Simon Lai road tests and reviews the 2014 Abarth 500c Esseesse.
The Abarth 500c Essesse is Fiat latest attempt at reviving the racing car brand that bears the scorpion logo.
The Esseesse (as in ‘SS’) cabriolet version, boasts a 1.4L turbo engine under the hood which produces 118kW and 201Nm.
The gearbox is sequential auto with the option of overriding it with steering mounted paddle shifters. Or you can drive it fully manual.
This means you don’t need to change the gears with the gear stick, only if there was one! Strangely there isn’t any shifter replaced by button selectors for first, neutral and reverse. I found this very hard to get used to and was always reaching for a phantom stick.
But this wasn’t the feeling that annoyed me the most.
Surprisingly the transmission in the Abarth is not very smooth at all. Changing between gears is like sitting beside an L-plater on a driving lesson. I found myself lurching forward quite uncomfortably at every shift especially in the lower gears.
You can override this by using the shifters, but in auto the car often selects the wrong gear at the wrong time. Manual mode sees a slight improvement and of course more control but doesn’t eliminate the roughness of the changes.
The 500c is also quite noisy even when idle. The purring of the engine and the exhaust note is bigger than the bass from the stereo.
The fun of this display of power eventually wears thin especially after the driving experience and not so great if you want a quiet drive home.
Looking at the exterior, the Abarth has quite a narrow profile and this translates to the interior.
Now I’m only of a slim build, so cabin space is rarely an issue, but even I found the inside of the Abarth very cramped.
The centre console invades so much of your leg space that the foot rest becomes redundant unless you’re a contortionist.
This combined with the close proximity of the doors gives you a feeling of claustrophobia.
On top of that there isn’t anywhere to put anything! There’s no centre arm rest storage, a very small glovebox and limited space on the door.
And the boot space is small to say the least. Put it this way, I don’t think the mafia will be using the 500c to run any of their ‘errands’.
Okay, now what’s good about the car. Well, despite what I’ve said about the Abarth’s ability in a straight line, it can really handle the corners.
The Esseesse straightens out all the corners never giving you the feeling of leaning out of the bend. It can handle them with very little reduction in speed and really sticks to the road surface.
Sport mode in manual is the place you want to be. Once it gets going, the 500c is a little rocket with decent turbo and great handling. The steering is a little heavy but for me it provided better ‘feel’ of the road along with the thick flat-bottom steering wheel.
I also liked the gauges. Continuing with the 500c’s space saving design, the gauges are arranged in concentric circles in the one place. I found it easy to read with your speed, revs, and car info all viewable in a single glance.
And the turbo gauge that sticks out from the dash adds further to the sporty look of the car.
But by far the coolest feature is the sunroof. Being a soft top cabrio, you can open the roof fully to the back exposing the entire cabin. But with another push of the button, the rear windscreen folds down flat allowing the roof to fold neatly behind the rear passenger’s head.
The Abarth 500c Essesse is great at going around corners and for the occasional overtake but that’s about all. At nearly $40,000 it’s a bit steep with many better, cheaper options on the market.
NUTS and BOLTS
- Engine: 1.4 litre turbo petrol producing 118kW and 201Nm
- Transmission: Five speed sequential auto
- Safety: Not tested
- Warranty: 3yrs/150,000kms
- Origin: Poland
- Price: $38,990
Recalls and faults: Abarth 500 Esseesse