The Abarth 500e sees this tiny Italian brand take its first EV step. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Abarth proves that small EVs needn't be boring with this full-battery hot hatch, the 500e. We're promised it will drive, handle and even sound like the company's previous rorty little petrol models. But that the heart and soul here is pure Abarth.
It's difficult to think of a brand less suited to the EV generation than Abarth. The company's Fiat-based sports models are all about loud, noisy, profligate performance and nimble handling. Everything you can't usually have in most EVs. Except possibly this one, the Abarth 500e. Some parts of the brand's very vocal community of owners have been less than enthusiastic about the prospect of this full-battery model, but the company says the 500e has been developed in the name of performance in the very best traditions of founder Carlo Abarth.
Ultimately, this model will replace the marque's 595 and 695 petrol hot hatch models - and not before time, given that they've been on sale in various guises since 2009. But is a 500e a really a true Abarth? Let's take a look.
Sound is what sells an Abarth. Always has. So to be successful, 500e has to sound like no EV ever has. It does. The brand has installed a set of speakers beneath the car to faithfully reproduce the engine note of one of its rorty petrol powerplants. And the speakers are linked to the throttle so that as you accelerate, the sound builds, just as it would in a 595 or 695. It sounds remarkably realistic too - and you don't have to take our word for it; a sound generator on the Abarth website will play the powerplant to you.
You might dismiss that as a gimmick, but you can't argue with the performance facts here. Namely that the 500e is an all-round faster car than the 595 petrol model it replaces - which doesn't initially seem very likely given that it's much heavier and has 20bhp less in total output. Set against that though, is that the full 152bhp output is of course available immediately, rather than hampered by the turbo lag you'd get in the petrol versions. That instant torque (234Nm of it) propels the car from rest to 62mph in just 7 seconds flat. Even more significant is the 25 to 37mph overtaking increment time of just 1.5 seconds (a full second faster than the 595). 12 to 25mph takes only a second (50% faster even than the 695). Abarth says the car is a second faster around Alfa Romeo's Balocco test track than the 695. There's the usual single-speed EV auto transmission and you work it through three drive modes - 'Turismo', 'Scorpion Street' and 'Scorpion Track' - which can alter brake regen strength and power output.
Design and Build
We're looking here at the fixed-top model, but there's also a cabrio version offered too with a folding fabric sunroof-style top. Either way, you might be surprised just how different this Abarth 500e is from its Fiat 500 EV donor model. Even under the skin where it has a wheelbase 24mm longer and a track 60mm wider. As you'd expect, stuff you can see looks more aggressive too - lights, diffuser, skirts and bumpers are all of course Abarth-specific.
Inside, just as with the old car, there's a sportier take on the donor Fiat model. There's scorpion branding everywhere, lots of Alcantara trimming and a satisfyingly chunky 3-spoke sports steering wheel. Plus you get a 'wearable' Abarth key and there are bespoke graphics and dedicated 'Performance Pages' for the 10.25-inch central infotainment screen. This display runs Fiat's latest 'U connect 5' media system and can deliver navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. There's a circular instrument panel as before but, as you might expect from EV, it's now fully digital. Those condemned to a seat in the rear will find that this EV generation model's 2cm wheelbase increase means that things aren't quite as cramped as before. Out back, there's a compact 185-litre boot with either body style.
Market and Model
Pricing starts from around £34,000 upwards for the base fixed-top model; there's a £3,000 premium for the Cabrio version. You can get the fixed-top version in plusher 'Turismo' form from just over £38,000, with again, a £3,000 premium for the Cabrio, though by then you'd be spending well over £41,000.
Standard across the range is a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system (with 'Performance Pages') and a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster display with dedicated Abarth graphics. the standard model also gets the Abarth Sound Generator and a JBL Premium Audio System. The 500e also gets an Abarth-branded version of the 'MyFiat' app, through which you can remotely interact with your car. Via this app, you can also schedule charging, find a public charger and check battery status.
Stretch to the 'Turismo' version and you get 18-inch diamond-cut Titanium Grey alloy wheels, an alcanatara-trimmed dashboard and an alcantara and leather sports steering wheel. Plus heated front seats, a wireless charging pad, a rear-view camera with 360-degree sensors, heated mirrors and windscreen, keyless entry and go, and a blind spot warning system. A fixed glass roof is standard on the hatchback version of Abarth 500e Turismo.
Cost of Ownership
Don't expect the driving range figure to quite match the best-possible 199 mile figure of the Fiat 500 EV donor car - given the racier electric motor and the weight of all those bodywork add-ons. But it won't be far short of that. And the charging system (like this car's 42kWh battery) is of course just the same. The Abarth 500e features an 85kW DC rapid charging system that can recharge from empty to 80% capacity in just 35 minutes and can provide the car with 31 miles of driving range in just 5 minutes. Buyers can also get a wall charging box that offers 3kW charging and apparently doesn't need to be professionally installed. This wallbox can be upgraded to allow for 7.4kW charging at home. That 7.4kW wall box allows you to fully charge this electric Abarth in just over 6 hours. The car also comes with a mode 3 cable for charging at up to 11kW from a public charging point. It can be charged via AC or DC power points.
As usual with an Abarth, this car is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty and there's 36 months of breakdown cover included as well. Should you have a problem on a journey, you can use the 'Uconnect' infotainment system to contact roadside assistance.
What else might you need to know? Well, servicing intervals are every year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. Owners can keep up to date with their car's maintenance schedule via the 'My Car' section of that 'MyFiat' app, which briefs you on the time of your next service and various maintenance issues.
This is but the first episode in a brand-new Abarth story, one that founder Carlo Abarth could never have dreamed of. And it'll help this fledgling Italian brand that, for the time being anyway, this 500e has a clear run at the market for small EV hot hatches.
That's emboldened them to charge plenty for this little battery-powered shopping rocket; for the money, you can obviously get a much larger EV. But in terms of fun-per-kilowatt-hour, there's nothing to touch this car at this price point and we're not sure if there ever will be. The best Abarth EVer? Future faster versions of this car will more clearly challenge for that title. But this one stakes a creditable claim.