Instead of an exhaust pipe, the Abarth 500e has a waterproof 200mm speaker tucked under its tail. Why? So this little EV can imitate one of the pepped-up four-cylinder engines from the Fiat performance sub-brand’s past.
Some other EVs feature sound generators, but none of them tries to mimic the noise of something with pistons and a crankshaft. Usually the sound selected is some synthetic sci-fi tone that rises in pitch as speed increases.
What the Abarth 500e does have in common with other noise-producing EVs is that the driver can choose to turn it off. This, it turns out, is a good idea. We’ll get to the reason why in a moment.
The Abarth 500e is due to arrive in Australia in about November, about three months later than the Fiat 500e it’s based on. Pricing for the plug-in pocket rocket hasn’t been decided, but it shouldn’t cost too much more than the slower Fiat.
Prices in Europe for the Abarth 500e Turismo are not too far from the La Prima model grade that tops the Fiat 500e line-up, which is exactly what will reach Australia in August or September. The Fiat hatchback EV will be $52,500, plus on-road costs.
But the first 219 examples of the Abarth to be sold here will be the loaded Scorpionissima. This is hard to translate; but “most scorpion-y” is the sense of the word. Abarth’s badge depicts a scorpion, by the way.
The Scorpionissima is a limited-production version. Only 1949 – a reference to the
year Abarth was founded – will be built. These cost the equivalent of $69,500 in Italy, but they will be followed by the more affordable Turismo equipment grade. Expect these to be somewhere in the $55,000 to $65,000 range.
As with the Fiat 500e, only the hatchback body style is headed for Australia. In Europe the Abarth 500e is also sold in roll-back roof Cabrio form.
So exactly what have Abarth done to make their first-ever EV more fun to drive than the Fiat 500e?
The Abarth 500e has a 31 per cent more powerful electric motor. Driving the front wheels, the synchronous permanent magnet machine thrusts the little hatchback from 0-100km/h in exactly 7.0 seconds, according to Abarth. This is two seconds less than the Fiat 500e, which itself feels lively off the line.
Abarth had to make big changes to the EV’s battery pack to enable it to supply the current required by the more powerful motor without reducing durability.
The Abarth’s motor also spins to 14,200rpm, or 1000rpm higher than the Fiat 500e’s.
One of the other Abarth alterations is a shorter drive ratio, meaning each 1000rpm gives you fewer km/h.
Upgrading the motor’s rev ceiling was necessary if the Abarth 500e was to have a higher top speed than the Fiat. While the 500e is limited to 150km/h, the Abarth is good for 155km/h.
The Abarth 500e is good fun to drive, though the increased performance does reduce driving range to between 253 and 265km.
It’s also a more capable and pleasant drive than Abarth’s 695, which has a turbo 1.4-litre four. Though the petrol-burner accelerates a little quicker, the electric 500e apparently is a second faster around a lap of the Alfa Mix track at Stellantis’s Balocco proving ground in the north of Italy.
The EV is certainly better behaved and more fun, as a back-to-back test at Balocco showed.
On public road the Abarth 500e rides more smoothly than the bucking Abarth 695 and punches out of tight corners more eagerly.
Of the three driver-selectable modes, Scorpion Track is the best for driving on public roads. Scorpion Street makes the regenerative braking too strong. The same goes for Turismo mode, which also trims power and performance.
What the Abarth 500e can never deliver is the sonic accompaniment to the drama of
As with almost every EV on the market, the Abarth 500e has a single-speed transmission. And this is what makes turning on the engine-imitation sound system a mistake.
Though it’s mildly amusing to hear the stationary electric motor “idling” at standstill, at
constant speeds – especially about 50 to 60km/h – it sounds like a car stuck in too low a gear.
Should Abarth ever decide to a lightweight version of the 500e, the 200mm waterproof woofer will surely head the list of things to delete.
PRICE $60,000 est.
SAFETY 4 stars
ENGINE single electric motor; 114kW/235Nm
TRANSMISSION 1-speed auto; FWD
DRIVING RANGE 265km
0-100KM/H 7.0 secs