WHAT IS IT?
An updated version of Abarth’s most potent model on offer in Australia – the 595 Competizione. What’s Abarth? In other global regions, the scorpion badge represents a more widespread halo line-up above the Fiat range, but as just one Fiat model is on sale locally – the 500 – Abarth functions more as a standalone performance brand.
The Abarth 595 uses the cheeky Fiat 500 as its basis but features a pepped-up turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol for a significant performance advantage as well as uprated brakes and suspension, while a mild facelift and tech revision accompany the update.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
In September, the Competizione flagship was treated to a significant price hack which chopped $8000 from the bottom line, but some previously standard sporty bits were relegated to the options list to make the cost cutting exercise possible.
Without diving in to the extras and adding back some of our favourite features, including carbonfibre Sabelt sports seats, does the diminutive 595 retain its surprising abilities and separation to the more unassuming Fiat 500 on which it’s based?
THE WHEELS VERDICT
In reality, virtually everything about the 595 Competizione should make it a terrible car. The driving position is bizarre, that dramatically reduced price is still on the high side for a compact hatch and on first acquaintance it seems that the only practical application for it is transport to the chiropractor.
In isolation, just one of the 595’s flaws would be a black mark against any other little three door, but there’s something about the ‘roid-pumped Fiat’s sheer chutzpah and the fact that it looks, sounds and drives like nothing else in its class (or quite a few other classes for that matter), that it seems to make a strange sort of sense.
Living with the 595 Competizione day to day would require a hearty dose of tolerance and flexibility, but for those perfect days and far-off pristine roads, there’s not much else that can put a bigger smile on your face.
PLUS: Unmistakable looks; serious performance; brilliant exhaust note
MINUS: Crippling ride; tiny fuel tank; weird driving position
THE WHEELS REVIEW
LET’S CUT straight to the chase. Even with a recent $8000 price chop, there is still only one car in the compact hatchback segment that costs more than the Abarth 595 Competizione. So you would expect to feel quality and value at virtually every touch-point of the little Italian right? Hop aboard though and you are met with a cabin not far removed from the $17,990 entry-level Fiat 500.
Some hard plastics, easily the tiniest touchscreen in the business and only one-way steering adjustment forces a seating position not unlike a Land Rover Defender. At least the utterly fantastic Sabelt carbonfibre racing seats redeem the situation to a degree. Ah wait, no. They’re a $2000 option. While we’re paying out on the 595 we should also mention practicality.
Technically, there are four seats but the full capacity is only possible when the front row is occupied by Rhesus monkeys, a 185-litre boot is enough for perhaps a swimming costume and the only cabin storage is sufficient for a phone but you shouldn’t attempt that because it will fall out at the first corner and get lost under the seat. Then there is the 35-litre fuel tank which is fine when feeding the smallest 900cc Fiat engine but when you ask it to supply a 1.4-turbo four-pot with 132kW you’ll be visiting the pumps more more often than in an HSV GTS-R. But wait – 132kW in a car that weighs 1045kg and has the same wheelbase as a Lancia Stratos? To take the comparison further, it has just 8kW fewer than the iconic Italian rally star. That buys it all kinds of credit.
Click the notchy five-speed manual gearbox into first, give the 595 everything and it’s like you’ve stamped on its tail. With a bantam kerb weight and bags of front-drive traction, acceleration is lively in all lower gears and accompanied with a manic exhaust note from the standard Monza sport system.
The Competizione gets adaptive suspension on both axles and allows you to select from a very hard, vision-blurring setting or even firmer. But you can forgive it a few slipped discs for its manner on smoother twisty roads. Body-roll is virtually non-existent, handling is joyously playful and while there is plenty of torque-steer, the front end is easily managed and involving.
The brakes won’t let you down either thanks to four-piston front calipers courtesy of Brembo, which translate to a firm pedal feel and tireless performance. Yes the 595 Competizione is a bit pricey and yes it has some typically quirky Italian flaws you might not forgive in another brand, but the result is a hugely likeable, almost human quality.
Whether you are piloting the Abarth through your favourite roads or simply admiring its unique looks, the 595 Competizione will never fail to make you laugh out loud in delight and disbelief.
Model: Abarth 595 Competizione
Engine: 1368cc inline four, dohc, 16v turbo
Max Power: 132kW @ rpm
Max Torque: 250Nm @ 3000 rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
Fuel economy: 6.0L/100km (claimed)
On sale: Now