- Apr 1, 2011
Looks can be deceiving. Very deceiving.
The Abarth 500 SS starts out in life as a cute little Italian car, with a sole purpose of nipping about the narrow cobbled streets of Rome as it's owners sip Lattes all day. Then a small Italian car performance company called Abarth intervene and proceed to cleanse the Fiat 500 of it's posh, caffeine-sipping traits, and turn it into a blue-blooded turbocharged performance vehicle, without making it intolerable to live with on a day-to-day basis. These changes include: Engine performance upgrades, lower and stiffer suspension, new brake disks and pads, new rims and performance tyres.
If I may, I'd like to talk first about the engine, because it's an absolute peach. It produces 160bhp and 230 torques which, granted, isn't a lot by performance car standards but it's an astonishing achievement when you consider that it's powered by a tiny 1.4L four cylinder turbocharged engine, which will propel you to a top speed of 211km/h (131mph) and will do 0-60 mph in just over 7 seconds.
It may be the slowest car in Assetto Corsa's range of official content, but don't think for a second that it's in anyway boring. In fact, this is arguably one of the most fun cars you'll ever drive in any consumer simulator currently on the market. Adding more and more horsepower doesn't necessarily make a car any better. It's not about how large the performance numbers are, it's about whether or not those numbers add up to an enjoyable driving sensation, and that's very much the case with this car. Take last weeks Pagani Huayra for example, it's stupidly fast, and has more power than an aircraft carrier, but the fact remains that it simply isn't as nice to drive as the 500 Abarth.
The feeling you get from the force feedback is tremendous! You can feel everything that is happening with the car at any given moment in time. You're able to sense and catch oversteer, feel the transfer of weight as you brake hard and turn in, and when the rear end starts to waggle about, you simply put your foot down and the front wheel drive will sort it out quick smart. The steering is light, responsive and sharp, even though it has somewhat of a deadzone in the middle, which allows for some play in the wheel without actually turning the car, however this is a common trait among most road cars.
The gearbox is a 5-speed H-pattern that works just as you'd expect, however, you often find yourself willing the little car to go faster because some of the gears feel slightly too long for a car with this amount of power. Most notably 3rd and 5th gear, where the car tends to get bogged down and there's nothing you can really do except keep your right foot hard down and pray that the turbo charger will do it's thing by breathing some life into the engine. The longer gears do at least allow for better fuel economy, so there's that.
Setup-wise there isn't a huge amount you can change, which is to be expected with a road car. The biggest thing you can change to improve lap times, apart from the piece of meat sitting behind the wheel, is the tyres. The Abarth comes stock fitted with standard Pirelli performance "street tires" which are handy enough, however, you're also able to fit an even better set of "Semi-slick" tires which, depending on the track, can find you anywhere between 2 and 3 seconds per lap. On top of this performance benefit, the semi-slicks don't overheat or wear out as quickly as the standard street tires, which means you can push harder for longer.
Without a doubt, the biggest downside to the 500 Abarth is the sound. At best, they're underwhelming. In it's current build, it sounds more akin to that of a high speed lawnmower rather than a 160bhp high performance vehicle. Having said that, it's probably not fair of me to criticize this aspect of the car as Kunos are working on new audio samples for all cars in Assetto Corsa (just take the Z4 GT3 or the Shelby Cobra for a spin and you'll see what I mean). Having said that, once the new samples are released, don't expect this thing to sound like Satan gargling rusty nails either. Remember, it's only a 1.4L four cylinder Fiat engine, so we're not going to be breaking any decibel records here.
The interior styling also isn't hugely imaginative or creative. It's much the same as with most hot-hatch backs of today's generation, there's a steering wheel, a gear stick, air vents, all the buttons are where you'd expect them to be and they all do the usual things. There's also a coloured perspex dashboard-insert that changes colour depending on which livery you choose which is often refreshing, and can change the mood of the cockpit area. The door handles also look very stylish with their chrome-plated handles... If you're in to that sort of thing.
Driving-wise, it has 1 traction control setting and it's largely an annoyance. You're better off just turning off the TC all together. You'll be quicker, and the car drives better with it turned off.
Next to the speedometer, you'll see a turbo boost gauge which peaks out at just over 1.2 BAR of boost, which for a 1.4L engine is mighty impressive. It also acts as a shift indicator to tell you when to change gears. Speaking of changing gears, oddly, Fiat decided against putting the gear stick on the floor, where you'd usually find it in most cars, instead they've sort of incorporated it into the dashboard. Thankfully on the virtual race track, this makes no difference.
All in all, this is a brilliant little car. It may not be as fast or powerful as a supercar, but in terms of generating an exciting driving sensation, it's second to none, especially when there's 22 of them all battling for the same piece of tarmac. It's this same driving sensation that allows you to look past it's flaws and enjoy the car for what it is: Hot-Hatchery in it's purest form.
Combine all of this in to a car that weighs just over a ton, and is about the size of your average pencil eraser, and you'll come away with a car that is undoubtedly one of the hottest hatchbacks ever made, and easily one of the best FWD cars in all of sim-racing.
3 out of 5 stars.
This Latte's got some punch!