Fiat’s original 500 – a style icon that sold over 3.5 million units – made a great basis for a hot little Abarth-tuned pocket rocket, and re-imagined 500 introduced in 2007 was no different. Happily for Fiat, the new cars cutesy retro looks and upmarket cabin styling have gained it many followers, and like the original a number of special edition Abarth models have been introduced, albeit without the competition pedigree.
Now in its ninth year of production, the Abarth range encompasses a number hotted up 500s, from the feisty 133bhp 500 right up to the fiery 187bhp 695 Biposto. Always considered to be one of the more pricey options when new, as a used buy the 500 offers a lot of fun for a reasonable outlay. Take a read through our guide, and be sure not to take any risks when buying.
Which one to buy?
While the same 1.4-litre turbocharged engine powers all Abarth models, detail changes in power output and suspension setups make for a diverse list of cars to choose from – as well as an almost endless list of special and limited editions.
The Abarth 500 first saw light of day one year after the standard Fiat 500 was launched. Weighing just over a ton and producing 133bhp from its turbocharged 1.4-litre motor, performance was much improved, and those looking for even more could option the £2500 Esseesse performance package. This provided a 25bhp power boost as well as uprated suspension, brakes and 17-inch wheels.
In 2009 the Abarth range became available in convertible form too. The MTA manual automated transmission became optional on all Abarth variants. The crazy 695 Biposto with 187bhp was introduced in 2011, intended for track use but driven mostly in Chelsea, it came equipped with a rorty Akrapovic exhaust, larger diameter brakes and adjustable suspension. A £3500 Track Kit was optionable, which added a data logger and other track biased extras. Most extreme of all was the £8000 six-speed dog-leg gearbox and LSD option. The base price before all of this additional madness was added stood at £32,000, placing the 695 Biposto right up there with some very capable machinery. To its credit, it can hold its head high on the track and is a real blast down back roads.
2012 saw the introduction of the slightly tamer 595 Competizione and Turismo variants, featuring 160bhp and a host of extras, they slotted in above the standard Abarth 500. Both came with a whole host of additional equipment such as 17-inch wheels and aluminium detailing. In addition, Turismo specced cars got leather interior and climate control while Competizione models had Monza exhausts and cross-drilled brake discs.
Similarly priced competitors may offer a more resolved ride and better handling at the limit but few are as visually compelling. The lack of polish does little to diminish the Abarth smile factor! Stick to the base models with 16 inch wheels if your trips are mainly about town, the more powerful versions are better suited to blasts in the country or your nearest race track. The limited edition cars such as the 50th Anniversario and Yamaha Factory Racing add a touch of exclusivity and are not priced much higher than standard versions, they are however be harder to find.
Performance and specs
Engine 1368cc, 16 valve DOHC I4
Power 133bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 152lb ft torque @ 3000rpm
Top speed 128mph
Fuel consumption 43.5mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual/Manual transmission automated (MTA)
Dimensions and weight
• The strong little 1.4-litre turbocharged motor that is common to all Abarth 500s has proven to be a reliable unit, oil change intervals are a long 18,000 miles and some specialists recommend changing them more frequently than that.
• ECU modification is popular and a quick way to release some extra bhp, however as always stick to reputable specialists when having any work carried out.
• Despite the fact that many components are shared with the standard Fiat 500, servicing and maintenance needs to be carried out at Abarth specialists which can be a bit of an inconvenience.
• Manual gearboxes are strong but there have been one or two failures so check that there is no crunching in any of the gears on your test drive.
• Early cars had connectivity and software issues with the Blue&Me multimedia system so make sure everything is working correctly (especially USB ports) on pre-2009 cars.
• Other than a few issues with door handles and washer jets working loose, the exterior should be trouble free as well. Body stickers tend to start peeling after a few years, new items can be ordered from the dealers.
2008: Abarth 500 released with 133bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre engine. Esseesse upgrade offers 25bhp, 17inch wheels and uprated brakes. Available with either a five-speed manual or Manual Transmission Automated (MTA) gearboxes
2009: Abarth models now available in convertible body style
2011: Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari with 187bhp and comprehensive special equipment introduced. 152 units sold
2012: Abarth 595 160bhp Competizione and Turismo models introduced in both coupe and convertible body styles. Luxurious Abarth 695 Maserati edition introduced. 499 units sold
2015: 187bhp Abarth 695 Biposto Record sold in limited numbers-133 in total. 138bhp Abarth 595 Trofeo Edition introduced-250 sold, for UK market only. 595 Competizione receives power boost to 178bhp and some new equipment.
2016: Abarth range updated in line with refreshed Fiat 500 line-up. Exterior changes include LED daytime running lights and redesigned bumpers. The interior gets a 7-inch infotainment system
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.abarthcars.co.uk – Manufacturer site
• www.abarthownersclub.com – Abarth enthusiast site
• www.abarthisti.co.uk – Abarth enthusiast site
Summary and Prices
Perhaps not the sharpest small hatch on the block dynamically, the Abarth range focuses on style and having fun rather than outright driving precision. Buying new may not make the best financial sense but used models can offer real value. 2009 model 500s starts at a very reasonable £6000, while at the other end of the spectrum nearly new 695’s trade at around £28,000.
A well balanced option is the 2012 595 Competizione, offering 160bhp, a sharp if somewhat bumpy drive and that addictive sound from the Monza exhaust. Good ones can be found for £12,000. Residuals are strong and should remain so as the latest 2016 face lift has retained the familiar 500 silhouette. The harder suspension and aggressive power delivery of the top variants may be too much for some, but there is a model to suit most tastes. Best of all, they all have the ability to get you smiling as soon as you slide behind the wheel.
Word: John Tallodi