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words & images: Leanne Gichard

At first glance the 2012 Abarth 500c Esseesse might look like an imp, but look closer and you’ll find that looks are very deceptive.  Manufactured by Fiat, it has a 1400cc turbo engine, large twin exhausts and in owner Colin’s words, “goes very fast.”

Colin has had the Abarth for around 12 months.  He had previously owned Fiats and wanted a New Zealand new Abarth, but they were very expensive – around $70,000.  “They didn’t bring many Abarths into New Zealand,” Colin explained.  “I managed to find this one second-hand in Auckland and drove it down to Ashburton, which was fun, as being a turbo, it goes like a rocket! The Abarth has a four-disc braking system, all brakes being ventilated, which is quite rare for a small car. This makes for very effective braking.”

Let’s talk power and style.  The Abarth badge is synonymous with high performance sports cars and this little pocket rocket is no exception.  Jeremy Clarkson once described the Abarth 500 as a “mini Lamborghini.”  With 158 bhp at 5750 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm, the Abarth corners well and the engine growls – you’ll certainly hear this baby coming.   Acceleration is 0-60 mph in 7.6 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph – not bad for a car of this size.  With 17-inch alloy wheels, lowered suspension and scorpion insignia Abarth badge adorning the front grille, wheel-hubs and interior this car looks great.

In true Italian style, the finish on the Abarth is beautiful.  The glorious rosso red paintwork that continues on the inside dash area is striking and contrasts well with the black, high-back interior seats and control panels.  White wing-mirrors and side racing stripe punctuate the red exterior, and spoilers give the Abarth a sporty look.  This car is a semi-convertible with the black roof peeling back to give a great driving experience on a sunny day.

This is one fun, quirky car and parking is a breeze.  The driving options make it different from most small cars.  “The Abarth has a robotic manual gearbox, which means to change gears it only has two pedals,” Colin explains. “You can either drive it in automatic mode or manual mode.  It has a five-speed gearbox and even when in automatic the drive feels just like a manual with a slight pause between gears, but the gear changes are done robotically.  There is no gearstick; it has a push button mechanism for forward or reverse and you can change gears using the pedals.  It is quite a tricky system to get used to, but one of the major benefits when in automatic mode is that it doesn’t ‘creep’ if you take your foot of the brake, so you can just sit there comfortably when stopped.”

What’s not to love? Funk, power and verve, this Abarth has it all.

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.