As ideal for City roads as it is for the race track, the Abarth 500 Esseesse offers the best of both worlds
IF you’re looking to combine a daily commuter with track day thrills, the Abarth versions of Fiat’s diminutive and stylish 500 city car are worth a look.
I was driving the Abarth 500 with an optional Esseesse body kit. It’s one of the sportiest versions of Fiat’s stylish city car you can buy. Adding the Esseesse package turns the standard model up a notch, firing it up into a proper little track-day racer. Sign up for the package after buying the standard Abarth and your upgrade components are delivered in a special wooden crate, along with an official Abarth mechanic to kit out to the car. You get to keep the crate, though the mechanic has to go back.
This optional tuning upgrade boosts the Abarth’s 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine by 25bhp to 160bhp – making it a half-second quicker to reach 62mph and it has a slightly higher top speed of 130mph. The car also comes with bigger 17-inch alloy wheels, a special air-filter and lightweight perforated disc brakes.
The scorpion badging gives a clue to the car’s “small but wicked” potential. The 500 is transformed into something of a mean machine by additional spoilers and diffusers that help add stability. Inside, the Abarth adds a sporty feel to the classic model’s retro design. It comes with an additional turbo gauge pod that sticks up like a submarine periscope on the dashboard and the seats and flat-bottomed steering wheels are trimmed in leather with red stitching.
It may look like a Fiat 500 dressed in racing overalls, but that’s where the family resemblance ends. This car is fundamentally different from the regular 500; I knew it would be quick but hadn’t quite anticipated how hardcore the drive would feel.
The Abarth 500 Esseesse is fast and has good grip. It stays flat in the corners and handles well. Hit the sport button and the throttle and steering sharpen even more. The brakes are also very good. On some City roads the car can crash over bumps and an undulating road can begin to feel like aircraft turbulence at times. Ride and refinement is a little lacking as the suspension is so firm, but then what do you expect? As it’s such a tiddler of a racer, the pace feels supersonic, quicker than the 7.4 second 0-62 suggests and it is speed that you can carry through the corners too. The steering is good, though a bit more feedback would give you more confidence when winding along twisting country roads.
The extra Esseesse kit costs £2,700 including fitting and I reckon it’s worth it for the exhaust note alone. This is a proper pocket rocket that delivers industrial quantities of thrills. It’s also a new car purchase that’s easy to justify. You may be able to frighten yourself on the race track, but it’s also a practical city car you can park easily in town, comfortably drive to the in-laws in the Home Counties, and even ferry the kids to school in.
And if this Abarth 500 Esseesse is not quite individual enough, there are two more Abarth 500s available with more personalisation options. The 595 Abarth Turismo and 595 Abarth Competizione have the same 160bhp engine but the Turismo has a focus on GT-style comfort while the Competizione is even more of a racer, with Sabalt racing seats and an upgraded Monza exhaust.