The Fiat 500 wasn’t really the sort of car that appealed to car guys and car girls. Sure, it was as cute as a puppy wearing a bib, but it didn’t really catch our imaginations until Fiat relaunched the Abarth brand.
After an initial stab at a Grande Punto-based warm hatch, Abarth got all silly and turned to the 500. It fitted the dinky city car with a 135bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine just 1400cc in capacity, and a naughty exhaust system to make it sound far chunkier than it really was.
This T-Jet engine was a peach, boosting hungrily from middling revs and while it ran out of puff quite quickly, it still felt like an excitable little pooch flapping around the legs of larger, more cumbersome dogs.
It handled, too. Fiat installed a rear anti-roll bar, stiffer springs and dampers, Brembo brakes all round and dropped it by 15mm. Then there were the tyres, which were fattened up for the Abarth version. Their contact patches were even larger thanks to a size upgrade from the shopping version’s 14s to either 16- or 17-inch items.
These days you have three options to buy one. First is our pick, the straight-laced ordinary car. Still a total hoot around town and on slower, windier country roads, the Abarth 500 came with leather seats, bundles of character and a personalisation options list befitting its more consumerist origins.
We found this stunner lurking in the classifieds for a mere £4695. It was built in a fetching red-on-red scheme with red dashboard trim, red leather seats surfaces and red paint that blended beautifully with the gorgeous multi-spoke wheels upon which it sits just perfectly. It’s almost nine years old on its 2009 ‘59’ number plate and has stomped across 112,000 miles in its time, but values seem to be holding steady and it won’t depreciate too much more if it’s looked after.
It has an MOT certificate until next January and is freshly serviced with a full history. Its MOT records look really good, too, with no advisories on its last two attempts and just worn brake pads making it onto the list in 2016. Despite the mileage this seems like a well looked-after car.
Of course, you could go rogue and buy the Esseesse (SS) version. Pumped up to 160bhp at the factory, it cut half a second off the standard car’s 0-62mph sprint and felt much more of an animal. Suddenly the chassis had met its match, and went a bit feral. It would go on to 131mph, average 40mpg with a bit of hypermiling and can now be yours for a little over £6000.
Then there’s the final route. A few standard Abarth 500s have emerged onto the market with aftermarket tuning kits that match the Esseesse’s power but for less cash. This one, with bonnet vents that we’re not so keen on, has a stainless exhaust, short-shifter to cure the 500’s long-throw woes, coilover suspension, an induction kit and more – though you’d want to inspect and test all of that before buying. It’s a little cheap, and we suspect there might be a reason.
Where would your money go, CTzens? Straight down the middle with 135bhp, the factory upgrade for 160bhp but 50 per cent more cash, or a mod-based 160bhp for 135bhp money?