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Gareth Butterfield tests the rather silly Abarth 500e, which has one really interesting feature hiding in its tail

The Abarth 500e is one of the most exciting EVs yet for keen drivers

As blisteringly quick as they might often be, electric cars are very much the “white goods” of the automotive sector. While they offer much in terms of refinement, they don’t set our pulses racing.

There is a small movement, however, towards bringing back the joy of driving to the electric car. And one of the leading lights at the moment is those mavericks at Abarth. While we might know them for taking a humble Fiat 500 and turning it into a pocket rocket, they’ve now turned their attentions to the 500e – Fiat’s battery-powered EV.

And the result, it’s fair to say, is terrific. If you’ve ever driven an Abarth iteration of the 500 you’ll know just how exciting and engaging they are, and how much fun you can have in such a lively little car.

Remarkably, the 500e has retained some of that spirit. It feels like an Abarth, even though it doesn’t have the fizzy little turbo-charged engine begging you to take it by the scruff of the neck after every bend.

Abarth has achieved this in a few clever ways. Firstly, it looks bonkers. Especially in the fabulous acid green launch colour, it has the same aggressive yet slightly cute presence that only the Abarth treatment conveys.

It also has a textbook Abarth interior, with big, bucket seats and a terrific Alcantara steering wheel. In Scorpionissima launch spec it has the equivalent to 152bhp which might not sound all that much, but with instant electric torque, it’s pretty vivid.

Of course, it’s missing the console-mounted gearbox, but you do get some funky driving modes, themed around the “Scorpion” moniker that keeps appearing on the car, and the only other omission, of course, is the distinctive and addictive Abarth sound. But they actually haven’t left that out.

Because buried beneath the rear diffuser, where the quad exhausts would normally be, is a speaker. And it’s tuned to perfection to belch out an Abarth soundtrack. If you’ve never heard that before, it’s one of the best features of the Abarth playbook, and it’s great to have it back in an EV.

However. If you’re expecting your new Abarth 500e to sound exactly like a petrol-powered car, you might find yourself feeling a little let down. While I’m staggered at just how faithful the fake noise is, it’s obviously unable to react to gear changes. Because there aren’t any. Obviously.

So what you actually get is a pretend exhaust note that constantly rises in pitch as you gain speed. Around town, with your revs rising and lowering as you navigate junctions and speed bumps, it isn’t really a problem, but out on the open road it starts to feel like more of a gimmick. Which, I suppose, is exactly what it is.

Handily, you can turn the synthetic sound off. But for some reason this is buried in the menus on the driver display, so you can only access the control through steering wheel buttons and, annoyingly, the car won’t allow you to access this menu while you’re moving.

So if you set off on a lengthy motorway jaunt and forget to turn it off before you hit the slip road, you’re stuck with it.

Not that you’ll really buy this car for lengthy journeys, though, because there’s another hitch. It doesn’t have a lot in the way of range. Its battery pack is a relatively small 42.2kWh affair, and that’s enough to do an official range of up to 164 miles. It’ll probably be more like 130ish in practice.

The smaller battery does, that said, mean the Abarth 500e doesn’t suffer from the weight issues a lot of EVs struggle with. And that’s a good thing, because it ensures electrifying an icon hasn’t led to its character being watered down.

In the bends it’s engaging and agile. The steering is fantastic, and you have all the control you need to point it into sharp turns and then flick it out again. It lives up to the Abarth fantasy, then, but only just.

While its ride is a bit better than some of the more raw petrol Abarth 500s, it just doesn’t have quite the same level of silliness about it. Many people will find this a big bonus, because it’s that little bit easier to live with, but die-hard Abarthists, of which there are many, might feel a bit let down.

Or will they? It feels like everyone’s against the EV at the moment, but there are plenty out there who will relish the idea of rekindling their love for this pint-sized hot hatch without the downsides of internal combustion niggling at them.

The only other thing Abarth really needed to get right is the price. The range starts at £34,195, so it’s not bad. Slightly more expensive than the Mini Electric, but it does have a better range and it’s a million times more exciting.

The standard spec is fairly generous for a driver-focused car, and there’s a cabriolet version which has a full-retractable roof panel, but this costs £3,000 more and feels slightly less rigid.

On the whole, I just love the fact this car exists. It won’t suit everyone because it’s too cramped and the range just isn’t good enough, but I’m such an Abarth fan and it’s so good to see that as much of the Abarth magic as possible has been carried over.

It’s not an outright achievement, but it’s definitely not a disappointment either.


Model tested: Abarth 500e Convertible Turismo

Price: £41,975 (as tested)

0-60mph: Seven seconds

Power: 152bhp

Battery capacity: 42.2kWh

Range: 164 miles

Max charging capacity: 85kw

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