Words by Matt de Prez @mattdeprez
Photography by Rowan Cullen @rowancullen
The iconic Fiat 500 was first penned over 50 years ago. It was Fiat’s answer to the Mini and was a fun little car that oozed character. The reborn 500 was co-developed alongside the new Ford KA. At launch the lacklustre KA was no match for the fashionable 500, which was more sought after amongst middle class teenage girls than the latest Michael Kors bag.
The 500 was cute, easy to drive and cheap. But it always had one Achilles heel – It was dismal to drive. Abarth engineers have fettled the 500 extensively and the resulting machine packs a 1.4 litre turbocharged engine with power outputs of 140, 160 or 180BHP. Alongside the extra poke and bulging body panels comes upgraded suspension courtesy of Koni and brakes by Brembo. So is the Abarth 595 a bonafide hot-hatch?
It certainly doesn’t disappoint when the road gets twisty. There’s plenty of grip from the Pirelli PZero tyres than adorn the 17″ alloy wheels and despite having electric power steering, direction changes are crisp. The 595 is nothing short of fun to drive, the traction control system(TTC) keeps understeer at bay by mimicking the effects of an LSD. You can’t switch the system off completely but it isn’t too intrusive and I expect the chassis has little more to give beyond the system’s remit.
The £19,840 Competizione benefits from the full 180BHP output, Sabelt bucket seats, Copaf suspension and Brembo 4-pot brakes. The engine note is enhanced by a ‘monza’ exhaust system and BMC air intake. Flat-out it can hit 60MPH in 6.7 seconds and reach a maximum 140MPH. The engine is desperate to please with big doses of boost and emits a snarling growl along with the odd pop from the tailpipes.
Standard models start from £14,600 or £18,040 for the 160BHP turismo. Convertibles demand a £2000 premium. There are a myriad of options allowing endless customisation from colour and interior trim to wheels, bodystyling and performance enhancements. Fuel economy is reasonable, all models average 47.1mpg and emit 139g/km of co2. Opting for the self-shifting sequential gearbox will see a moderate improvement to 48.7mpg. All 595’s cost £130 per year to tax.
The Abarth is priced to rival the likes of Ford’s excellent Fiesta ST and the Mini Cooper S. More powerful 595’s certainly deliver in thrills but it can’t compete as an all-rounder. The suspension may be adept at hitting apex’s but it’s far too hard for potholes and speed bumps of the city streets.
Under the skin, the Fiat 500 underpinnings are obvious; ergonomics are not what you expect from a £20k car. The driving position is high and uncomfortable and the sports seats, although supportive, mean there is even less space in the back. Disappointingly, the interior – which suits the budget 500 – is no match for the Mini and has received little more than a splash of aluminium and leather to enhance it.
The Abarth 595 is great to look at, epic fun when you drive it on the limit and won’t bankrupt you for the privilege. But, it isn’t a patch on Fiesta ST. Even though the Ford has the fashion appeal of a bag from Primark. #whitegirlproblems
Our review of the Fiesta ST will be live later this week so keep your eyes peeled.