New Abarth 500e Convertible 2024 review: guaranteed to put a smile on your face

It's expensive, but the Abarth 500e Convertible provides plenty of open-top electric thrills

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

It’s a flawed proposition, and an expensive one at that. But even in electric form, Abarth’s open-topped 500e is a vehicle that will put a smile on your face. As with many convertibles, it’s focused on styling flair more than extreme performance, and we can’t help feeling there’s more to come from the EV powertrain. So objectively it’s a hard vehicle to recommend – but much like its predecessors, we can see how it might appeal on charm alone. 

There are car companies who are particularly well suited to the transition to electric. But on paper at least, Abarth isn’t one of them. This is a brand made famous by lightweight performance models that fly in the face of heavy batteries and, even in latter years, a distinct exhaust burble that’s a world away from electric-motor whine. How on earth can Abarth hope to overcome those contrasts?

It’s time to find out, with our first taste of the Abarth 500e Convertible, and on UK roads to boot. To recap, this model takes the same basic technical make-up as the regular Fiat 500e Convertible – a 42kWh battery and a single front-mounted motor – but boosts the power and torque outputs to 152bhp and 235Nm respectively, as well as adopting a more focused chassis set-up. 

It also tries to deliver a distinct visual approach, with some shockingly bright colours (the charmingly named Poison Blue, in the case of our test example), plus sports seats and a mix of leather and Alcantara in the cabin. 

This is a car that has to deliver on two counts, really; it must feel sharper and more focused than the regular 500e, while also going at least some way to stirring the same emotions as the old petrol-powered Abarth 695. It has instant EV shove to help with the second of those tasks, of course, plus a wider track and a longer wheelbase.

And dynamically, the 500e Convertible feels pretty well sorted. The reworked steering is satisfyingly meaty (the Alcantara-clad steering wheel helps with the experience here too), and there’s bags of lateral grip for you to lean on in corners. It’s probably just about fast enough, and is able to keep accelerating where a regular 500e’s performance would tail off. But if you’re after truly banzai EV shove, you won’t really find it here. Still, the throttle and brake modulation are nicely sorted, so this is a car you can drive pretty smoothly, as well as rapidly when the mood dictate. Genuine hooligan behaviour, incidentally, is just met with tyre scrub and understeer.

There’s more maturity to the suspension compliance versus the old 695, too; the 500e is undeniably firm, but it doesn’t crash into potholes like you might expect, or get upset by sudden road camber changes and sharp inputs like cat’s eyes.

The strangest tech trick is, of course, the fake engine noise – or Abarth Sound Generator, to give it its official title. It’s a (hopefully waterproof) speaker that tries to mimick the sort of mildly aggressive burble produced by petrol-powered Abarth 695s. 

It is too difficult to activate and deactivate, buried unnecessarily in the depths of the car’s instrument-panel menus (what’s wrong with a physical button?), and when you get up to higher speeds it is frankly annoying, as the ‘revs’ keep rising without any gear shifts to lower the tone. It combines all too readily with the roof – decently insulated, but made of fabric nonetheless – to make the 500e Convertible a little tiresome on motorways.

And yet there might just be something here to build upon. There’s no way we could live with the noise on a daily basis, but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that, on at least one occasion, it did add to our fun as we punched the 500e between corners on a deserted B-road. It’s an approach that nobody else has really tried so far, and it doesn’t hit the bullseye, but it may just surprise you by enhancing the experience, from time to time.

Practicality is not usually to the fore in the minds of those considering any sort of 500, but for the record, the 500e’s rear seats are best left to young children only (teenagers won’t thank you for putting them in there) and the boot is predictably tiny – even more limited than the regular hatch, in fact, at just 155 litres. There’s no front luggage space either, so you’ll have to give up some of that meagre capacity to store your cables. Abarth claims a total load space of 550 litres can be freed up if you lower the rear seats but even then, the tight aperture into the boot would probably limit what you’re able to carry anyway.

The opening roof is a neat enough installation, and it slides back electrically to allow a reasonable amount of light into the cabin. This isn’t a full drop-top, but front-seat occupants in particular will still get that ‘open to the elements’ feel.

This is an EV, so range matters – and the 500e’s modest official number takes an additional hit in Convertible form, dropping the maximum to just 150 miles. There’s no heat pump, either, and in our experience, colder conditions will take a few miles off that number. Recharging is possible at up to 85kW, which means a sensible refill to 80 per cent should take around half an hour. Long journeys would not be the 500e’s forte.

It’s hard to ignore the price here, too. The regular 500e has a £3,000 premium over the 500e, and Abarth asks the same amount extra again for the ability to open up the roof. So even without the optional blue paint, you’re buying, in effect, a two-seat EV with a tiny boot and modest battery capacity for more than £41,000. That’s for a range-topping Turismo version, admittedly, but even the £37k entry model looks big amount of cash for a small package.

Model:Abarth 500e Convertible Turismo
Price from:£37,195
Price:£41,195
Powertrain:42kWh battery, 1x e-motor
Power/torque:152bhp/235Nm
Transmission:Single-speed auto, front-wheel drive
0-62mph:7.0 seconds
Top speed:96mph
Range/charging:150 miles/85kW, 0-80% in 35 mins
Dimensions (L/W/H):3,673/1,683/1,518mm
On sale:Now
Editor-at-large

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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