Not Fiat for purpose

I WAS driving another car altogether recently with a motoring pal and we got on to the subject of the Fiat 500. We naturally progressed on to this high-performance version of the car. Fiat has taken the much-loved 500 and let loose Abarth, the designer which is to Fiat what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz. It has added a turbocharger to the 1.4 litre 16v engine and tuned it to maximise performance (157bhp), tacked on a full body kit, larger alloy wheels and upgraded the suspension and brakes. The result is this, the Abarth Esseesse (pronounced &ldquo;essay essay&rdquo;).<br /><br />My friend and I, it is fair to say, had few positive things to say about it. In fact, all cylinders were soon open, and our discussion became nothing short of a rant as we shared our driving experiences. Mine went something like this.<br /><br />Firstly, it looks great. No question. People stop and stare and if my lip-reading skills are up to scratch, it&rsquo;s all very complimentary. Every car takes a little time to adjust to and the Esseesse immediately feels firm &ndash; well, it&rsquo;s a sporty retuned version so it&rsquo;s bound to. The first bump I encountered was a bit iffy but if there&rsquo;s room to skirt round them, it&rsquo;s fine.<br /><br /><strong>FEELS ARTIFICIAL</strong><br />After an hour or so, I press the Sport button, which in turn adds weight to the steering, puts more spring in the accelerator pedal and quickens throttle response. And the result? Well, driving it becomes a bit livelier but it feels artificial. The positive effect of pressing the Sport button is that you lose the Shift Up sign that flashes in the Turbo gauge when you are running high on revs and seems to plead: &ldquo;Have you been struck down with amnesia? Put your foot on the clutch and change up&rdquo;.<br /><br />This is a feature I fear we may see more and more in cars, as the powers that be in the green camp encourage us to &ldquo;drive clever&rdquo; and in a more eco-friendly way.<br /><br />After a couple of hours I&rsquo;m becoming increasingly aware of every nook and cranny underneath the car; the Esseesse actually manages to amplify bumps in the road. What looks like a fairly innocent and nicely tailed-off speed bump turns into something resembling a Rocky Mountain peak as you&rsquo;re launched out of your seat northwards.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s a cutesy car. It&rsquo;s not designed to have race-car dynamics. Of course I understand that it&rsquo;s an Abarth, a tuned high-performance version which is meant to be sporty and quick but that doesn&rsquo;t need to translate to this. <br /><br /><strong>BAD MOOD</strong><br />And when it comes to those that stopped to admire the Esseesse, I wanted to tell them the truth. I wanted to put a notice up in the window that read: &ldquo;Yes, it may look cute and funky but it has no discernable suspension and puts you in a bad mood&rdquo;.<br /><br />And then there was the radio, which kept on altering its tone and volume without me touching it.<br /><br />Last week I spent four days in Vauxhall&rsquo;s little Agila, whose chassis and suspension is, for me, a perfect double act. If Vauxhall were to make a performance version of this &ndash; which it has no plans to do &ndash; it has got a really good base to build from. But with the Fiat 500 you&rsquo;re already dealing with a lead-based suspension to which Abarth has added cast iron springs and dampers &ndash; the result is an intolerable car. In its own words &ndash; put so succinctly &ndash; &ldquo;suspension is designed to ensure the driver always feels in close contact with the road&rdquo;.<br /><br />I don&rsquo;t know how Abarth can put its name to this.I would recall every Esseesse 500 &ndash; with the exception of the 500C, which is actually good fun &ndash; and I would take them back to Italy, flatten the lot and I would start again. From scratch.<br /><br /><strong>THE FACTS: </strong><br />Model tested:&nbsp; Abarth 500 Esseesse<br />5-speed manual <br />0 &ndash; 62mph&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; 7.9secs<br />Top speed&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;128mph <br />MPG (combined)/CO2&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;43.4 / 155g/km<br />On the road price from &pound;16,100 &nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;<br /><br />