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Car reviews - Abarth - 595 - Competizione convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Unmistakably charismatic, rorty exhaust noise, serious-performing brakes, snug bucket seats, open-air motoring
Room for improvement
Price, interior feels a little cheap, cramped rear seats, small boot, tiny fuel tank

Gallery

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Abarth logo25 Mar 2015

Price and equipment

BY DROPPING the price by $1490 (compared with the outgoing Abarth 500), Fiat is taking the right step in getting the Abarth 595 into the hearts and minds of motorists looking for a thrilling and quick hatchback.

The cheapest Abarth now starts at $33,500, before on-road costs, for the Turismo spec in manual, $36,500 for the Competizione and tops out with the Competizione convertible for $39,000. Automatic transmission is a $2000 option on all variants.

The Fiat 500 range starts from $16,000 for the Pop variant and $24,500 for the Lounge convertible, meaning the Abarth is at least $9000, and at most $23,000 more expensive, so what extra kit do you get for the money?For starters, the bodykit gives the Abarth a lower profile, with a butched-up, hunkered down front end and a massive (relative to the car) rear diffuser.

Our Competizione-spec 595 also had the uprated, dual-mode exhaust system, finished off with quad tailpipes.

Red brake callipers and a small rear spoiler give away the sporting intentions of the 595, while inside the driver also gets sports pedals, a carbon-fibre kick plate, a large boost gauge and bucket seats.

Our test car never failed to pull the attention of passers-by on the street – especially with the folding soft top roof retracted – and if the eye-catching red exterior didn't pique their interest, the fiendish sounding exhaust crackle sure turned heads.

Although cheaper than before, the pricey little Italian isn't endowed with the most generous standard equipment list. The only options being interior trim colour and wheel choices.

Interior

The inside of the Abarth is best described as small but snug, offering just the right amount of practicality and functionality without becoming distracting.

The 7.0-inch digital instrument display also transforms with the push of a unique Sport button, turning the clean and simple dials into a race-ready readout, with a big tachometer complete with red highlights.

A multi-function leather steering wheel sits in front of the cluster, housing audio controls and Bluetooth-paired phone functionality. The handbrake lever and door trims are also wrapped in leather, giving all touch points a nice, premium feel.

The centre stack features big, usable buttons, and while it’s easy enough to navigate, they certainly give the impression that the interior shares more than a few similarities with its Fiat 500 donor car.

Bluetooth and USB connectivity come as standard and both work as advertised, although changing songs through USB playback can be a little slow.

However, the highlight of the cabin is by far the Abarth Corsa by Sabelt seats.

They are sensational, gripping tight and never letting go, allowing you to sit back and enjoy flinging the feisty little Italian around the bends to make the most of the revised suspension and power upgrades.

The seats are designed for slimmer people though, and do take a little gymnastic work to overcome the seat bolsters – especially when parked in a tight space where the door doesn't have enough room to fully open.

While the front seats offer plenty of space to get comfortable, the rear seats are really only suitable for small children, contortionists or as a storage space. They are painfully small.

The folding soft-top convertible naturally has a smaller boot space than the hardtop – to accommodate the retracting roof – making storage space minuscule at best.

Engine and transmission

Now this, this is the reason you would buy an Abarth. This is the area where the 595 really starts to come into its own.

Even though the 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo T-Jet engine is carried over from the outgoing Abarth 500 Essesse – meaning 118kW at 5500 rpm and 230Nm at 3000 rpm and an acceleration from zero to 100km/h in 7.4 seconds – the engine is still an absolute winner, perfectly matched to the diminutive car.

These figures certainly don't sound that impressive on paper – especially next to the class leading Ford Fiesta ST (132kW/290Nm, 0-100km/h in 6.4s) and the Mini Hatch Cooper S (141kW/280Nm, 0-100km/h in 6.8s) – but the Abarth accelerates with such gusto and eagerness, you won't even care.

Weighing in at only 1092kg, the T-Jet turbocharged engine really makes the most of the small mass, delivering smooth and controllable power without ever overwhelming the front wheels.

Although not a car for outright pace or power, the Abarth is all about the fun and theatre of wrestling with a high-powered, small-sized hatchback.

The Competizione variant is even fitted with a tricked out exhaust that fully opens at 4000 rpm, giving a cracking, sonorous burble on upshifts. It never failed to make us smile while accelerating hard from the traffic lights, especially when the top was down.

A five-speed manual gearbox comes standard, with the option of a five-speed self-shifter, and while most performance cars give you half a dozen gears to play with, the fizzy Italian makes ample use of its five speeds to top out at 210km/h.

Abarth claims that the 595 will return a fuel economy figure of 5.4 litres per 100 km, but with our testing we managed to get 8.6L/100km – probably because of the addictive sounding exhaust. There is nothing more intoxicating than that pop and crackle of the exhaust on overrun.

Ride and handling

The Abarth comes with upgraded suspension bits, including Koni-branded front suspension, vented brake discs and a large anti-roll bar to help stick it in the bends.

Unsurprisingly, this makes the ride a little firm, but we found the harshness to be well within reason, especially given the trade-off is a ready, willing, and able road-devouring weapon. It can seriously dart around corners.

The power from the engine is never enough to overwhelm the front wheels, and even though there is a little bit of torque- and understeer, feedback is so good that it will never take you by surprise.

However, if you ever find yourself going too fast around a bend, the large perforated and self-ventilating brakes at the front end will stop the car on a dime. The brake pedal has a perfect biting point, slowing the car smoothly and gradually, and the discs are a huge (compared to the car) 284x22mm at the front and 240x11 at the rear.

Combine the suspension tweaks with the exceptional seats, a near perfect seating position (just a little high for our tastes), and a communicative chassis and steering, and have yourself a hugely rewarding, but not too intimidating, vehicle you can happily push to its edges.

Safety and servicing

The Abarth 595 has yet to be rated in either ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash tests but the car it is based on, the Fiat 500 has a five-star ANCAP rating.

It also comes standard with a host of safety features. These include electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear side curtain airbags, traction control, antilock brakes, fog-lights, and front driver and passenger airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners.

Verdict

There are certainly cheaper cars that are faster, better equipped, and more comfortable than the Abarth 595, but none of them look like, or sound like the little Italian beast.

The cracking motor, serious suspension upgrades and oh-so-naughty exhaust definitely make up for its shortcomings in the equipment and refinement departments, and the aggressive looks that turn heads everywhere is just the cherry on top of the proverbial cake.

The Abarth is a lot like a high-end designer handbag – it won't be the cheapest thing you buy and you don't just buy it because its functional and looks great, you buy one to be unique and to stand out from everyone else.

Rivals

Mini Hatch Cooper S, from $36,950, plus on-road costs
Mini's small-sized hatchback with a cracker 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor that is more fun that it should be. Point-to-point the Mini holds its own against its larger, more seasoned rivals, but a heavy price-tag keeps it from being accessible to the masses.

Ford Fiesta ST, from $25,990, plus on-road costs
Ford's cracker Fiesta ST is class-leading for a reason. Delivering on hugely engaging driving dynamics, thanks to a zippy little 1.6-litre turbocharged and a well-sorted chassis, all for a tiny price-tag.

Citroen DS3 DSport Cabrio, from $36,590, plus on-road costs
Style has to count for something and they don't come much more stylish than Citroen's DS3 Cabrio. Performance is sold, thanks to the 1.6-litre turbo donk found in the previous-gen Mini, and it combines drop-dead gorgeous looks to deliver a properly attention-grabbing car.

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