Anyone who says that electric cars aren’t fun to drive needs to try the Abarth 500e; very few other EVs offer this much enjoyment through the corners.
The 500e is Abarth’s first ever electric model. Okay, so it’s actually a Fiat 500 with some performance tweaks; so is this just a marketing exercise, or does the Abarth 500e actually deliver real differences in the driving experience?
It doesn’t take an engineering genius to spot that the Abarth 500e is basically a Fiat 500e; the similarities extend to the 42.2 kWh battery and the front-wheel drive chassis. However there are some differences such as 152 hp of power and 235 Nm of torque from the Abarth’s electric motor, compared to 117 hp and 220 Nm from the Fiat 500e.
The 500e is a city car, so don’t expect SUV levels of space; it measures 3,873mm in length, with tight rear legroom and a small 185-litre boot; there’s potential for the luggage capacity to be enlarged to 550 litres with the rear seat folded. With just two doors, getting people into the rear seats is a challenge, especially if you want to retain the front seating positions. To open the door from the inside, there’s no handle, instead there’s a button that you press to spring the door open.
The Abarth is also styled to be a go-faster version of the Fiat, with a number of scorpion icons around the car, including on the side of the bodywork and on the steering wheel – the scorpion being the Abarth logo, as a result of Carlo Abarth’s zodiac sign being a Scorpio.
The Abarth 500e test car arrived and was left on the drive. It was duly switched on. At which point an extremely loud exhaust note as if from a petrol-powered Abarth emanated from the car (the ‘Abarth Sound Generator’). After years of driving silent EVs, popularity with the neighbours took a huge knock. And that was just from the noise – there was also the visual issue of the ‘Acid Green’ paint colour.
Based on first impressions, the Abarth 500e was expected to be gimmicky. But maybe – just maybe – there may be some substance behind the (aural and visual) loudness.
First things first, the priority was to find out how to switch off the simulated exhaust noise. Controls marked ‘noise’ or similar were searched for, with no success; we had to ask Abarth. If you ever find yourself needing to quieten down an Abarth 500e, this is how you do it: use the steering wheel controls and select ‘vehicle set-up’ then ‘display’ then ‘electric features’ then ‘turn off external sound’. Who would have thought that vehicle sound would be hidden in a ‘display’ setting? Request to Abarth: for the mid-life refresh, please include a big button on the dashboard marked ‘noise on/off’.
Apart from the very obscure way to turn off the noise, it’s also strange that the sound is extremely loud when the car is switched on, rather than responding to throttle inputs when driving the car (a simulated noise when driving the car would help to block out the 500e’s road noise). Anyway, loud noise eradicated, on with the review…
Most EVs are relatively heavy – and many are also quite large. So although EVs are generally refined and have zero tailpipe emissions, most aren’t fun to drive in the same way that a light and agile go-kart is fun to drive. Enter the Abarth 500e. It’s small, it weighs 1,410 kg, which is light for an EV, and unlike most cars (most new cars are SUVs remember), it sits low to the ground. All this is a good start, and the result is that the 500e goes round corners in a really fun way; turn the (Alcantara-covered) steering wheel and the car instantly changes direction (no doubt helped by the 57% : 43% front : rear weight distribution – which is better than the 63% : 37% of the petrol model). Combine this with responsive acceleration from the electric powertrain (with a 0-62mph time of 7.0 seconds) and you just need to find roads with lots of corners to make the most of the 500e.
One thing to be aware of is that the Abarth has more power than grip from the front wheels (some people won’t have a problem with this, whereas others might). And the lack of grip can be accentuated depending on which drive mode you choose. There are three drive modes, accessed via the e-Mode switch between the two front seats: Turismo, Scorpion Street and Scorpion Track. Turismo is the ‘comfort’ mode; Scorpion Street is the performance mode with regenerative braking, and Scorpion Track is the performance mode without regenerative braking. If you drive the 500e enthusiastically in Scorpion Track mode the chances are that the front wheels will spin in the dry, and even more so in the wet. We imagine that Abarth 500e owners will get through lots of sets of front tyres.
So the level of regen can be adjusted via the drive modes rather than by the gear selector – which is actually not a gear selector but four buttons on the dashboard, (we’d prefer a traditional gear selector).
The infotainment system features sensible touchscreen shortcuts of home, media, climate, navigation, phone and car. However the graphics on the touchscreen aren’t the best in the business, with poor mapping graphics with a dark background (using Google maps from an iPhone is much clearer). There are separate climate controls under the screen, and there are buttons to adjust volume and media hidden behind the steering wheel.
Although the 500e is great fun to steer down twisty roads, this enjoyment is spoilt by intervention from the lane departure warning system; thankfully this can be switched off by two presses of the left-hand stalk on the steering column.
An issue with the 500e (both Abarth and Fiat models) is the driving position. You feel as though you sit on the driver’s seat, rather than in it, the seat is high, and it feels like the seat base needs to be bigger. There’s also no way to tilt back the angle of the seat base to keep you in position; the Abarth ideally needs bucket seats. The steering wheel would also benefit from extending out further.
The Abarth 500e has a WLTP combined electric driving range of 164 miles, or 209 miles based on the city cycle. The Turismo model, with larger 18-inch wheels, has a range of 157 miles – which is the same as the 500e Convertible.
After a week on test the Abarth 500e was averaging 149 miles in the real-world on a full charge.
The 500e has a maximum DC rapid charging rate of 85 kW, which could provide a 0% to 80% charge in 35 minutes.
There are two body styles, hatch and convertible, and two trim levels, Abarth 500e and Abarth 500e Turismo. The Abarth 500e is priced from £34,195. The Turismo model, as tested, costs £38,195. The Acid Green paint colour of our test car was a £600 option (this may not be to everyone’s taste…), taking the price to £38,795. For comparison, the Fiat 500e is available from £28,195.
The Turismo model adds the following equipment over the 500e spec: 18-inch diamond-cut titanium grey alloy wheels; Alcantara interior (dash, seats, steering wheel); 360-degree parking sensors and rear-view/drone-view camera; fixed glass roof; keyless entry & go; heated seats; windscreen and mirrors; electrochromatic rear-view mirror; central armrest with closed console; blind spot detection and wireless phone charging.
The Abarth 500e is available in five colours: Antidote White, Venom Black, Adrenaline Red, Acid Green and Poison Blue.
The Abarth 500e is an EV that’s fun to drive. It’s small, agile and responsive, and ideal for twisty roads. Of course, because it’s small, there isn’t much space for people, luggage or a battery – resulting in a driving range of just 164 miles. And with more power than grip, it might be too hardcore for some. But diversity should be celebrated, and the Abarth 500e is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.