What Car? says...
Say hello to the Abarth 500e – the most significant hot hatchback since the Simca 1100 TI kick-started the genre back in 1973.
A bold claim, perhaps. But the Abarth 500e is arguably the first hot hatch powered by electrons rather than petrol or diesel, and it's out to prove a point. Chiefly, that electric cars can be just as fun as their petrol-powered counterparts.
To help with that, it's available in both hatchback and convertible forms, and benefits from a more powerful motor than the Electric Fiat 500 (which it's based on). That gets it from 0-62mph more quickly than the petrol-powered Abarth 595.
Straight-line pace is only one element, though – handling is of just as much importance. In that department, the 500e benefits from bespoke suspension, wider wheels and tyres, and specially developed rear brake discs.
Rivals? Well, the Abarth 500e and 500e Convertible don't have many, but you might also be considering the Cupra Born, the MG4 EV XPower or the Brabus version of the Smart #1. Read on to find out whether they're good enough to compete with the best hot hatches...
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Let’s get something straight before we begin to talk about the Abarth 500e's performance. Petrol-powered Abarths have never been the most objectively competent hot hatches, but their characterful engines make them a hoot to drive in all situations.
That's something you simply can't replicate in an electric car – or can you? Well, to try to channel some of the 595's exuberance, Abarth has fitted the 500e with a noise generator that mimics the engine noise of the petrol-powered model.
When you thumb the starter button, the 500e blares into life like it’s powered by liquified dinosaurs rather than electrons. The sound comes from a powerful external speaker, multi-channel amplifier and subwoofer mounted under the boot floor.
It's surprisingly loud, but not particularly realistic, with the note lacking the textural depth of a real exhaust. We reckon many buyers will gladly switch it off shortly after their first journey.
More positively, while it doesn’t sound like a hot hatch, the 500e gets off the line like one. With a 153bhp electric motor, it will sprint from 0-62mph in 7.0 seconds – slightly faster than the Abarth 595.
The electric motor’s ability to deliver instant pace off the line means that while the fastest petrol hot hatches have more impressive 0-62mph times, it feels quicker to 30mph.
That said, the 500e's electric rivals pull even harder from a standstill. The Cupra Born 58kWh 230 officially takes 6.6 seconds to cover the 0-62mph sprint while the MG4 XPower cuts that to just 3.8 seconds.
Those rivals will also travel further between charges, with the 500e’s 37.8kWh usable capacity battery giving the hatchback an official range of 164 miles and the convertible up to 157 miles. By comparison, the 58kWh Born will manage 215 miles, the MG4 XPower 239 miles and the Smart #1 273 miles.
At least, while you do have charge, you’ll be able to have some fun. In mid-speed curves, a neutral and predictable handling balance lets you adjust your line with a lift off the accelerator, while sharper steering allows you to place the nose of the car with greater confidence and precision.
It's an enjoyable car to attack a series of bends in. You soon discover that body control has improved greatly over the Abarth 695. Instead of being kicked off line by mid-corner bumps or shuddering over abrasions, the 500e always feels settled and controlled.
As you might expect, the focus on performance means the 500e isn’t the most comfortable car to drive around town. You see, while the steering is light and easy to judge, the stiff suspension means it's not as settled as the Born, and you’ll feel your head being tossed around almost constantly, especially over lumps and bumps.
Strengths Decent shove off the line; predictable handling; sharp steering
Weaknesses Limited range when driven spiritedly; synthetic exhaust noise gets annoying
The interior layout, fit and finish
The interior of the Abarth 500e will be familiar to anyone who has sat in the Electric Fiat 500 because it’s very similar.
Abarth has, however, added sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, contrast stitching around the interior, a darker headliner and aluminium brake pedal covers. Range-topping Turismo cars also get an interior swathed in Alcantara.
Complaints? Well, we wish the driver’s seat would go a little lower as you feel perched on the car rather than inside it.
Then again, many of these cars will end up living out their lives in cities, where a raised driving position gives you good all-round visibility. Well, the hatchback does – the convertible is a different story. Its tiny rear windows and fabric sliding roof seriously reduce your view out of the rear – especially when you have the roof down.
Luckily, every 500e come with rear parking sensors to help when it comes with parking. Turismo trim adds 360-degree sensors and a rear-view camera.
Standard kit includes a 7.0in instrument screen that sits behind the steering wheel and a 10.25in infotainment touchscreen high up in the middle of the dashboard.
The infotainment screen's position makes it easy to read on the move, as does the fact that it has an intuitive operating system and is quick to respond when you prod it. We prefer it to the Born’s, which can be quite laggy and has loads of menus to navigate.
Strengths Good interior quality; intuitive infotainment system
Weaknesses Convertible has limited rear visibility; driving position doesn’t feel sporty
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The 500e is slightly bigger in all directions than the Abarth 595 but there are still no rear doors, and even short adults won’t want to sit in the back for long. Still, if you view this as an occasional four-seater, it's perfectly fit for purpose – both in hardtop and convertible forms.
Front stowage space is surprisingly good, with a large tray halfway up the dashboard that’s the perfect size to hold a phone. As you might expect, that's where you'll find the wireless charging pad in range-topping Turismo models.
If you want to keep valuables out of sight, there’s a long (but narrow) cubby between the front seats, which is lidded on Turismo versions. The door pockets are quite small, though.
If you go for the regular hardtop, the hatchback tailgate lifts to reveal a 185-litre boot that’s larger than in the Honda e but much smaller than in the Cupra Born and the Peugeot e-208 – both of which offer more than 300 litres of space. Access to the boot is restricted in the convertible version because the boot lid is much smaller (more like a saloon car’s).
Strengths Decent amount of space in the front
Weaknesses Not much rear space; small boot
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Abarth 500e hatchback will cost you less as a cash purchase than its rivals, including the Cupra Born, the MG4 Xpower and the Smart #1 Brabus. The 500e Convertible on the other hand costs as much as all those, which considering it has a sliding roof rather than a full droptop seems pricy.
What’s more, compared with those rivals, the 500e is predicted to depreciate much faster and that can have an effect on PCP finance rates, pushing up the amount you’ll pay each month. Before buying, make sure you check for the best prices using our new Abarth deals pages.
There are two trim levels to choose from: entry-level 500e and top-spec Turismo. The standard car comes reasonably well-equipped, with 17in alloy wheels, cruise control, automatic wipers and lights, climate control and a JBL sound system.
Turismo introduces 18in wheels, an Alcantara-lined interior, aluminium pedal covers and chrome kickplates, as well as heated front seats, heated door mirrors, a centre armrest with centre console and keyless entry. The problem is, upgrading makes the 500e really expensive (especially the convertible) and even harder to justify over its rivals. We’d stick with the entry-level trim.
Charging the 37.8kWh (usable capacity) battery from empty to full takes around six hours with 7kW home wall box. A 0-80% top-up can be grabbed in just over half an hour if you can find a CCS charger capable of delivering the 500e's maximum charging speed of 85kW. You can also plug it into a three-pin socket, although a 10-80% charge will take nearly 20 hours.
What about reliability? Well, the 500e didn't feature in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey but Abarth's parent company Fiat performed pretty well. It claimed 15th place out of the 32 included car makers, beating MG in 25th and Cupra in 32nd.
The Electric Fiat 500 – which the 500e is based on – achieved an overall four-star safety rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2021. The Born, the MG4 and the Smart #1 all scored the full five stars so they're likely to keep you safer in an accident.
All Abarths come with lane-keeping assistance, traffic-sign recognition and automatic emergency braking (AEB). Blind-spot monitoring is standard on Turismo models.
Strengths Decent charging times; lots of standard kit;
Weaknesses Convertible expensive to buy outright; depreciates faster than rivals
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In order to retain the spirit of petrol-powered Abarths, the 500e is fitted with a speaker that plays the sound of an engine. The sound doesn’t change as you accelerate so it can get annoying, but you can switch it off by going through the vehicle settings in the infotainment screen.
Like most electric cars the Abarth 500e only has one gear. Its top speed is limited to 96mph.