs £1,000 less, the Esseesse kit adds £3,240. A desirable model, then, but very pricey.

Is this the ultimate edition of the Fiat 500? The standard Abarth 500C already has 135bhp, a retractable fabric roof and eye-catching two-tone paint. But now, you can order the Esseesse upgrade that brings improved brakes and suspension, as well as a power boost to 158bhp.
More significantly, the car can be specified with a five-ratio manual gearbox, instead of the ponderous automated five-speed that came with previous models. Go for the new set-up, and you’ll save £1,000 on the paddleshift version, but the Esseesse pack came to £3,240 including fitting – so our example still weighed in at an eye-watering £20,096.
It certainly looks the part, with its monochrome paintwork, ice-white alloys and quad exhaust pipes. No supermini comes close to matching the Abarth’s road presence. And while the interior won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s bold with bright red leather offset by slabs of white trim.
Twist the ignition key and the burble from the exhausts leaves you in no doubt that this is the top-spec Esseesse. Pull away and the noise grows as the revs rise. Acceleration becomes frantic when the turbo really kicks in above 3,000rpm.
The chunky gearlever is a very good match for the thick-rimmed steering wheel. And although the action could be more precise, the ability to select ratios yourself is far better suited to the Abarth’s agile dynamics than the auto box.
We expected the lower, stiffer springs and uprated dampers to give a bone-shaking ride, but the 500C was surprisingly compliant. The problem comes when you go over big bumps; the short-travel suspension hits the stops, and sends a jolt through the cabin. The pay-off is quick reactions and the nippy and fun character the cheeky dimensions suggest.
For a car this overtly sporty, you still sit too high, creating a sensation of being perched in the car rather than slotting into a lower position. Peel the roof back, however, and you soon forget about the less-than-perfect ergonomics and artificial steering. Even though the folded hood obscures rearward vision, it’s hard to resist the growl of the four exhaust pipes as you dart around with the wind in your hair.
This car is expensive, but it’s unique. Despite its flaws, it’s a real charmer, and leaves you with a grin plastered across your face.

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