Is the Abarth 500e a proper electric pocket rocket? We get behind the wheel to find out…
If you’ve ever driven or heard one of the Abarth-tuned Fiat 500s over the years, you’ll know that they are cars that bombard the senses.
Not only do they look suitably sporty, they drive like go-karts and the aggressive exhaust note is like no other small car on the road.
Offered as a hatch or convertible (more like a cabio), the Abarth 500e is the brand’s first fully electric car.
Priced from £34,195 and based on the Fiat 500e city car, the Abarth version certainly looks the part.
Up front there’s a deeper front bumper, there are bigger side skirts and wider wheel arches down the side, while a large roof spoiler and meaty bumpers adorn the rear.
Thanks to a wider track and lower sports suspension, the Abarth 500e’s stance is more athletic too.
Then to top it off, there’s a choice of five colours, each with cool names – Antidote White, Venom Black, Adrenaline Red, Acid Green and Poison Blue (the latter two are especially vibrant), plus a smattering of scorpion badging.
Inside there’s a new flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel wrapped in Alcantara, plus sports seats. You also get the same (much improved) 10.25-inch touchscreen from the flagship 500e as standard (featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), plus a 7.0-inch digital driver’s display.
I tested the top-of-the-range Turismo model in both hatch and soft-top body styles. The driving position is (thankfully) lower than the Fiat 500e, while the body-hugging seats are comfortable and supportive.
Underneath the Abarth’s pumped-up bodywork you’ll find the same 42.2kWh battery that powers the standard Fiat 500e, though it is now paired with a more powerful 152bhp electric motor driving the front wheels.
However, the first surprise is that it’s swift rather than blisteringly fast off the line, unlike some other EVs. With a 0-62mph time of 7.0 seconds, it’s only a fraction quicker than a petrol Abarth 595, though instant torque makes it feel faster because it’s also a second faster from 25-37mph.
The downside of this power boost is that the Abarth’s takes a hit compared to the Fiat 500e, which on paper can manage up to 199 miles on a full charge.
For the record, the hatch has a 164-mile range, while the cabrio is up to 157 miles. In other words, the Abarth 500e is very much in urban territory, along with other EV rivals including the MINI Electric, Honda e and Mazda MX-30.
Just like the Fiat 500e, the Abarth can charge at up to 85kW, meaning you can top up 80% in 35 minutes, or in other words, you can add around 25 miles of range in five minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the Fiat 500e, but for me its weakest point is that it’s not quite as agile as it looks when pushed, so how does the Abarth stack up on the road?
Well, it certainly goes a long way to sort that issue. For instance, there’s sharper steering, which makes the car turn in more keenly.
The ride is on the firm side, but don’t worry, it’s not anywhere near as bad as Abarth 595/695s of old that used to crash over potholes.
For the most part, the Abarth 500e feels composed, there’s plenty of grip, and body lean is kept in check on more challenging roads.
The brakes are effective, if slightly aggressive at times (unusually for reasonably-priced EV, it has discs all round). Go for it on faster, twisty roads and you’ll have the confidence to push on.
You can also choose from three drive modes – Turismo, Scorpion Street and Scorpion Track. The first is more comfort-orientated, limiting power and delivering more regenerative braking via one-pedal driving around town. Scorpion Street keeps the regen but adds full power, while Track is all about performance.
Personally, I found the regenerative braking a tad too fierce. What’s more, the settings only change with the drive mode, so there are no paddles behind the steering wheel to adjust the regen, which always work better.
Overall, the Abarth 500e is settled and predictable, but I’d stop short of calling it thrilling.
For now, my benchmark urban hot hatch remains the road-going go-kart that is the MINI Electric.
However, there’s one area where the Abarth 500e beats its rivals hands down. Its party piece is a sound generator which reproduces the exhaust note of a petrol-powered Abarth.
More than 6,000 hours was spent analysing and creating the perfect sound, and the end result certainly adds to the fun aesthetic of the car.
Unfortunately, the novelty wears off on longer runs and it’s more relaxing to switch off the drone (which sounds like an engine has been stuck in third gear) and enjoy the refinement that only an EV can offer.
Irritatingly, you can only disengage it via the fiddly digital driver’s display – and the car has to be stationary. Apparently, Abarth is already looking into ways to make the process easier.
From a practicality point of view, the Abarth 500e is a mixed bag. Fantastic though the front seats are, they are bulkier than the Fiat’s and eat further into the already tight rear space. All but the smallest children would struggle to sit in the back.
Luggage capacity is limited too. There’s just 185 litres with the rear seats up, or 550 litres with them folded down. And on a personal note, I found I couldn’t rest my left foot comfortably.
There’s virtually no difference between the hatch and convertible on the road, despite the latter being a tad heavier (25kg).
The slick electric hood mechanism can be opened and closed on the move, and apart from a slight loss of cabin refinement, it’s much the same as the hatchback.
Verdict: The Abarth 500e is an entertaining EV debut from Fiat’s sporty sister brand. There’s definitely still space for a hotter version, but for now this swift urban runabout offers a fun blend of good looks, driver engagement and everyday comfort.
Review in association with www.automotiveblog.co.uk