The Abarth 595 might not be the newest car knocking about, but as I’ve never driven one, I was keen to give it a go. I was also keen to see how it would compare to the frankly insane 695 I drove last year, a car that seemed to have no shock absorbers at all. The 695 is a hardcore model, which doesn’t even have rear seats, so the 595 Competizione is a softer car then? Erm, yeah, I’ll get on to that one in a bit.
Small But Mighty
The Abarth 595 is based on the more humdrum FIAT 500, so the dimensions are about the same as postage stamp. Because of its compact size, it doesn’t need a whopping big engine to make it go as if a firework has been shoved up its exhaust. Linked to those meaty exhausts is a 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol unit that produces 178bhp with 250Nm of torque. It’s mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox, which has a comically long gear lever, but once worked, you can hit 62mph in 6.7 seconds and the top speed is a respectable 140mph.
So if you’re looking for the fastest hot hatch, you won’t find it here. But then you already knew that. Having said that though, the Abarth will definitely get a move on and at no point would I call it slow. True, there is a bit of turbo lag, but the power delivery is fizzy and it feels frantic. Working your way through the 5-speed is a pleasurable experience, although I would like the throws to be shorter and a bit more snappy. I don’t think that long gear lever helps, as much as it adds character.
The metal pedals have a lovely feel to them and they are somewhat reminiscent of an old school rally car. The brakes aren’t as sharp as I was expecting them to be and I found myself having to apply a fair bit of pressure through the pedal before you really start to scrub off speed. It’s not so much an issue when you get used to it, but with a car that’s able to pick up so much pace so quickly, it can be disconcerting to begin with.
Something that is far from disconcerting is the sound that this little thing is able to produce. Start the engine up and you get a sense that you’ve somehow been transported to a car with a bigger engine. It sounds fantastic, and the noise alone makes the Abarth worth looking at – or in this case, listening. On the road the noise gets even better and you’ll get some bangs when you lift off at high revs, which really adds to experience.
Does It Handle Well Though?
Any hot hatch worth its salt should be able to tackle a corner and thanks for the Abarth’s short wheelbase, it feels like you’re driving a housefly with an engine. The grip from the Pirelli P Zero tyres is of a high order, plus this model has the Performance Pack, meaning it has a limited slip differential for even more traction. In case you are wondering, the Performance Pack also adds Sabelt sport seats with carbon fibre shells, 17″ Supersport alloys, 595 badging for the interior and a choice of white, red of gloss black for the interior and exterior trims.
Back to the handling though, it’s an old cliche, but the Abarth is able to handle as if it’s on rails, but it’s not perfect. The steering wasn’t quite as direct as I was hoping for, plus as I mentioned earlier, the brakes lacked the bite you’d want. The chassis doesn’t feel overly adjustable in the bends and it’s not quite as playful as the rest of the car’s characteristics. The car feels rigid through the corners though and there is very little body roll, which is fantastic but discomfort is the penalty you’ll pay for this.
Granted, hot hatches aren’t really made for comfort, but in this day and age you’ll find a lot of them are more usable than those of yesteryear, thanks to adaptive damper settings. The Abarth doesn’t have this capability unfortunately, but the Koni dampers are designed in a way that they are softer is slower speeds and firmer at faster ones. Do they work? Hmm, not really, even going through town, you are reminded of the car’s hard ride, which is bound to grate for some buyers.
You Can Put A Price On Fun
For others though, this will merely be a sacrifice for having such a fun and ear-pleasing experience in such a small car. Mind you, for a car of this size, it’s not exactly cheap. The base price is £20,360, which is more than the Mini Cooper S, a car that’s able to offer more power, and a nicer cabin.
It’s also more than a Clio RS, and the new Ford Fiesta ST is bound to be in a similar price bracket. The only saving grace here, is that it’s cheaper than the Peugeot 208 GTI. The model tested did have a few options though, including pastel paint, a Beats audio system and a the aforementioned Performance Pack, meaning that this model is approaching £25,000. So then, it seems as if you can truly put a price on fun.
The Abarth is certainly an intoxicating car that has plenty of character, but it won’t be for everyone. You simply cannot escape the hard ride, and although the small dimensions are part of the 595’s charm, it does mean it’s not overly practical. You may think I’m nitpicking here, but one of the selling points for a hot hatch is that it’s a fast car, but in a practical shell. You could argue that the FIAT 500 on which it’s based suffers with the same drawback, as it’s a more of a city car.
That is also a valid point, but for the price you’ll be paying for this lovable rapscallion, you could have a bigger hot hatch, which has a decent sized boot and is able to get people in the rear without them being train the art of contortion. The price itself could be well be a sticking point for potential customers, but there’s no doubting that this is a fun vessel to throw around country roads.
It’s far from perfect, but you get a sense that the car knows it’s not perfect. You get a sense it doesn’t particularly care either, as all it wants to do is to make noise as if it’s a bigger car and to paint a grin on your face as it does so. And you know what? It does. It’s not the most accomplished or well-rounded hot hatch on the market, but it may just be the one with the most character.