Abarth 500 Esseesse

Sizzling city car offers lots of pocket rocket fun

FOR less than the cost of Peugeot’s entry-level RCZ, you can have the keys to one of the most characterful cars on the planet in your pocket... and still keep a sizeable amount of loose change in there, too. A regular Abarth 500 costs £14,150, but we’ve picked the hot Esseesse for our X Factor auditions.

This model commands a £2,500 premium, and features a range of extras designed to boost the 1.4-litre turbo’s power output from 135bhp to a heady 160bhp. Also included is a specially tuned and stiffer suspension set-up, uprated brakes and bigger, 17-inch alloys.

Even so, the car is still comfortably cheaper than its rivals, and the stubby 500 is guaranteed to turn heads. It looks like an ordinary Fiat that has been put on steroids, and the result is a pumped-up city car which bulges with intent.

Racy Abarth decals also leave onlookers in no doubt about the model’s origins or aspirations. A range of add-ons gives buyers the chance to personalise their model further with a huge choice of stickers, wheels and accessories.

The interior is no less subtle, with the regular 500’s layout benefiting from a racy makeover. A sporty boost gauge sprouts from the dashboard, plus there’s a purposeful three-spoke steering wheel and alloy-trimmed pedals – so the Abarth 500 Esseesseis one of those cheeky cars which can put a smile on your face before you’ve even started the engine. Owners even get a change-up warning light so that you can time your gearshifts to perfection.

As we used a customer car for our road test, we didn’t run a full set of performance assessments. But the official data provides an accurate impression of the pace on offer. The standard model covers 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds, yet the Esseesse upgrade shaves half-a-second off this – and it should outaccelerate the RCZ from a standing start.

This Abarth model isn’t solely about straight-line speed, though, as its revised suspension provides the kind of body control you’d expect from a racing car. Unfortunately, it includes ride comfort to match, so while the Abarth grips tenaciously in bends and displays impressive agility, it’s a tiring car to drive on all but the smoothest of surfaces.

It’s considerably firmer than the RCZ, and broken urban roads and potholed lanes alike are a bruising experience.

Its lively character constantly eggs you on, though, and the rev-hungry 1.4-litre engine encourages you to drive the Abarth in a way which is entirely in keeping with its appearance. Push hard and it doesn’t have the finesse of its rivals, as it skips and bounces off bumps in the road. Yet it’s all done with an infectious enthusiasm and character.

The upright driving position is at odds with this – you feel as if you sit on rather than in the 500. But it’s still really likeable and fun. So despite being the cheapest car, it undoubtedly has the X Factor.

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: The ultimate pocket rocket. Cheeky looks and a huge range of accessories ensure the Abarth stands out from the crowd. Esseesse add-ons enhance its performance.

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