The sporting battery-electric car has long been an elusive concept, often talked about but rarely seen on the roads. Many manufacturers claim they can create this mythical vehicle, but few have been able to capture the true essence of a powerful, lightweight internal combustion-engined (ICE) car. The sheer responsiveness, agility, and joy that come with driving an ICE car have remained unmatched by electric counterparts. However, Fiat’s Abarth division, housed alongside Europe’s oldest car factory, the Mirafiori plant in Turin, aims to change the game with their latest offering – the Abarth 500e.
The Legacy of Abarth
Abarth, founded by Carlo Abarth in 1949, started as a tuning and racing organization that quickly outgrew its humble roots. Like Gordini and Alpine with Renaults and Autodelta with Alfa Romeo, Abarth exemplified the democratic aim of tuning small cars for greater performance. Carlo Abarth himself was a great driver and a determined individual. At the age of 57, he even lived on only apples to lose weight and achieve a particular speed record. Abarth’s success led to a canny contract with Fiat, where he was paid for race and hillclimb victories. Eventually, Fiat acquired Abarth in 1971, but the brand’s name was not properly maintained, leading to its closure in the 1980s.
The Resurrection of Abarth
In 2007, the marketing genius Luca de Meo convinced Fiat to resurrect the Abarth brand and capitalize on the success of the reborn Fiat 500. Abarth’s tuned-up versions of the Fiat 500 became a huge success, appealing to those who believed that the fastest route between points A and B is full of curves. However, with the inevitable decline of internal combustion engines on the horizon, Fiat recognized the need to embrace battery-electric technology. The Fiat 500e, which provided a usable range and decent performance at a (slightly) more affordable price than its rivals, laid the foundation for the Abarth 500e.
Unleashing the Abarth Magic
Taking the existing Fiat 500e as a base, Abarth engineers have worked their magic to enhance its power and performance. The 42kWh battery pack and permanent magnet AC motor have been tweaked and tuned to increase the power output from the standard Fiat’s 117bhp/162lb ft of torque to an impressive 153bhp and 173lb ft. This boost in power, coupled with wider 18-inch wheels and tires, ensures a scintillating driving experience. While the WLTP official range falls from 199 miles to 164.1 miles due to these modifications, real-world driving showcases an indicated range of 160 miles, even during spirited driving sessions.
A Driver’s Perspective
As a driver’s car, the Abarth 500e delivers an exhilarating experience, though some may argue it falls short of outright speed when compared to its petrol-powered sibling, the 177bhp 1.4-litre Abarth 695. However, the battery-powered Abarth compensates for this with its refined and measured performance. The artificial “roar” emitted by a waterproof external loudspeaker adds to the unique driving experience, subtly reminding the driver of the car’s electric nature. While the 500e may not match the 695’s top speed of 143mph, its formidable mid-range clout ensures it reaches its top speed of 96mph more quickly.
The Joy of Electric Performance
One of the key advantages of the Abarth 500e is its instant acceleration, courtesy of electric propulsion. This, combined with the car’s enhanced grip, offers an exciting driving experience. However, it’s important to note that the additional weight of the battery (1.41 tonnes compared to the 695’s 1.1 tonnes) affects the car’s handling dynamics. The Abarth 500e requires a more measured turn-in, as it tends to push its nose farther into corners compared to the nimble 695. Nonetheless, the battery model delivers a balanced and progressive performance that is easy to enjoy.
The Abarth 500e offers two trims – standard and Turismo – and two body styles – hatchback and cabriolet. The prices range from £34,195 for the base model hatchback to £41,195 for the Cabrio Turismo. The Turismo trim includes various upgrades such as 18-inch wheels, an Alcantara-trimmed interior, heated front seats, and more. The interior of the Abarth 500e impresses with its attention to detail. The dash is adorned with attractive and attractively old-fashioned seamed dashtop, while the Alcantara-trimmed seats provide both comfort and support. However, rear seating is best suited for very small children, and the boot offers limited space.
Driving Pleasure and Practicality
While the Abarth 500e may not be the most practical of hatchbacks, it excels in providing driving pleasure. The car’s enhanced power and performance, combined with its refined handling, make it a standout option in the battery-powered hot hatchback segment. The Abarth 500e offers as much driving pleasure as any battery-electric car currently available, delivering on the founder’s democratic aim of adding more performance and fun to ordinary small cars. While the competition is gearing up to challenge the Abarth 500e’s dominance, for now, it reigns supreme.
- Body Style: Battery supermini (hatchback or cabriolet)
- Electric Powertrain: AC synchronous motor, 42kWh (gross) 37.3kWh (net) lithium-ion battery, front-wheel drive
- Electric Range: Up to 164.1 miles
- Charge Times: 30min 0-80% on 50kW DC fast charger, 5hr 40min on 7.4kW home wallbox
- Maximum Power/Torque: 153bhp/173lb ft
- CO2 Emissions: 0g/km (in use), 30.8g/km (well-to-wheel)
- Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles (battery: minimum 70% charge for eight years/100,000 miles)
In the competitive world of small electric cars, the Abarth 500e faces some worthy adversaries. Two notable competitors are the Mini Electric and the Cupra Born. The Mini Electric, priced from £32,550, offers a smaller battery and range but delivers a similar dynamic performance. On the other hand, the Cupra Born, starting at £36,475, provides a longer range and more power but falls short in terms of suspension and user experience.
Image Source: Unsplash
The Abarth 500e represents a significant step forward in the world of sporting electric cars. By combining the power and performance of its ICE predecessors with the benefits of electric propulsion, Abarth has managed to create a truly enjoyable driving experience. The Abarth 500e’s refined handling, scintillating acceleration, and carefully tuned dynamics make it stand out in the crowded electric car market. While it may not be the most practical option, the Abarth 500e embodies the spirit of Abarth’s democratic aim – adding more performance and fun to ordinary small cars. As the competition intensifies, it will be exciting to see how Abarth continues to push the boundaries of electric performance.