It`s been ages that we remember of the Fiat 500 when it was launched in 2008. At a seemingly stratospheric price tag exceeding 15L, it wasn’t meant to sell in large volumes! Regardless of the cute design, heritage and its desirability factor it just did not appeal to the value for money conscious Indian masses. The all new rejuvenated Fiat is giving us another dose of the little Miss Italy albeit in a more potent guise – in Abarth Esseesse flavor. We sampled this pocket rocket at Fiat`s facility, and came out fairly impressed!
Images: Hanoz Patel and Amit Chhangani
Coming through the CBU route, this time the new generation Cinquecento (500) comes drenched in Abarth branding everywhere. As common with the performance editions sold by other manufacturers, the 500 loses its Fiat badges or rather earns the fabled Abarth badges it so proudly flaunts. So since the emphasis lies on what`s under the hood, let`s go there first in this Fiat 500 Abarth Esseesse review!
Whats under the hood? The hardware..
The Abarth edition is powered by Fiat`s MultiAir 1.4L 4 pot intercooled turbocharged petrol engine. This power plant pumps out 158 BHP@5500 rpm and 230 Nm of torque @3000 rpm. Pop the hood and it looks a tightly packed engine bay there, with the cast finished red engine cover bearing the Scorpion Logo and Esseesse lettering. Essentially, the MultiAir is Fiat`s nomenclature of the variable intake valve timing with electronic control. Electro-Hydraulic solenoids are employs resulting in significant improvements in torque and efficiency as intake valves are used to throttle the engine.
The Abarth also comes with twin intercoolers which is quite unique and their twin “nostrils” can be seen on the revised front bumper. Boffins at Fiat have gone to the extent of anodizing the piston top land and ring groove to make it robust, in anticipation that oil grades may not be adhered to. As a part of the Esseesse kit, the engine breathes heaps of clean air through high performance BMC airfilters. To handle this step up in power, all the internal components have been beefed up too. The potent engine is mated to C510 five speed heavy duty manual transmission which is quite fun to use with its short throw. Abarth`s transmission also features larger CV (Constant Velocity) joints that boast of a 53% increase in torsional strength over the standard 500!
Torque Transfer Control (TTC) has also been employed to ensure the optimum distribution of power to the front wheels. The TTC brakes the wheel to control the wheelspin as opposed to electronic traction control which cuts the power from the engine to prevent the wheelspin. In Sport mode, the TTC automatically keeps adjusting the degree of differential locking to minimize understeer and maximize traction. That’s some serious kit for a small car!
The Esseesse kit also brings Koni`s front shock absorbers with Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) which constantly varies the damping of the shock-absorbers to give the best balance between comfort and road hold. A precision tuned stabilizer bar at the rear helps in better cornering abilities. Both ends have lowered ride height by 0.6 inches and stiffer springs. The Abarth Esseesse gets discs brakes all around with big 11.1 inches diameter drilled ventilated rotors at the front and drilled rotors at the rear.
Fiat has always dressed their cars with some of the best looking alloy wheels. Abarth Esseesse 500 comes with gorgeous 16 inch performance alloys which have striking resemblance to the BBS alloys that are famous with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evos!
Cute meets track performance…the exteriors
Externally, the Abarth retains the 500`s cute profile with some strong visual hits of the monster of an engine that lies under the hood. The Abarth logo of a shield with stylized Scorpion is displayed proudly on the front bumper, the steering wheel, the floor mats and many other places including the rear hatch. The “Rosso” Red that you see in the pictures does justice to the design along with all the sporty embellishments.
The front bumper has been revised with twin “nostrils” at either ends which have been carefully designed for maximum airflow through the twin intercoolers. The Abarth also gets a revised rear bumper with a diffuser design and twin concentric exhausts. It also gets a set of side skirts which enhance the sporty intent of the design. The entire design is completed with the massive 205/40 section Michelin`s Pilot Sport on R17 Abarth alloy wheels, which are simply superb!
Interiors…drive me hard
Like externally, the interiors of the Abarth have received lot of tweaks with sporty intent. The most striking change has to be the steering wheel. Gone is the retro looking white steering wheel, and is now replaced by a thick-rimmed leather wrapped flat bottomed unit. The Fiat logo has been rightfully replaced by the Abarth`s Scorpion. Like the original Cinquecento the speedometer console is concentric with rev counter on the inside with other tell tale lights.
The EVIC (electronic vehicle information centre) display as Fiat calls it sits in the centre consisting of the bar graph fuel and temperature gauges apart from a host of information. The power window switches remain unconventionally placed on the console next to the gear lever too which lends the door pads a clean look. The door pads themselves are barely equipped with map holders, no bottle holders in there.
Storage spaces and cubby holes are at a premium in this super premium hot hatch. 1 tiny cup holder swings open adjacent to the gear lever, and an open glove box on the passenger side. The seats have been replaced with new ones which lend the bucket seat feel. The seats themselves are fantastically built in leather with red stitching, that’s not all, and they also get “Racing Harness Passthroughs”! Well the racing bucket seats are built for a purpose and not meant for comfort and those on the Abarth are exactly that. The seat height adjuster is place on the left hand side of the driver seat and is centimeters apart from the handbrake lever – disaster in the waiting?
The attention grabber remains the turbo boost gauge cum shift indicator pod, similar to pseudo tachometer pod we see in a Suzuki Ritz. While not very practical, it does add extra oomph to the overall racy theme of the interiors. The rear seats are best reserved for the kids owing to the space on offer while the position of seat belts on the B is quite a stretch before one buckles up. The Abarth surprised us with its boot space which is almost on par with other hatchbacks, but does not come with a spare wheel. It just has a puncture repair kit.
The drive experience…
To complete the experience, sadly the Abarth does not come with the `engine start/stop` button. Twist the key and the MultiAir fires to life. Knowing that this is a proper turbocharged petrol engine, Fast and Furious fans expecting the whooshes and whistles should look elsewhere. What we are treated with is a raspy exhaust note. The Abarth looks tiny for a hatchback and weighs well over 1 tonne with all those performance enhancements, still manages thrilling acceleration thanks to its power to weight ratio.
Slot into 1st, dump the clutch and it gets you ready to lay black streaks of rubber on the tarmac. The acceleration is quite fierce and considering its small volume, it feels even faster. The Abarth can manage a 0-100 in the region of 7.5 seconds which is fantastic! Even in the small closed facility of Fiat, we managed to run a riot and have loads of fun with the Abarth`s scintillating performance. The Abarth begs you to bury its sporty throttle pedal into the carpet and enjoy the burst of acceleration that no other car as small as this can give us.
The light action short throw gear box and weighted electronic power steering are good team players in the tournament of endless fun. We would have loved some more directness or faster steering in Sport mode, however the only fly in the ointment remains the turbo lag. The boost comes in strong after 2500 rpm and that’s when you can see the tachometer needle swing eagerly right past 6500 rpm. Trying to assess the engine revs and the speed at the same time on the console is a futile attempt as the car hurtles around with road runner performance.
We did not get to test the cars handling abilities, but with the short time spent with it, its stiff ride quality was more than evident. With those wheel well filling wheels, lowered ride height and stiffened suspension we are sure that this car will be a hoot to drive on smooth winding roads or a track. The TTC works intelligently and endows the Esseesse with fantastic grip levels devoid of understeer which front wheel drives can only dream of.
So we hear, this time the firebreathing version of the Fiat 500 could cost in the region of INR 30 lac (Thanks to our duty regulations) and will be a coveted and prized piece of modern history for those who can own one. Originally launched at a cheap, practical city car in 1957 it has gone to be an expensively quick track day car. If we had the money, the Abarth 500 Esseesse would definitely find itself in our collection, `nuff said!