Sunday 18 March 2018

Saucy, hot and wild -- that's amore

Having swapped the family 4X4 for a cute little Italian number for the week, parting with it brought such sweet sorrow, writes Brendan O'Connor

BELLA DONNA: The Abarth 500 will spread joy wherever she goes, and will draw a lot of notice
BELLA DONNA: The Abarth 500 will spread joy wherever she goes, and will draw a lot of notice

WITH the wife and the kids safely out of town for the week -- and the Touareg dispatched with them -- I needed wheels. And I needed something fun. Since I gave up my beloved old Saab convertible, which was just beginning to mature and show her age in the most beautiful way, for a practical, roomy, child-friendly 4X4, I hadn't done much of what you might call irresponsible driving.

So the motoring editor asked around for something fun. And somehow, at my age, I found myself zipping around town with a saucy little Italian. And I loved her. And she loved me too. I know she did.

I don't know that it was quite love at first sight. The Abarth 500 is basically a souped-up Fiat 500, so I wasn't sure she would be able to take all six foot three of me comfortably. Given that I'm used to a big old bus that you climb up into, I wasn't sure how I'd get on with a flighty petite little one that I had to bend over to get into. I think the PR man sensed my slight disappointment. "Well, you wanted fun," he said, before assuring me that a) she would get me in trouble very easily if I wasn't careful and b) she would get me a lot of notice.

I didn't really believe him. They all say that. But in fact he was right. Everywhere I went with my little bella donna, she not only got us noticed but she seemed to spread joy. People stopped and let me out, practically applauding at her audaciousness and her celebration of her own beauty. Guys drove along beside me just to get a longer look at her. If I could have taken her to restaurants we would have got the best table in the house. She brought happiness wherever she went and she was the Sunday in every week. In fact, she kind of was, because, despite the fact that the weather wasn't amazing or anything, and despite the fact that I was at work all week, I felt like I was on holidays every time I got into her.

And was she the type to get me in trouble? Or indeed me her? Well, yes, actually. She was every man's dream, you see. A hot little Italian that goes wild as soon as you touch her. Fairly fast to go from 0 to 60, if you know what I mean. And though she was automatic, she had little paddles you could flip to take manual control, so to speak, and stoke her up even more.

I'm used to driving around in a car, the point of which is to keep you miles away from the road and out of touch with the ground, a car in which you can breeze over the giant potholes of D4 and notice nothing. But this little baby let me feel every inch of the road. I felt like a rally driver in it, with the good bit being that I was generally going slower than I felt I was. One passenger did comment that to her it felt like a taxi with bad suspension. I explained to her that was deliberate.

All in all, I loved my little Abarth. And I decided that instead of that old Merc I was going to think about buying and then not buy for around town, I'm going to think about and not buy myself something small and nippy. I'm going to get myself a little runaround, for nipping around town, one you can park in any crack in two seconds, a little filly you can literally bring anywhere with you. And of course, her top will have to come down really quickly and easily at the push of a button, like my little Abarth. I grieved slightly giving her back. I honestly did. I missed her.

And now for the science bit: I'm not great on specs but the engine is a 1.4 litre turbo 135hp and a paddle-shift transmission. She certainly was nippy with plenty of poke. An Abarth 500C would cost about €26,000 or so, although the one I had is worth a bit more due to the extras -- like leather, a stunning-sounding Interscope Stereo and xenon headlamps.

Sunday Independent

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