New car test: The Abarth 500e is ready to wreak havoc

Abarth recently invited us to discover the 500e on the Balocco test track located between Milano and Torino. There, we could drive both the current petrol version as well as the new electric one.It only rained once during that day. Of course, that inevitably favoured the electric car among the attending journalists.

The Italians certainly know how to impress. The Abarth 500e launch took place in a brand new building. Some sort of a massive hall featuring a part of the track running through it. Several cars were parked there, waiting for us. Before getting down to the driving part, let’s take a look at this full electric city sports car tech specs. Although the Italians remained quite elusive on this part, we suspect the 500e uses its little sister’s- the 500 e-  technical set-up. However, whereas the Fiat offers a mere 95 or 118 HP- depending on its battery size, in this case the electric motor produces 154 bhp along 235 Nm of torque. The Abarth promises a 0-100 kph time of 7 seconds. However, it’s mainly in urban traffic that this newcomer should stand out, with a remarkable liveliness between 20 and 40 km/h. Before taking it out on the road, let’s put it through its paces on the test track.

More generous interior space 

First things first, we started with a petrol 695 in the rain. Two loops were on the programme, with a long straight, tight bends, a chicane, a hairpin and even a straight stretch made up with Belgian blocks. The little rocket’s character shone again and we really enjoyed it while some of our colleagues don’t like it. True, the front end is a bit of a handful, however the soundtrack ignites feelings and the rough gearbox selector took us back to the 90s with relish. Obviously, we suspect that most Abarth drivers would never get it to such extreme conditions. We were sad to give back the keys of the beautiful orange car and climbed aboard a 500e.

The driving position is better. There is more room to move around and the cabin is lifted from the electric 500. Two large screens dominate the dashboard. The central one is a 10.25-inch touchscreen dedicated to infotainment while a small 7-inch TFT one sits in front of the driver and displays typical Abarth graphics. The black roof lining and A pillars, the superb sports seats and the very nice nubuck-wrapped steering wheel complete with colored stitching, all contribute to create a unique atmosphere in this new Abarth. Once we had got to grips with all that, it was time to set off for three laps of the still soggy track.

On rails, continuous thrust    

We first took a long curve,  accelerating to the max before heading on to the straight line and the first chicane. The thrust is linear and… completely unspectacular. There’s power, but it’s perfectly channeled and the sensations are fairly innocuous. Obviously, you need to trust have to trust the brakes : there’s no gearbox as such that could be used to reduce the car’s speed and that’s another setback of electric cars for us. When we learned to drive, using a car’s engine braking power was compulsory. On top of that, our dad’s Opel brakes were not up there with the best but let’s get back to this new Abarth. The few narrow bends we took afterwards enabled us to quickly that this new electric Abarth’s handling was much more serene and safer than the ICE’s one.

The front axle is perfectly monitored by the electronic systems and these work in a much smoother way than on the petrol-engined car. This should reassure prospective buyers as there’s no need to be afraid of the scorpion’s bite any more. On the ‘rotten’ part of the track, we also noticed the suspension’s excellent work, cushioning bumps and road holes much more efficiently than the petro car. Finally, the hairpin bend allowed us to appreciate the direct steering and its smaller angle. This new Abarth 500e is much better designed than the old 595 and 695 cars that we know through and through.

The next city queen ?

As you can see, the Abarth 500e ticks many boxes and could soon become the darling of modern technology enthusiasts. Being also available as a convertible turns it into something unique on the electric city cars’ market. What’s more, there are three driving modes to choose from: Turismo, Scorpion Street and Scorpion Track. The first one offers a smoother acceleration but less power. The Turismo and Scorpion Street modes offer a ‘one pedal’ fairly well resolved driving experience. This should improve this city car’s 265 km range thanks to the 42 kWh battery (maximum charging power 85 kW). Admittedly, this short (3.63 m) hatchback weighs in at just 1,400 kg. We were much less convinced by the sound generator inspired by the famous Record Monza exhaust system. It’s not very audible once seated inside the car but if it were, it’s hard to understand the point of making noise in an electric car. At some stage, you have to assume your choice !

The Abarth 500e is obviously no game-changer, but it makes the most of a rather well thought-out marketing package, featuring everything it takes to appeal to trendy, city-dwelling customers. The cheapest Abarth 500e retails at €37,790 :  a tad more expensive than an Electric Mini priced from €36,500 but featuring a 32,6 kWh less powerfull battery. (Translation: Dimitri Urbain)

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