Fiat 500 Abarth Esseesse

We drive the long awaited 500 Abarth Esseesse for the first time in the UK.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Hot hatch fans are going to fall head over heels in love with the Abarth 500. Although it’s not as precise to drive as a MINI Cooper S, it’s very fast and lots of fun – not to mention one of the best looking hot hatches ever made. Most drivers will be happy with standard model, but we certainly wouldn’t put people off this faster Essesse model. It may be expensive at just over £16,000 but it’s an absolute riot!

At last, the wait is over! Some 18 months after Fiat relaunched its Abarth performance arm, the model that everyone has been waiting for has landed in the UK.

This is the Abarth 500 Essesse – an even hotter version of the Fiat 500-based standard car that we drove last year. Packing a host of upgrades, it’s one of the most exciting small Fiats in history. But can it deliver against rivals like the MINI Cooper S?

If you want an Essesse, you’ll have to fork out £2,500 on top of the £13,600 Fiat charges for the standard 135bhp Abarth 500. That buys you 17-inch alloy wheels, 205/40-section tyres, cross-drilled disc brakes, stiffer springs, a new engine ECU and a performance air filter along with some Essesse badges.

These goodies arrive at your Abarth dealer from Italy in a wooden crate, which carries a unique plaque. Once its contents have been fitted to the car, it’s given to the owner – a neat bespoke touch in keeping with Abarth’s racing history.

While it weighs the same as the standard model at 1,035kg, power from the 1.4-litre turbo jumps 25bhp to 160bhp and torque leaps 24Nm to 230Nm at 3,000rpm. Fiat says the car travels from a 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds and has a top speed of 131mph – improvements of 0.5 seconds and 3mph respectively – although fuel economy and CO2 emissions are unchanged.

Climb inside and the thick-rimmed steering wheel sets the tone for the experience. The Abarth 500 isn’t a car that can be driven with your fingertips.

Weighing the same 1,035kg as the standard model, it’s no surprise to find the Esseesse is even faster – the turbocharger boosts harder at 4,000rpm and it’s quicker in third gear and above. Flick the Sport button and throttle response sharpens further, the boost gauge flashing at 6,000rpm adding to the excitement.

Sport mode also adds extra weight to the steering, but whether it’s turned on or off, feel through the wheel is artificial. There’s none of the precision that a Ford Fiesta – or a MINI – offers for instance. But there is grip and incredible pace. The Torque Transfer Control (TTC) system quells wheelspin well, turn-in is instant, body roll almost non-existent and the wide track and sticky Pirelli P-Zero Nero tyres result in very fast cornering. It’s possible to cover ground at tremendous pace. But despite the suspension’s stiffness, the firm ride copes well with our bumpy British roads.

Factor in muscular styling and a beautifully detailed cabin and it’s no surprise to learn that of the 700 Abarth 500s coming to the UK this year, Fiat already has orders for 60 per cent of them.

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