NEVER, so the old saying goes, judge a book by its cover. Especially not if the book in question is in fact Fiat’s 500.
The 500’s stylish retro shape is surely the Courtney Cox of the car world – in automotive terms it’s getting on a bit, but it seems to have defied the ageing process and doesn’t look a day older than it did five years ago. Cutesy it might be, but dated it definitely isn’t.
Stranger still is that Fiat have somehow managed to create entirely different cars underneath those pretty curves, because while the Abarth 500C looks strikingly similar to its small car sisters, it couldn’t feel more different. While the TwinAir 500 came across as a nostalgic nod to the original 1957 Fiat 500 and a generation of Italian scooters thanks to its natty engine noise, the Abarth feels as though Fiat’s tried to sqeeze an entire Ferrari underneath the 500’s skin!
This is immediately obvious when you start it up, because – unlike the TwinAir – the Abarth’s blessed with one of motoring’s great engine notes, a rally car warble at low revs which builds up to a Pavarotti-esque bellow when you put your foot down. It’s a note that comes courtesy of an engine very similar to the one Life On Cars tested in the Abarth Punto last year, only in the smaller 500 you can really make the most of its 160bhp.
The particular Abarth I tried also came fitted with the company’s Essesse kit, which is a must because it provides not only more in the way of straight-line punch but also upgrades in the ride and handling department, which transform the 500 from being a slightly soft city slicker to something which really inspires your confidence. You can also opt for some very Italian colour schemes to finish it all off, but it’s hardly the last word in subtlety and if it were my money I’d go for the metallic grey of the particular car I tested.
Is it worth the £16,000 asking price? That depends on how much space you want with your pace, because the likes of Citroen’s DS3 will offer you a similarly fun drive but with plenty more room for your luggage and rear seat passengers. If, however, you want something with an endlessly engaging personality and sense of style than the Abarth will prove a characterful companion.
It might be completely different from the last Fiat 500 you tried, but it’s still a great book behind its appealing cover.