14 May 2011

Abarth 500 Esseesse 2011 car review

Most people will recognise the Abarth 500 Esseesse 2011 as a hotted up Fiat 500 – but strictly speaking it isn’t a Fiat at all.

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Abarth 500 Esseesse 2011
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Abarth 500 Esseesse 2011
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Abarth 500 Esseesse 2011
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Abarth 500 Esseesse 2011
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Abarth 500 Esseesse 2011

New car report; Lol factor

Most cars are just cars. Some are enjoyable. A few induce a certain grin factor. But the Abarth 500 Esseesse falls into the rare category that will make you laugh out loud with enjoyment.

Most people will recognise the Abarth Esseesse as a hotted up Fiat 500, but strictly speaking it isn’t a Fiat at all, with the Abarth brand now a stand-alone performance brand in its own right. That said, it's a thin disguise and clearly there's a Fiat lurking behind the Abarth livery.

Connections between Fiat and Abarth began back in the 1950’s when Carlo Abarth began competing in various motorsport events using modified Fiat components. With racing success under his belt, Abarth began manufacturing performance and tuning accessories primarily for Fiat cars, although Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Simca and even Porsche are some of the names that have been associated with Abarth.

In the early seventies, the Abarth company was acquired by Fiat, with Abarth becoming Fiat’s motorsport department. Numerous models subsequently carried the Abarth badge, most notably the Fiat 124 and 131 Abarth rally cars.

Small, but with a sting in its tail

Now though, the Abarth Scorpion badge, which Carlo chose for its small size but with a sting in the tail as well as Scorpio being his birth sign, is the only branding on the 500 Esseesse, with the only reference to Fiat being the radio display panel, illuminates with the letters F I A T when the key is turned on.

Re-defining the term “retro” the 500 Esseesse robs not only the old Fiat 500 styling cues from the original Bambina, but there are also various old school performance car touches in evidence too.

For starters, you can't miss the stripes stretching along both sides of the little car, which hark back to GT stripes that were so popular back in the ‘60’s, and the numerous chrome embellishments and coloured dash fascia hint at the classic old school pedigree.

And the boost and gear shift indicator gauge mounted on top of the dash to the left of the driver remind us of the old tacho that was a mandatory after market accessory on any souped up car back in the day. Of course, these days you get one of those too, but it's integrated into the speedo cluster.

The Abarth 500 is offered in other markets with a 1.4 turbocharged engine producing 99kW and 206Nm.  The Esseesse upgrade is then purchased literally as a box of bits which the dealer fits. It consists of upgraded brakes, 17 inch alloys, a sport suspension kit, high performance tyres, a BMC air filter and a re-mapping programme for the engine ECU, taking power and torque out to 118kW/230Nm. The front wheels are driven through a 5 speed manual gearbox, with no namby-pamby automatic on offer.

The sporty body kit integrates beautifully onto the 500, with deep side skirts, front and rear sport bumpers and a rear hatch spoiler transforming the look of the retro but sedate little Fiat into the sting-in-the-tail pocket rocket the Scorpion badge suggests.

Only the hottest version for our market

Due to legislative requirements Downunder, which would deem such daring upgrades as modifications requiring engineer’s inspection and certification, the decision was taken by Australian and New Zealand Importer Ateco to have the cars factory built with the Esseesse goodies, the only markets in the world to do so.

The 3,657mm long Abarth 500 weighs in at just 1,035kg and with the Esseesse upgrades manages a 0 – 100kmh sprint of 7.4 seconds. It’s stiffly suspended, low to the ground and steering is as direct as they come. Some might say it’s a bit of a bone-shaker, but the reality is that the stiffness and rorty exhaust note add to the sensation of high performance.

While we didn’t get to stretch it out to even half the claimed top speed of 211km/h, it’s a safe bet that at that sort of speed, with these proportions and firm set-up, you'd be excused for thinking you were setting some sort of land speed record.

Priced at $42,990, the Abarth 500 Esseesse is surprisingly practical. The four seater three door hatch has plenty of rear carrying capacity particularly with the rear seats folded flat, fuel consumption is quoted at 6.5L/100km and there’s a 5 star safety rating.

The seats are incredibly supportive with coloured stitching and highlights throughout the sporty interior, depending on body colour. There are seven airbags including a driver’s knee bag, Bluetooth, follow-me home headlights and daytime running lamps.

But more than anything, the Abarth 500 Esseesse has truck loads of “cool”.

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