Abarth’s wilder take on the Fiat 500e enters the EV hot hatch cauldron, but modest power and mature drive manners limit the fun factor

The 2023 Abarth 500e is not the world’s first battery-electric hot hatch, but it’s another step forward in helping performance car enthusiasts learn to love the electric car. Lining up against the MINI Cooper Electric, Abarth’s inaugural EV will steal the march on the Renault 5-based Alpine A290 and Cupra Raval (both due in 2024) plus inevitable GTX versions of the Volkswagen ID.2 and ID.3. Comfortably quicker than the rabid petrol-fed Abarth 595 hatch, the Abarth 500e delivers instant torque that punches you out of corners far harder and faster in a way a turbo-four just can’t. The biggest barrier will be cost. With prices kicking off at around $60,000, the Abarth 500e borders on an absurd amount of money for such a small car. Shame, because behind the wheel the hotter all-electric take on the Fiat 500e remains massively appealing.

How much does the Abarth 500e cost?

Fiat Australia is keeping things very simple with the introduction of the 2023 Abarth 500e, offering the Scorpion-branded hot hatch in two model grades, one body style and a single powertrain.

Initially, Fiat will bring in a small batch – just 219 units – of a limited-edition Abarth 500e Scorpionissima.

Once they’re all sold, the Fiat 500e-based Abarth will be offered in just one grade, the high-spec Turismo, which is expected to touch down late this year.

According to insiders, pricing has yet to be finalised, despite being only months away from its introduction.

Using Europe as a guide, there’s a base trim (that won’t be imported to Australia) priced below the 2023 Fiat 500e La Prima that will be sold in Australia from mid-year starting at $52,500 plus on-road costs.

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This suggests the more well-equipped Abarth 500e Turismo could start here from around $60,000 plus ORCs, with a premium charged for the limited-run Scorpionissima.

For that money, you’re knocking on the door of some very serious performance car options but, presuming you’ve ruled out combustion power, the price comparisons see the little Abarth shoved up against the new 170kW Cupra Born (from $59,990), which is equally quick.

Worse still is when you line up the little Italian beside the likes of the rear-drive Tesla Model 3 (from $61,300), which offers acceleration in another league to the Abarth 500e, with a far better range and the added practicality of a pair of rear doors.

You have to really want the Abarth.

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What equipment comes with the Abarth 500e?

Luckily, the 2023 Abarth 500e looks the part and has plenty of standard features.

The 500e Turismo bags 18-inch alloy wheels, a fixed panoramic glass roof, heated exterior mirrors (with titanium grey caps), full LED lighting, a six-speaker JBL audio system, electrified scorpion logos and premium sports seats with Alcantara accents.

Ahead of the driver is an oval-shaped multifunction four-spoke steering wheel, wrapped in Alcantara/leather and far sportier than the two-spoke rim used to steer the core Fiat 500e.

Five exclusive colours are available on the Abarth 500e – Antidote White, Venom Black, Adrenaline Red, Acid Green and Poison Blue.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Scorpionissima gets unique exterior decals that set it apart – along with a digital certificate of authenticity.

Scorpionissima models will only be available in the two hero colours: Acid Green (with black decals) and Poison Blue (with white decals).

The Abarth 500e is expected to be backed by Fiat Australia’s unremarkable three-year/150,000km warranty, with battery cover extending to eight years/150,000km.

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How safe is the Abarth 500e?

The 2023 Abarth 500e should be as safe as the Fiat 500e that was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2021 and received a four-star (out of five) rating.

That’s a rung down on what consumers have come to expect from today’s new cars.

Helping keep occupants safe in the event of an impact, the Abarth 500e has front, side and chest airbags but it does lack the side pelvis and centre front airbag that other cars feature.

Handily, for those with kids, the front passenger seat features ISOFIX mounting points, saving you having to mount a child seat in the cramped second row. (That’s a feature still to be confirmed for Australia.)

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning and fatigue detection are all standard.

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What technology does the Abarth 500e feature?

The 2023 Abarth 500e comes with Fiat’s latest UConnect 5 infotainment system that’s operated via a 10.25-inch centre touch-screen display.

As per the Fiat 500e, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is offered, supported by three USB ports (two USB-C and one USB-A), a 12-volt charging port and a wireless phone charging pad on a shelf below the gear selector.

Ahead of the driver is a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster that is both clear and configurable.

There’s currently no option of a head-up display.

What powers the Abarth 500e?

For now at least, the 2023 Abarth 500e will be strictly front-wheel drive with a front-mounted electric motor producing 114kW and 235Nm of torque.

That’s a decent bump up on the 87kW/220Nm the regular Fiat 500e produces, despite using exactly the same hardware.

As per the 500e, the Abarth version draws energy from a 42kW lithium-ion battery pack.

Liberating the extra power, engineers have tweaked the software, boosted cooling within the inverter and motor, reworked the harnesses and revised the contactor surface to deal better with the increased flow of current needed for the higher power.

Impressively, Abarth says there’s little drop-off in the motor’s performance during sustained flat-out driving, or when the battery charge drops below 50 per cent, meeting the needs of those owners who will use their all-electric Abarth on track.

A lower final drive in the single-gear transmission, meanwhile, boosts torque and acceleration off the line, as well as improving the punch mid-range.

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Against the clock, that translates to a brisk 7.0-second 0-100km/h sprint, while top speed is limited to 155km/h, at which point the motor is spinning at a dizzying 14,200rpm – 1000rpm more than a Fiat 500e is capable of.

That’s a whole 2.0 seconds faster than the regular Fiat 500e, plus superior acceleration compared to the combustion-powered Abarth 595 (7.3sec).

The Abarth 500e is also claimed to be 1.5sec quicker than its petrol-supping sibling from 40-60km/h.

That said, blunting performance is the fact the tiny Abarth carries a fair bit of weight. Despite measuring in at around the same size as the first-gen modern Fiat 500, the Abarth 500e is around 400kg heavier than the 595 – with its battery pack more than 295kg alone.

Claimed to be 96 per cent new, beneath the skin the Abarth 500e shares the Fiat 500e’s unique architecture that was created especially for the new-generation, all-electric Italian city car.

Despite that, there’s no exotic suspension used. Up front there is a MacPherson strut set-up while at the rear there’s a humble torsion bar.

At least there’s disc brakes all-round, which is better than the base Fiat 500e that uses drum rear brakes.

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How far can the Abarth 500e go on a charge?

Abarth says that with a full charge the 2023 Abarth 500e can cover up to 265km on a full charge – a considerable drop on the 327km claim for the Fiat 500e we also tested with the same-size battery.

The car-maker also claims that in mixed driving conditions the Abarth 500e will return 17.0kWh/100km combined.

Plug it into a DC fast-charger and Abarth says the 500e will charge at a rate of up to 85kW, which sounds disappointing in a world where the best EVs charge at up to 350kW.

But it’s no deal-breaker when you have a small battery and a 5-80 per cent top-up only takes around 35 minutes, with 40km of range added in just five minutes, according to Abarth.

The maximum AC charging (with a wallbox at home or work) is 11kW, which translates to a 0-100 per cent charge taking four hours and 15 minutes.

If you’re really unlucky and just have a domestic plug socket on hand, you’ll have to wait 15 hours and 15 minutes to fully replenish the battery.

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What is the Abarth 500e like to drive?

Abarth committed the cardinal sin of letting us drive the current combustion-engined Abarth 695 Competizione on track before allowing us to clamber in behind the wheel of the all-new 2023 Abarth 500e.

Luckily, the Scorpion brand gets away with it.

Despite running the risk that some drivers might actually prefer the old analogue hot hatch – remember, the Abarth 595 and 695 were never among the frontrunners in class – it’s clear with our refresher (undertaken in monsoon-like conditions) that there’s little reward from wringing their neck.

The gearchange remains duff, driving position barbaric and torque-steer overwhelming. Throw in some sizeable mid-corner snap-oversteer and we’re glad to return to the pits in one piece.

The new Abarth 500e couldn’t be more different.

Sitting lower in a comfier driver’s seat, the steering wheel is now adjustable for both reach and height.

Engineers say their main aim was to up the precision and, indeed, the steering is not only more accurate but calmer than before on account of a big reduction in torque-steer.

There’s still plenty of wheelspin if you deploy the full 235Nm off the line, as you might expect, but the bespoke Bridgestone Potenza Sport tyres (205/40R18) do a decent job.

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With new springs and fresh dampers, the ride is remarkably supple and the Abarth feels far more mature than ever before.

Push too hard and the nose washes wide – lifting off helps regain composure – but the Abarth 500e lacks the agility offered by the very best hot hatchbacks.

In tighter turns, both the traction control and torque vectoring leave more to be desired in terms of sophistication.

But on the same alarming piece of track we fought the 695 earlier, the Abarth EV shrugs off the wet weather and covers ground comfortably quicker than its combustion sibling, with a lot less effort required from the driver.

Even after two fast laps the brakes remain strong, with little sign of wilting.

Indeed, the Abarth does a remarkable job of hiding the fact it’s almost 400kg heavier than the combustion version, although the majority of that excess baggage is placed between the axles, providing a better 57:43 front/rear weight distribution (versus 63:37 for the 695).

Three driving modes are offered with the Abarth 500e – Turismo, which limits power to 100kW; Scorpion Street, which adds regenerative braking into the mix; and our preferred option, Scorpion Track, which reduces regen to an absolute minimum, effectively making the little hatch smoother to drive, even in town.

On both Turismo and Scorpion Street, a one-pedal driving function is available.

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Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the sporty EV’s dynamic repertoire is it rides well, even on the largest 18-inch rims. With stiffer springs and uprated dampers, comfort never takes a back seat.

The Abarth 500e isn’t out of its depth on the highway, either; it’s stable and easily quick enough to keep up on a fast-moving Italian autostrada.

Tyre and road noise are above what you expect from the Abarth’s larger all-electric rivals – but on the whole, the Abarth 500e isn’t tiresome to drive.

In an attempt to ramp up the level of involvement usually missing in an EV, Abarth engineers have also introduced a Sound Generator.

Consisting of a 100W amplifier and a waterproof external speaker mounted under the rear bumper, the new tech fills the void left by the absence of a noisy combustion engine – or at least tries to.

When stationary, if you rev the 500e the speaker broadcasts the sound of a racer revving.

Sounds fun, right? Sadly, it’s not.

On the track the roaring sound of a real engine holds some appeal, but on the road it’s another story. We think the tech will only annoy – especially on a constant throttle where it provides the feeling of driving a droning old CVT flat-out.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was only the driver who was subjected to the inauthentic soundtrack, but your poor neighbours will have to be subjected to it, too.

We soon switched it off and enjoyed the silence.

What is the Abarth 500e like inside?

In contrast to the loud exterior paint schemes, the interior designers of the 2023 Abarth 500e have deliberately opted for a sombre palette.

We’ve mentioned the Alcantara-clad sports seats, but the same sporty trim also covers the dashboard and steering wheel.

Elsewhere, it’s hard not to notice the same hard plastics from a Fiat 500e that smack of cost-cutting, including the tops of the doors which make for an unpleasant place to rest an arm.

That said, like the cheaper Fiat EV, the cabin design remains a hit and we’re pleased to report that, unlike the Abarth 595/695, the in-car tech is easy to use and up to date.

There are some issues. You sit far too high in the front passenger seat for some inexplicable reason, and there’s not enough space for an adult to sit comfortably in the second row.

Finally, the boot is too small at 185 litres (rear seats upright), and we wish engineers had added a frunk – not least for storing the cables required to charge the small Abarth, which are otherwise kept in the cargo area, robbing valuable luggage space.

Like the Fiat, the Abarth 500e comes without a spare wheel.

Should I buy an Abarth 500e?

The 2023 Abarth 500e isn’t the all-electric hot hatch of our dreams. It isn’t playful enough and lacks the engagement of the very best combustion-powered hot hatches.

Even though it’s quick, it also falls short of providing the ultimate thrust we demand of the current crop of hot hatchbacks.

That said, the more mature feel of the Abarth 500e will be deeply appealing to some people, it’s certainly still quick and nimble enough for most, and remains a highly desirable tiny tot.

Even at a price that will no doubt hover around $60,000, nothing in the EV world at this sort of money looks this good.

2023 Abarth 500e at a glance:

Price: $59,500 estimated (plus on-road- costs)

Available: Final quarter 2023

Powertrain: Single permanent magnet synchronous motor

Output: 114kW/235Nm

Transmission: Single-speed reduction gear

Battery: 42kWh lithium-ion (37.3kWh usable)

Range: 265km (WLTP)

Energy consumption: 17.0kWh/100km (WLTP)

Safety rating: Four-star (Euro NCAP 2021)

Keyword: Abarth 500e 2023 Review – International


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