In standard specification the Abarth 500 will cover the 0-62mph sprint in less than eight seconds. The 1.4-litre engine produces 135bhp and as it's turbocharged, there's excellent mid-range pulling power. As a result the Abarth certainly feels keen in any gear plus the exhaust has been tuned to add to the enjoyment. It burbles deeply at idle and has a hard edge when accelerating, but never sounds unduly harsh.
Choosing the Esseesse upgrade boosts engine power to 160bhp and adds more low down grunt too. It's half a second quicker from 0-62mph - almost matching the 175bhp MINI Cooper S - and has an even more exuberant exhaust note. A five-speed gearbox is used on both models, but the engine's plentiful pulling power from low revs means there is no need to keep shifting through the gears to maintain momentum.
Driving the Abarth 500 hard isn't quite all wheelspin, although the ride is very firm and it can be difficult to pull away cleanly on a damp surface. The suspension has different springs and dampers compared to the Fiat 500 and the Abarth is also equipped with a system called Torque Transfer Control which improves drive out of slow corners. Although it's a firmer set-up than the Fiat 500, the overall body control and composure is improved and the steering is quicker - there's also a 'sport' button on the dash which makes the steering a little heavier.
Customers selecting the harder edged Esseesse version benefit from uprated brakes and suspension, and larger 17-inch alloy wheels. This version is even more driver-focused and will probably be the favoured choice of enthusiasts.