Car reviews - Abarth - 595 - Competizione
Design, performance, handling, road holding, brakes, instrumentation, steering wheel, multimedia, character, rawness
Room for improvement
Uncomfortable driving position, hard ride, specification anomalies, constant tyre roar, high prices
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5 Feb 2018
ONLY Fiat offers anything beyond the vanilla in the micro car class in Australia, in the beautifully proportioned form of the 500-based Abarth 595.
This is baby-gone-bonkers stuff, with a beefed-up, slammed-down aero-enhanced body bulging with a high-blow 1.4-litre turbo, unique chassis mods and brilliant brakes.
We’re talking unhinged hot hatch – and one really not for the fainthearted at that. It’s also flawed in a few fundamental ways.
Price and equipment
An open-minded, thirst for adventure, sense of humour and full-on individuality streak are necessary to truly appreciate what the Abarth 595 offers. And not walk away in frustration.
Revamped and relaunched late in 2017 as part of the Fiat 500 Series IV facelift that came on stream the year before, the pint-sized firecracker has received a number of updates and upgrades designed to keep the decade-old sub-B segment super-duper mini from feeling well past it.
A new nosecone boasts better aero properties and improved cooling efficiency for what Abarth says “results in stable engine power performance”.
The steering wheel has been (slightly) repositioned in an attempt to quell ergonomic issues and exterior lighting is now more effective, with “new polyelliptical headlights offering sporty driving for both day and night”. We see.
Prices have tumbled by as much as $8000 too, with the 595 now kicking off from a reasonable $26,990 plus on-roads. Cheap for an Abarth nowadays, but pretty stiff for a sub-B-segment hatch – particularly as cruise control and a reversing camera aren’t even available ex-factory. Like we said, keep your mind open.
Still, a 5.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, DAB+ digital radio, digital instrument display and satellite navigation really lift the interior, as do the striking alloys and racy matte trim finishes dotted around the car.
For an additional $5000 the Competizione also scores adjustable Koni dampers, four-pot front Brembo brakes with red callipers, a BMC panel air filter, stronger turbocharger, Record Monza exhaust, carbon-fibre/Alcantara steering wheel with additional remote controls, 17-inch alloy wheels and lots of grey highlights.
All for $31,990 before on-road costs. Or effectively double the price of a new Fiat 500 Pop at $14K driveaway in 2013.
Now over a decade old, the 312-series 500 has proven to be one of the most successful post-modern designs inside and out. But while Fiat’s 2016 facelift has certainly improved the cabin, fundamental, deal-breaking flaws remain.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first though.
A dinky four-seater sub-B supermini the Abarth may be, but the basic interior architecture is still very appealing, with the hooded binnacle and switchgear symmetry warm reminders of the ‘50s Nuova Cinquecento. Italy’s immortal La Dolce Vita icon.
Special mention goes to the electronic instrumentation, which in Normal mode presents as elegant and crisply-clear white-on-black, or a racy-red digital dial display in Sport. Both offer a wide range of trip and vehicle information at the driver’s fingertips.
Also engaging is the three-spoke Abarth steering wheel, simple yet effective multimedia/Bluetooth interface, ventilation system and storage facilities.
Since that last facelift a large glovebox has found its way on to all 500s, along with more useful cupholders. That’s not amore that’s progress.
On the other hand, the driving position remains this car’s biggest impediment ergonomically, with a steering wheel that’s too far away and pedals that are way too close.
Now, in other cars, the combination of steering-wheel reach and seat-height adjustment could overcome this, but neither inexplicably are available on the 595, so you find yourself hunched forward with your knees too high and your arms stretched out – and this is coming from your writer with an Italian mother! It was simply impossible for your tester to find any comfort in the Abarth.
An oversized turbo boost gauge plonked on top of the dash is also in the way.
And annoyingly prominent.
And then there are the aforementioned specification anomalies, such as the lack of cruise control and reversing camera – is the latter a reflection of the 500’s 15-year-old Fiat Panda-based architecture? We’d also at least expect a push-button start. And don’t expect any form of quietude or refinement inside.
This is one loud little runabout.
Yet, and this is a recurring theme in the 595, in other areas such as equipment levels, the Abarth also somehow goes beyond the sum of its parts. A Tom-Tom integrated sat-nav is standard. So is climate control, Alcantara sheathing the binnacle and wheel, and those delightfully ensconcing (and optional at, ahem, $2000) Sabelt-branded sports seats that do so much to really up the sporty vibe.
Gorgeous alloy pedals and gear knob add a real sense of occasion too. Just be aware that to use the recliner knob you’ll need to have the door open.
Speaking of which, access to the rear is fairly straight forward since the latter slide and tilt forward via an entertainingly alarming ‘PULL’ lever it also features previous-position memory which is handy. Too bad the actual aperture to scamper through is compromised by the bucket shape of those racy Sabelts.
As with all 500s, the rear is surprisingly accommodating for such a tiny city car, thanks to a snug but not achy pair of cushions and seatbacks. The narrow tombstone buckets allow for ample forward vision so it’s not too claustrophobic out back either. Lower centre console twin cupholders aside, there is zero storage, though.
Finally, there is the little luggage area, which is commendably deep as there is no spare wheel at all (to get you going again after a flat is a tyre repair kit and a prayer). Of course, the rear backrests split/fold so you can actually use the 595 as a shopping trolley, and the hatch door opens nice and low for easier loading and unloading.
But, geez, priorities here please! The Abarth is all about raw and rorty fun.
Is there a more hedonistic baby hot hatch out there?
Engine and transmission
What separates the Abarth from its Fiat fratello more than anything else is its glorious heart – a 132kW/250Nm version of the long-lived 1.4-litre four-pot turbo.
Speaking of the sting in the scorpion’s tail! As ravenous for revs as its exhaust is deliciously raucous, the 595’s way of motion is a speed freak’s dream, launching instantly off the line and – thanks to a lovely five-speed manual shifter – relentlessly eager through the ratios. We’re talking easy, uncomplicated performance here where all you need to do is point and squirt.
And that’s in Normal mode. Select Sport and the exhaust’s thunderous baritone steps up an octave or ten, responses become noticeably more fervent (on hot dry roads there’s torque-steer in third!) and before you know it, that digital speedo is showing break-licence figures. 0-100km/h is 6.7 seconds, with a terrifically muscular midrange to boot. This thing is incongruously quick for something so petite.
You can cane the 595 all day. It flattens hills, zips through impossibly small gaps and reels in the scenery without breaking a sweat. Top speed is 225km/h.
Driven like we had stolen it, our fuel consumption average hovered in the nines.
Car tragics will love it but will your passengers curse the highish 2500rpm at just 100km/h in top? And then there’s the everlasting tyre roar stereophonically piping through…Ride and handling
Wearing high-quality Michelin Pilot Sport 3 205/40ZR17 84W rubber, our Competizione’s handling is as addictive as that powerplant is strong, with a neutral, flat and unflappable cornering attitude. It feels bred to be belted through tight mountain turns.
So composed is the chassis that we don’t mind the not-overly sharp steering, which is perfectly weighted in Normal but too heavy in Sport.
But the opposite applies for the ride, which benefits from the standard adjustable dampers, but not in the way you might think.
In Sport the suspension is hard, bouncing over bumps with tiresome regularity yet in Normal somehow the ride feels even more brutal, since it seems to lose the small margin of suppleness and tiny rebound that somehow feels present in the racier mode. Strange.
Either way your spine may be in spasm and your family and friends will hate riding in this car forever after just a few minutes. Please try before you buy, especially if the roads travelled on are less than baby-bottom smooth.
And that’s before all the road and tyre noise intrusion. This is a loud car.
Only the newest bitumen provides any form of aural respite.
Safety and servicing
While the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has given the Fiat 500 a five-star rating, there is none available for the Abarth 595.
Fiat offers a three-year/150,000km warranty.
Intervals are at every 12 months or 15,000km.
The fastest 595 for now is a one-of-a-kind new-car experience, and an especially rare one for Australians as we’re usually denied these kind of crazy special editions.
Nothing this tiny is as rapid, raw, animated, uncompromising or desirable. As such, it’s difficult to place an object value judgement, even with the aforementioned spec anomalies. The Competizione’s uniqueness is truly one of its most compelling strengths.
But the Abarth’s weaknesses are legion, starting with the terrible driving position and ending quite literally with your pummelled posterior. Stay away if such things matter. There are better and cheaper (but bigger and more pedestrian) alternatives out there. If you can even call a Suzuki Swift Sport pedestrian.
We’re glad the Italian scorpion exists and there are a small few who won’t care about the foibles and bask in the glory of its character. For that we salute Fiat for building such a firecracker. And if you’re the devil-may-care type still wanting one after reading all this, we salute you too.
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