Can this pint-size but pricey hot EV deliver day-to-day practicality and B-road thrills?

Why we’re running it: This hi-vis EV could be the future of hot hatches. Should we be excited?

Month 1 - Specs

Life with an Abarth 500e: Month 1

Welcoming the Abarth to the fleet

Cliché though it is to report on the experience of moving house with a long-term test car, I can't really neglect to highlight the irony of this diminutive supermini replacing the comparatively quite humongous Volkswagen ID Buzz outside my place of residence, just a couple of weeks before I'm due to vacate the premises.

Come moving day, had I still had the VW on hand, I would have removed the Buzz's false boot floor, opened the massive tailgate and twin sliding doors, folded the rear seats flat and had enough space for around half of the contents of the flat (or at least most of my partner's wardrobe).

No van rental, no tears over smashed plant pots and crumpled paintings and no need for more than two or three shuttle runs between new pad and old.

Things might not be so simple with the two-door, tiny-booted Abarth 500e. A spot of quick maths reveals it to be one of the smallest full-sized electric cars you can currently buy in the UK. I might ask if the flat's next occupants fancy keeping our dining table.

Let's look on the bright side, though (and I'm not talking about the Acid Green paintwork). The Abarth's compact proportions have already proven to be much better suited to city life: it fits into my tiny parking space with ample room either side, it can nip into tight gaps in traffic so I rarely miss a green light and it makes light work of the high-kerbed helter skelter coming out of Heathrow's Terminal 5 short-stay car park.

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Keen urban drivers have long had to confront a tricky dilemma when buying a car: do you want something that moves with relaxing frugality through cramped, congested city streets, or something brawnier, firmer and less practical but which comes into its own once you've vaulted the ring road and found some twistier and more enticing asphalt?

Rarely are you able to have it both ways. Until now, perhaps. Lay off the loud pedal (literally, in this case) and the hot 500e is a fairly sensible commuter, down to the surprisingly generously damped suspension and Savoy hotel-friendly turning circle. But having driven it on the North York Moors a few months back, I know its a giggle on a good road, too.

The tricky bit, though, will be reaching those good roads in the first place, because just getting clear of the M25 takes about 15% of the compact, 42kWh battery. So by the time I've nursed it to the start of one of my favourite test routes in, say, Oxfordshire or Sussex, it's time to plug in - and the Abarth doesn't top up its battery fast enough to make that a trivial concern. I feel a shift in mindset coming on.

Trivialities such as range and practicality aside, you might have already made up your mind about the 500e, and especially so if you've heard the artificial sound generator under the boot, from where it emits a synthesised version of the petrol-powered Abarth 595's exhaust note in a bid to heighten the sensory satisfaction.

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I'll deal with it now and try not to mention it again: some think it's fun if only for a minute or two, while others have branded it grating, unnecessary or just pure naff. I'm largely indifferent; I don't think the 595 has an especially enticing soundtrack anyway, so it's no real heartache to go without in its electric replacement.

Anyway, once your neighbours know you can make your car either very loud or very quiet at the press of a button, it becomes rather embarrassing to be heard willingly rumbling and 'revving' your way out of the cul de sac, and the unremitting drone that accompanies a 70mph cruise is nigh-on unbearable. The upshot is that I turned it off within seconds of taking delivery, and it won't see much action on my watch.

But I'm already questioning if Abarth needed to stoop to such superficialities in its pursuit of character and whimsy. Look at this thing: it may be tiny, but it's about as shy and retiring as Kanye West.

There's no danger of losing it in a supermarket car park among a sea of greys, and I've already twisted more necks driving it down the high street than I have with any mega-powered sports car.

Let's not forget this is the performance version of what is already a fun little car. One question I seek to answer over the coming months will be whether the Abarth's er hanced agility and more generousseserves merit the lofty premium it commands over the Fiat-badged donor car, in which I've previously covered some very enjoyable miles.

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Oh, and about that premium. The car you're looking at - with its relatively spartan interior, 185-litre boot, 130-mile real-world range, 85kW maximum charging speed and largely decorative back seats - costs £38,795. Don't write in - that's not a misprint. Jaw off the floor yet? Good.

Let's crack on and see if it comes anywhere close to justifying price parity with a speccy Ford Focus ST, and whether the fun factor can outweigh the inevitable frustrations wrought by its limitations.

Second Opinion

I quite like the Abarth 500e – I can see it blending into life easily as a runabout that still brightens up B-roads. As an electric hot hatch, though, it lacks a bit of exuberance – and no, the sound generator doesn’t count. I’d be curious about a comparison with the base Fiat to see how much the scorpion badge is really worth.

Illya Verpraet

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Abarth 500e Turismo specification

Specs: Price New £38,195 Price as tested £38,795 Options Acid Green paint £600

Test Data: Engine 1x permanent magnet synchronous motor Power 152bhp Torque 173lb ft Kerb weight 1410kg Top speed 96mph 0-62mph 7.0sec Fuel economy 3.4mpkWh CO2 0g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: Deputy editor

Felix is Autocar's deputy editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years. 

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Anton motorhead 11 July 2024
Hey let us build a Fiat 500 EV and sell it at a ridiculous 29 grand. I have a better idea. Why not tweak it a little, call it Abarth and people will think they buy an genuine Italian sportscar. Then we can charge an extra 10 grand. Think Stellantis think.
LP in Brighton 9 July 2024

The Autocar long term fleet seems to be littered with cars that nobody actually buys. 

Seriously who is going to spend £40k on a local runabout with a bit of extra pep?  A quick glance at a popular used car website shows the real value of this little fun machine! 

Maybe if this car was half the price and half the weight I'd be a little more excited. 

shiftright 9 July 2024

Like too many EVs, it is still too expensive, and it's not alone in rapiod depreciation. I love the concpet but for this price it needs more performance and range.

si73 10 July 2024
I agree re the price, weight is pretty good, being only about 300kgs over the smaller ice car, so if half the weight it's be around 300 kgs lighter than the ice car, next to impossible with an EV I reckon.
Regarding the price, it's too high but I suppose has to be higher than the fiat, and that is probably so high because EVs are expensive and it's on a new bespoke platform that currently nothing else shares, so hasn't yet got economies of scale?
Maybe when they replace the ice 500 with the hybrid based on the EV platform and do the same with the panda, the price will come down? It'd be great if stellantis used the platform as well, but that's doubtful as all the other stellantis brands abandoned city cars because they're too expensive to build now and impossible to make a profit on.
Love to know what profit fiat actually make on these and if it is minimal.
All that aside, if I could afford one, I'd definitely have one and am looking forward to read further views on this long term test, especially regarding how the abarth stacks up against the fiat.