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Disadvantages: Limited dealer network in UK, Esseesse sub-model could possibly run out of road in the UK, slightly sub-premium feel to the cabin trim, Esseesse represents unequivocal fun but will rearrange vital organs due to unrelentingly stiff ride.
Summary: An absolute screamer of a contemporary hot hatch, the Fiat Grande Punto Abarth and Abarth Esseesse models inject a deal of venom into the already punchy range, and will have driver and passengers alike clinging on for dear life. Yet thanks to a myriad of safety features as standard, well worth the risk.
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The acceptable face of karting for grown-ups, the B-roads still dotted around the UK are your tracks, the flora and fauna edging it act as the tyre walls, the smell of grease and strong petroleum will have to come from your imagination though.
Not since you sat on the edge of your 1980's bed making the sound effects consistent with a manically-revving engine and riotously-loud exhaust via your own mouth, have you felt this excited when grabbing an imaginary steering wheel and jerking the gear stick. Only this time it's for real. Hello 2008. Hello Fiat Grande Punto Abarth.
The Grande Punto Abarth houses a turbo-charged 1.4-litre 16v T-Jet engine handed over by Fiat, only developing 155bhp Looney Tunes (180bhp in the Esseesse model) courtesy of a 'power boost' button that when depressed instantaneously unleashes 170 lb-ft of torque thrust at 3,000rpm. Fiery gates await those who fiddle.
Offering clinically insane performance, the Grande Punto Abarth should have a padded white interior to compliment its exterior hue, and straps that categorically put pay to any involuntary movements as opposed to seat belt tensioners as a legal requirement.
Opt for the lower-slung, deeply dippy Esseesse version, and you get to ride the Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach daily, as thrills and much passenger spillage become a regular occurrence.
With the suspension stiffened by 20%, lowered by 10% and the chassis is widened by 6mm to disperse what weight there is that much more equally. Oh, and house the 17” rims that attempt to keep it on the twisty stuff long enough to complete a road test.
Grippier than a dog with a bone, the Abarth's body lean (a.k.a beautiful) is reserved for its physical appearance; any suggestions that its body leans, is grossly exaggerated. And libelous. Steering and handling are peerless. Point it in the direction you'd like to roughly go, grab the steering wheel and let it take you there.
In terms of refinement and relaxation, you might as well dismiss the Esseesse straight off, as for all intents and purpose it’s a rally car. But in as much confirms its undiluted strength and minimal body swerving tolerances. And if it’s sheer, unadulterated noise you’re after, then the Esseesse is the car for the job. However in normal Abarth guise, the driver and their occupants do have the option of balancing the smooth with the rough.
Yet despite all the rasping and cussing, the standard Grande Punto Abarth returns 40mpg on average, whereas the Esseesse manages nearer the mid-30s mark.
Although its true that Fiat build quality has come on in leaps and bounds, the Abarth cabins still seem to be left wanting when sat nose to tail with its hot hatch contemporaries like the Peugeot 207GT for instance; with the seat upholstery feeling particularly cheap to the touch.
Given the blind eye Fiat has afforded interior fitment – although these days they actually waiting long enough for the glue to set - is soon forgotten when addressing the splendour of all the Abarth spoilers and associated kit that take your mind -and your body – elsewhere.
Plenty of room for four adults to marvel at the Abarth up close and personal too, although dragging your carcass into the rearmost seats of the Esseesse is a job in itself given the bulky front seats. But once inside occupants will be pleased to discover driver and passenger airbags and side and curtain. All of which apparently vary their deployment according to the seriousness of individual impact.
All the adjustables you'd expect to make the drivers life that much more comfortable and versatile in the seat and steering wheel department are in evidence in the base Grande Punto Abarth, yet an otherwise involving driving position is hampered by the inflexibility of the chucky racing seats in the Esseesse variant.
Not giving an inch, they can easily manifest a sense of claustrophobia in the driver. Yet once you’ve risen above such problematics – and circumnavigated the front seat entrance - up to five people can clamber aboard. What’s more, a capacious boot will gobble up all aftermarket bass-beasts and sub-woofers the average boy-racer could invent too, boasting a somewhat practical 264-litres.
All Abarth extras are well-manufactured and applied with a modicum of taste; running to electric front windows, CD player, Stability Control, EBD, remote locking and air-con as standard kit. The indecisive amongst car buyers needn't despair however, as given the choice of exterior paint jobs both Abarth models offer the simplistic choice of red, white and black.
If you like nothing more than to sit in your bedroom with over-sized headphones on watching the World Rally Championship, then swap that scenario for the real thing. Or a close as you get without risking a flying Subaru Impreza scalping you. Spitting, coughing, burbling, shouting...the Abarth Esseesse does the lot. Permanently. If you like something slightly more reserved, opt for the boggo Abarth.
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