It’s the sportier version of the sporty version Fiat 500.
Day one This is the new amped up 500. It steps in above the regular Abarth with the same power as the Essesse version. Except it’s not that new. They announced it ages ago but I wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, here it is. You can spec it to look quite groovy in dark paint with dark grey wheels. A 500 is never going to seem menacing but it can create a reasonable impression that it would give you a nasty nip if you got too close. Unfortunately, this press demonstrator has the optional two tone paint in grey over red and looks like a baroque kettle. To drive, it seems a little bit snorty and hyper without being annoying. So it feels tougher than it looks. Which is good.
Day two I own a 500 Twinair. The 595 does not feel much like my car. The seat is harder and a bit lower. The engine has more power and more bass. The controls are heavier. The ride is firmer. Most of these things are welcome. The firmer ride could be a worry. What the 500 does not need is a firmer ride. The first 500 Abarth was just about acceptable. But it went awry if you ordered the Essesse kit which upped the power and dropped the suspension. By which I mean, it felt like they had taken the suspension and put it in the bin leaving the wheels bolted directly to the body. It was idiotic. The 595 is not. It’s firm, but there’s a polish to the damping that stops it crashing and banging into the bumps. Turns out it has tricksy Koni shocks on it. A passenger wouldn’t say, ‘Good heavens, how comfortable. Why, is this the new baby Rolls-Royce?’ but you could live with it. Also, if you’re giving lifts to people who talk like that, your friends are quite strange.
Day three The 595 has a dilemma disguised as a sport button. It makes the throttle response sharper, which is nice. Once you’ve tried it, the cars reactions feels dull without it. It also makes the steering heavier in a strange way that feels like there’s a strong magnet interfering with the rack. This is not so good. You learn to live with it. The extra accelerator zing is worth it.
Day four A right proper cross-country thrash like a helmswright. The roads are damp and, in places, quite bumpy. You would expect that in such conditions the Abarth would get all panicky and start giving silly answers. Actually, it’s better than that. The turbocharged engine is grunty, the ride isn’t as bouncy as you’d expect, the brakes are strong and, unlike most Fiat Group cars, don’t trigger the sodding hazards as soon as you use them with firmness. The reason, I suspect, is because the suspension is more sorted which means the wheels stay in contact with the ground which in turn means the ABS doesn’t cut in at the merest hint of a bump. The steering still feels rather strange and fake but it’s not annoying, mainly because everything else is such a giggle. A proper wheelsmith would probably note that the Abarth gets a bit ragged and loses its cool if you really push it but at anything less than maximum Queef it’s hyperactive and hilarious.
Day five No driving the Abarth today. Other things to do, some of them based around going to the pub. Given how excitable this car is, I feel I should tie it to a lamppost to stop it running off on its own.
Day six I used to work with a bloke who sometimes changed gear needlessly and at random. You’d be cruising along in a straight line and he’d think, Oh God, I haven’t changed gear for a few minutes, I’d better do something. And he’d bang it down into fourth for no reason. Then almost immediately change back up into fifth. The Abarth 595 makes you feel like that man. The gearshift isn’t the slickest or shortest of shift but it’s really nice all the same and the rest of the car is so busy you feel left out if you’re just sitting there doing the steering. So sometimes you might change gear for the sake of it. And then smile.
Goodbye As the Abarth goes away there is a bit of an elephant in the room. It’s only a little car, but it costs almost 19 grand. Which is a lot. If you wanted a great hot hatch you could have a Fiesta ST for less or a Suzuki Swift Sport for a lot less. But hang on. People buy 500s because of the way they look. And they’re buying a small car because they live in town, not because they’re short of money. I think Fiat has realised this and if people are willing to give them large amounts of cash, they’re happy to find ways to take it. Plus, the 595 might not be technically brilliant but it is rather amusing. In many ways it reminds me of my dog. Silly, hyperactive, sometimes a bit annoying but also highly amusing and extremely loveable. I liked it a lot.
The car talked about here is the Abarth 595 Competizione. It has a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine making 158bhp and a five-speed manual gearbox. Fiat says it can go from 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds and on to 130mph. It costs £18,960.