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Car reviews - Abarth - 500e

Abarth models


We like
Agile handling, sharp steering, tight turning circle, confidence-inspiring balance and grip, decent acceleration, well-modulated braking action, improved oddment storage
Room for improvement
Price, higher energy consumption, compromised ergonomics, some road noise, expectedly small cargo area, sound generator gets on your nerves pretty quickly

Compact proportions, vivacious personality mean the 500e should be a hoot, but is it?

21 Jun 2024



THE 500e Turismo is the first electric vehicle to come from Abarth and like familial models before it, is based upon the (now also electric) Fiat 500e.


According to Abarth, the all-electric 500e Turismo and Scorpionissima duo are the most responsive and exciting cars in its history, each equipped with a front-mounted electric motor delivering 113kW and 235Nm, or enough to accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 7.0 seconds.


Driving range is listed at 253km (WLTP), which is fair considering the compact vehicle’s 1335kg kerb weight and 42kWh nickel-manganese-cobalt battery. The battery may be charged at up to 85kW DC meaning it should be possible to reach an 80 per cent state of charge in around 35 minutes.


The Abarth 500e (from $58,900 plus on-road costs) rides on a platform developed by FCA before its merger with PSA (into Stellantis). It is shared with its Fiat counterpart, allowing the 500e to offer considerably more technology than was possible before.


On the safety front, that means the inclusion of Level 2 autonomous driving capabilities, cruise control, auto high beam, front and rear parking sensors, lane keep assist, speed limit recognition, blind spot monitoring, 360-degree camera technology, and driver attention monitoring.


In terms of infotainment, the 500e sports the latest fifth generation Uconnect multimedia array with generous 10.25-inch touchscreen, and wireless connectivity to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A six-speaker JBL-sourced audio system handles music duties.


Other highlights include 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels (finished in grey and shod with Bridgestone Potenza hoops), Alcantara upholstery, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto wipers, keyless entry and ignition, metal-faced pedals, single-zone climate control, sport seats with contrasting blue/green stitching, and a wireless device charging pad.


In a nod to its petrol-powered predecessors, the electric Abarth 500e also features a synthesised Sound Generator which aims to replicate the sound of the iconic Monza exhaust – inside and out. More on that in a minute.


Paint hues include Acid Green (pictured), Adrenalin Red, Antidote White, Poison Blue, and Venom Black.


Driving Impressions


There really isn’t anything else like the Abarth 500e on the market. It’s a unique offering in its segment, which of course means it is hard to compare with those around it (although, given its price, you could argue it vies with the larger Cupra Born, MG 4 X-Power, and Mini Electric).


And that is both a good and a bad thing…


Good, because the Abarth is largely its own car (excusing the Fiat 500e of course) and stands out for being itself.


Bad, because in isolation it appears expensive, and almost contrived, like it has been created for no other reason than to satisfy the absence left by petrol model.


Of course, Abarth fans are likely to disagree. But in living with the Abarth for a week, we found it very hard to justify the expenditure for a vehicle that is a) not very fast; and b) not very useful.


Which is not to say it doesn’t do what it is designed to do well. Not at all. It just doesn’t make sense in the same way a more practical hatch might – or that a proper performance model should.


A 0-100km/h time of seven seconds is slow by EV standards, especially when you’re claiming to be a high-performance model. The top speed is limited to just 150km/h.


Of course, the size of the Abarth 500e means it doesn’t feel as slow as the numbers might suggest, but it’s obvious when you line it up against a far cheaper EV hatch like the GWM Ora, for example.


Sure, it might seem like comparing apples with oranges, but that car manages the three-digit sprint in 8.4 seconds and costs around $38K. It mightn’t have the pedigree of the Abarth, but for a $20K saving we think we could live with it.


And then there is the driving range… Our Abarth 500e loan car did not have an AC charging cable on board, which meant charging was carried out at an inconvenient and out-of-the-way location to keep the batteries fed.


Given the size of the battery pack – and the model’s hunger for energy in even average driving conditions – it’s a hassle we could do without.


On test, the Abarth 500e consumed around 17.9kWh per 100km, or enough to offer a theoretical 234km of range. Somehow, we were perilously close to empty at around 200km… so clearly something’s off with the on-board computer.


Fiat (and therefore Abarth) have taken great pains to ensure the 500e is more comfortable and practical than the model before it, and for the most part it shows. Oddment storage is great, the back seat bigger, and the driving position somewhat improved.


Yet, it is still typically Italian (better suited to those with longer arms and shorter legs) in its layout and an obvious victim of the model’s compact proportions. The high-set seating position means there is minimal headroom and compromised leg room for taller folks – an issue for those wanting to commute or attempt longer trips.


We also found that the absence of hard buttons means you’ll need to use the touchscreen for a lot of the vehicle’s functions, many of which require an in-depth menu search to access.


It’s a criticism the Abarth is not alone in sharing, and one that might be a matter of familiarity over time; but we honestly feel that some functions are better left to a click of a button, not just for convenience, but safety as well.


When you couple all this with a decent helping of tyre noise and a naff sound generator (which sounds like the car is permanently stuck in gear resulting in us switching it off after the first 10 minutes), then it’s perhaps a signal that the Abarth 500e just failed to hit the mark…


But, let’s not quite go there just yet.


You see, the Abarth 500e is more than just a Fiat with the wick turned up.


It gains its own suspension tune (a strut front/torsion beam rear arrangement), driveline reduction ratio, four-wheel disc brakes, and revised steering, all of which contributes to an agile handling package that is terrific fun both in and out of the city’s confines.


Sure, the 500e mightn’t have the range to take on your favourite weekend roads, but you kind of wish it did.


There’s a level of confidence and grip to the package that makes it highly entertaining through a series of bends, the body reacting playfully to inputs with a character not too dissimilar to its petrol-powered predecessor.


The steering weights up nicely as you feed it though corners, and is weighted just right in two of the three modes available – in our view, it’s too ‘heavy’ in Track mode.


The 500e even spins up an inside wheel as you dash out of corners, showing that despite the small numbers there is still plenty of muscle to be flexed. Hit the right driving mode and the 500e tenses up and bristles at the input of throttle, as if sensing that it’s time to hustle.


What’s more impressive still is that it does all of this without feeling overly firm. Sure, it’s not as plush as its Fiat derivative, but it isn’t like riding a sled.


There’s more than enough compliance for smooth travel over pockmarked roads – as if the engineers have purposefully left enough in reserve to ensure your fillings remain intact. It has to be a pretty ragged stretch of road before the Abarth feels uncomfortable.


The drive modes – essentially Tour, Street, and Track – adjust the responsiveness of not only the throttle and steering, but also the brake regeneration.


The deceleration offered is intense, almost abrupt, and takes a little getting used to. In most driving situations you can use the brake regeneration in lieu of the service brake, which is almost a shame considering how well metered the pedal is. Stopping performance is excellent.


But it’s not all rosy… the brake regeneration can almost be too restrictive in urban driving and tends to create a ‘jolt’ when manoeuvring at slow speeds or when changing direction while parking.


Again, it can’t be adjusted beyond the presets; so, you’ll have to learn to adapt if you’re going to love owning this car.


And there are those that will. If you don’t have the need for a larger car, love the looks, want to go electric, and enjoy the up-and-at-‘em handling the 500e has to offer then it might just be the car for you. But for close to $60K, we just can’t warm to it.


As much as it is a well-equipped and enjoyable tiny tot, the Abarth 500e just isn’t the car it ought to be for the money. If it was under $50K or had a another 50kW we might change our tune. But for now, it’s a pass from us.


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