Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Abarth Time?

As part of my infrequent series of test drives I tried a Fiat 500 Abarth last week.

Although I'd booked by phone in advance, I'd not had great Fiat customer service experiences in the past so I was somewhat taken aback when I turned up at the dealer in Slough to find an enthusiastic salesman actually ready to answer my questions and take me out on a decent test drive.

In brief, it’s a nice little package. The ride (on £175 option non-RFT 17”’s) was firm but not harsh like the previous weeks' MINI. The driving position was high, the seat was short and the wheel adjusted for rake only – not as good as the MINI for sure. Some very neat lower c/f seats are a £2k option !!! The steering was better than the MINI (tyres again?) with more feel, yet feel and feedback are still not even as good as old fashioned hydraulic systems - even the one in my old Golf(what are manufacturers playing at???).

On the grunt front, there was plenty to keep you smiling, my seat-of-the-pants accelerometer suggested its not as quick as a MCS, but it is within striking range. As in the MINI, style over substance dictated the interior, the button quality on the FIAT is lower, and the rev-counter within the speedo is just as silly as the MINI’s ‘solution’.

The ‘up’ change indicator on the dash pod is just daft (black tape?) and it makes the turbo boost gauge almost impossible to see. I can’t really recall any great difference in gear change; both had that slightly remote cable feel (what are manufacturers playing at #2 ???), and the 500 only had 5 gears, but the ratios's seemed well chosen.

The numpties who represent the core market for these fashion-led sportsters have also been at the Drive by Wire throttle; in ‘Sport’ setting (I had to laugh – the salesman said this made it possible to rev the engine higher, bless!) the map ramped faster and the steering effort was reduced. Of course, the least sh+te solution (normal throttle/heavy steering) was not possible to achieve. (what are manufacturers playing at #3???)

Also in its favour, the Abarth didn’t rattle like the MCS over the poor surfaces of the roads 'round the back of Slough we tried, and everyone else on the road seemed to love it. Its also definitely got more rear legroom; enough to make it quite comfy my two youngsters behind me – to achieve this in the MINI would mean me moving my seat comfortably close to the wheel.

All in all, a neat little package and at £14.5k, a useful £4k or so less than a MINI.

And yet neither really snagged my wanna-wanna button. Hmmm.


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