Electric vehicles are mostly very good, but it’s rare for one to stand out from the crowd – not just visually, but as a driving experience. So, has the new Abarth 500e joined that select band of truly dynamic EVs? Well, yes and no. You see it’s fun, but not quite as thrilling as I was hoping.
In this sector, the Abarth currently only has one rival: the road-going go-kart that is the MINI Electric – the benchmark urban hot hatch for me. However, if you move up a size an MG4 XPower or Cupra Born are available for much the same money.
Offered as a hatch or convertible, the Abarth 500e certainly looks the part. Up front, there’s a deeper front bumper than the standard Fiat 500e.
Down the side, you get bigger side skirts and wider wheel arches, while higher-spec models sport cool 18-inch alloy wheels. Meanwhile, its part rear is endowed with a large roof spoiler and meatier bumpers. The car’s overall stance is more athletic thanks to a wider track and lower sports suspension than the Fiat 500e.
There’s also appropriate scorpion badging and a choice of five colours with fantastic names (Antidote White, Venom Black, Adrenaline Red, Acid Green and Poison Blue) – and the latter two are especially vibrant.
The Abarth 500e is sportier inside, with a new flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel wrapped in Alcantara and sports seats. You also get the same (and much improved) 10.25-inch touchscreen from the top-of-the-range 500e as standard (featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), plus a 7.0-inch digital driver’s display.
So, let’s start with the Abarth 500e’s party piece – the sound generator which reproduces the exhaust note of a petrol-powered Abarth.
Apparently, more than 6,000 hours were spent analysing and creating the perfect sound, and the end result certainly adds to the fun aesthetic of the car.
However, the novelty wears off on longer runs and it’s more relaxing to switch off the drone (which isn’t as melodious as a combustion-engined car and feels like it’s stuck in “third gear”) and enjoy the refinement that only an EV can offer.
The only catch is that you can only access the on/off switch via the fiddly digital driver’s display – and the car has to be stationary. It would seem that the engineers are already looking into ways to make the process easier.
We tested the top-of-the-range Turismo model in both hatch and soft-top body shapes. And once inside, the driving position is thankfully lower than the Fiat 500e, while the body-hugging seats are just the job.
Swift rather than blisteringly fast off the line, it’s fractionally quicker than an Abarth 595 in the 0-62mph sprint (its official time is 7.0 seconds), though instant torque makes it feel faster. Crucially, it’s also a second faster from 25-37mph than its petrol counterpart. However, it’s swings and roundabouts, because the EV starts to run out of puff at higher speeds.
Underneath the Abarth’s go-faster 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.
The weakest point of the Fiat 500e is that it’s not quite as agile as it looks when pushed. The Abarth version goes a long way to sort that issue, delivering more predictable handling and giving you increased confidence as a driver.
The first thing you notice on the move is the sharper steering, which makes the car turn in more keenly. Next, it’s the vastly improved ride quality – extremely welcome if you’ve ever crashed over potholes in an Abarth 595/695.
That said, the ride is still on the firm side, which no doubt can’t be helped because it’s on the heavy side for a small car and body lean has to be kept in check somehow in faster corners.
We suspect that the smaller 17-inch wheels in the entry-level spec model might soften things up a little.
The Abarth 500e feels stable and grippy, while the brakes (unusually for a reasonably-priced EV, it has discs all round) are effective, if a bit severe at times.
You can also choose from three drive modes – Turismo, Scorpion Street and Scorpion Track. The first is more comfort-orientated, limiting power and serving up 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 aggressive. What’s more, the settings only change with the drive modes (paddles behind the steering wheel to adjust the regen work much better).
So ultimately, it will put a smile on your face, but there’s still room for Abarth’s boffins to transform it into a true hot hatch.
The downside of the increased performance is that Abarth’s range is down compared to the Fiat 500e, which on paper can manage up to 199 miles on a full charge.
For the record, the hatchback version 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 city EV rivals including the MINI Electric, Honda e and Mazda MX-30.
Just like the Fiat 500e, the Abarth can charge up to 85kW, meaning you can top up 80% in 35 minutes and add around 25 miles of range in five minutes.
From a practical point of view, the Abarth 500e is a mixed bag. Superbly supportive though the front seats may be, 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, let alone navigate their way there.
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.
Frankly, there’s virtually no difference between the hatch and convertible (though I’d call it a cabrio) on the road, other than the obvious. The open-top version is a tad heavier (25kg), but it’s hardly noticeable.
The electric hood mechanism is slick and it can be opened and closed on the move, and apart from a slight loss of cabin refinement with the hood up, it’s much the same as the hatchback.
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