Car reviews - Abarth - 595 - range
Go-kart handling, engine performance and exhaust note of Competizione, cool styling flourishes, relative exclusivity
Room for improvement
Dated and cheap interior, ride firmness of Competizione, storage options, no steering reach adjustment, no cruise control
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1 Nov 2017
A YEAR and a half after launching the refreshed 595 micro hot hatch range, Abarth has further refined the line-up by dropping the mid-spec Turismo variant and slashing prices by up to $8000.
Now consisting of two variants – the entry-level 595 and hotter Competizione – the range offers buyers simplified choice with two clear grades of performance, offered in manual/automatic and hatch/convertible flavours.
With sales of the 595 and Fiat 500 sibling falling in 2017, Abarth faces an uphill battle to improve the 595’s clout in the hot hatch segment, which faces competition from the likes of the Volkswagen Polo GTI, Renault Clio RS, Peugeot 208 GTi and Ford Fiesta ST.
Are the latest price cuts and updates enough to reinvigorate Abarth’s pocket rocket?
The Abarth range is now clearly defined into two distinct levels of potency – the 107kW 595, or the feistier 132kW Competizione, which also gives the suspension, steering, gearbox, pedals and exhaust a sportier feel.
On a drive route through the Yarra Valley outside Melbourne, we got a chance to test both versions which proved to be considerably different.
Getting into the 595 Competizione for the first time, it is immediately apparent that it is a vehicle purpose built for exciting driving.
The Competizione is kitted out with a number of goodies over the 595 that give it an extra edge in potency, including front and rear adaptive dampers with Koni shock absorbers, four-piston front Brembo brakes with front and rear callipers painted red, throaty Monza exhaust, carbon-fibre/Alcantara steering wheel, BMC panel air filter and of course the more potent engine tune.
Our test vehicle also came equipped with a number of optional extras including a solid red paint scheme, 17-inch matte black rims, yellow brake callipers, Beats audio system and $2000 leather/Alcantara Sabelt front seats, which pushed the $31,990 sticker price out to $36,090.
Abarth has designed the 595 Competizione to be a no-frills excitement machine, and the little pocket rocket certainly has a talent for delivering thrills.
Its best work is done on twisty mountain passes, where its fantastic agility has the chance to shine.
The feather weight (1045kg tare weight), small dimensions and sporty suspension set-up combine to make it a handling whizz, feeling planted and centred with minimal bodyroll, even when cornering at speed.
At no point does the Competizione feel like coming unstuck, and the rorty Monza exhaust adds an extra level of aural excitement to the experience.
Steering response is direct and precise, and gear changes are snappy and precise with a pliant clutch and short gear shifter for the five-speed manual gearbox.
The 132kW/250Nm output is plentiful power for a car of its size, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine enjoys being pushed hard, with pops and crackles on gear changes courtesy of the exhaust system.
As much fun as the Competizione is to drive for a day through exciting and challenging roads, living with it on a day-to-day basis is a more trying prospect.
The suspension set-up, while perfect for high-speed cornering, is extremely stiff and jarring on imperfect roads, making for a tiring driving experience.
Going over a level crossing feels more like a series of full-size speed bumps, and even the adaptive suspension does little to assuage the bone-rattling ride.
Adding to the discomfort are the $2000 Sabalt seats, which hug the driver comfortably but offer little in the way of padding.
The Competizione is best suited as a secondary weekend car, because using it for a daily driver would likely become tiresome.
For those wanting added performance without the severity of the Competizione, Abarth also offers the entry-level 595, which takes the same formula but tones down the racing edge.
Sporting a 107/kW/206Nm version of the same 1.4-litre mill, the drop in output is immediately noticeable, with the rapid acceleration of the Competizione not quite felt on the 595.
Also leading to a less savage feel is the loss of the Monza performance exhaust, with the engine note barely noticeable without.
Thankfully, the suspension is far more forgiving on the 595, with bumps and road imperfections soaked up much more mercifully.
The more liveable suspension set-up does come at a cost, however, as handling balance and road grip can’t quite live up to the Competizione.
While having a softer suspension set-up is beneficial on the 595, Abarth has also softened a number of other characteristics that dectract from the driving experience.
Accelerator and brake feedback is doughier in the 595, as is the shift gaiter, which loses the hotter version’s short shifter and results in less decisive gear changes.
Steering also feels less direct with lighter feedback and turning feel.
While exterior styling and equipment are quite different in the two variants, interior layout is quite similar, with the only main difference being that the Competizione swaps out dials on the 595’s A/C cluster for buttons.
The Fiat 500 first launched to the Australian market in 2008, and it would seem that since then, updating its interior hasn't been Fiat’s number one priority.
Despite receiving a new 5.0-inch touchscreen in the latest update, the new unit is still outdated compared to rivals, with a small screen size, and laggy and pixelated operation.
The 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster screen is a welcome addition, and changes its readouts depending on whether sport mode is selected or not.
Interior fit and finish also needs improvement, with hard cabin plastics and old switchgear abounding. Just some light cosmetic changes would go a long way towards sharpening up the interior and justifying the $30,000-plus pricetag that the higher-specced variants command.
Despite is diminutive proportions, cabin room was ample for front-seat occupants, with adequate head, leg and shoulder room. The same can’t be said for the rear seats, which would struggle to fit anyone in middle school or older.
Larger drivers would greatly benefit from a reach-adjustable steering wheel, as the 595 only allows for tilt adjustment.
A greater amount of storage options would also be beneficial, as nooks for things like phones and wallets are not readily available.
While on the topic of storage, the 595 comes with a 35-litre fuel tank, which after a day of driving around Melbourne’s hinterland was almost exhausted.
With the 595, Abarth has created a car that is undeniably huge fun to drive, with great dynamics, spirited performance and a real connection with the driver.
It is a flawed machine, however, with poor interior specification, an outdated infotainment system, and ride comfort that makes it a tough prospect for a daily driver.
Of the two, the Competizione best represents the Abarth ethos with a pure and smile-inducing driving experience reminiscent of an old-school hot hatch.
The 595 is a better everyday prospect with greater ride comfort and livability, but loses the savageness that the Competizione provides.
And for Abarth fans, isn’t that the point?
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