TELL ME ABOUT THIS CAR
A decade after it first rolled into showrooms, the Fiat 500 is still soldiering on. Facelifted in 2016 and now freshly updated for 2018, the humble 500 has gone from being a comparatively expensive city car to something more affordable and accessible.
Performance variants have followed a similar trajectory, and while previous flagships like the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari were sold wearing eye-watering pricetags, the current hi-po member of the 500 range, the Abarth 595 Competizione, is far more attainable.
Priced from $31,990, it has the most potent version of Fiat-Chrysler’s 1.4-litre Multijet turbo inline four-cylinder along with plenty of hard-core suspension and brake hardware to back it up. Not only that, but it exudes an overtly sporty persona that is especially endearing. But is it charming enough to compensate for its advanced years?
- Frisky engine and entertaining power delivery. Hit the Sport button on the dashboard and the 595’s turbo crams more boost into the engine, unlocking the full 132kW/250Nm output and really making the little Abarth zip. How fast? Abarth claims 6.7 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, which makes the 595 Competizione 1.1 seconds faster than the ‘regular’ 595.
- Loads of cool design elements, like the cheeky boost gauge sprouting from the dashtop, the oversized metal shift knob, and its aggressive bodykit and bulldog stance give the 595 Competizione a unique flavour that’s hard to find these days. While rivals like the Volkswagon Polo are restrained and conservative, the Competizione runs in the opposite direction. Extroverts will love it as a result, as it wears its heart very much on its sleeve.
- Grippy handling, aided by ultra-firm Koni dampers, 17-inch alloys and Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, means the 595 Competizione is easy to hustle along a twisty road – as long as it’s a smooth one, otherwise the taut suspension causes it to skip over bumps and corrugations and induces power-wasting wheelspin.
- Aural appeal. How can such a small engine generate so many decibels? Abarth’s engineers found a way, and while some might find the 595 Competizione’s exhaust note to be obnoxiously loud, we like the fact that it’s got plenty of sonic presence.
- Excellent seats. Our car was equipped with the optional sports seats, made by motorsport supplier Sabelt, which feature body-hugging bolsters and a carbon-fibre backrest. They’re the perfect pews for a sporty hatchback.
- Big brakes for such a tiny tyke gift the 595 Competizione with sizable stopping power. With bigger, cross-drilled rotors at front and rear compared to the normal Abarth 595 and four-piston Brembo calipers up front, the Competizione hauls itself up very smartly.
- Torque steer. It’s an almost unavoidable side-effect of having MacPherson strut front suspension and a torquey engine taking power to the front wheels exclusively. Pin the accelerator from a standing start and prepare to fight the wheel as it attempts to wriggle left and right.
- Rollerskate ride quality can wear thin on a long drive. It’s something that’s compounded by the lack of padding in the Sabelt seats, so you feel every bump, twig and catseye that passes beneath the Abarth’s wheels. Don’t like it? Maybe step down to the less stiffly-suspended non-Competizione model.
- It’s got a poor turning circle. Is this really a city car? With a such a massive turning circle, negotiating tight city backstreets isn’t that easy. It’s a genuine surprise considering the 595’s diminutive size and short wheelbase.
- No cruise control. Cars without cruise control are becoming a fairly rare sight in this day and age, especially in cars at the 595 Competizione’s $30K+ price bracket. Not seeing a cruise control button on the steering wheel really rams home the point that this is a car designed for cities, not highways.
- Antiquated infotainment system. The 5-inch colour touchscreen may be a new addition for 2018, but it’s behind the times in terms of its user interface and lack of smartphone mirroring capability. Digital radio is standard as are seven bassy speakers, which is a definite plus, however the screen isn’t just tiny by modern standards – it’s also really hard to view when exposed to strong sunlight.
- Very high seating position simply won’t work for taller drivers. In fact, the 595’s narrow body and the very form-fitting Sabelt seats means bigger drivers will need to be the tolerant type – or simply look elsewhere.
- The 595’s cheap origins can’t be disguised, with hard scratchy plastics on most surfaces and flimsy switchgear. Even so, it feels quite solidly-built despite the low-rent material quality.
- Not the most engaging chassis for a hot hatch, even though it grips well. The 595’s steering isn’t especially alert around dead centre as far as performance hatches go, with a rack ratio that necessitates a fair degree of lock to hook the front wheels into a corner. It clings to the road well, but unlike some compact hot hatches (like the Fiesta ST and Clio RS), the 595’s rear end feels quite inert and resistant to things like lift-off oversteer – which is a surprise, given the firm suspension, general liveliness of the rest of the car and the performance promise of the Competizione badge.