First impressions: understated isn't the word to describe the Abarth - even the sideskirts mimic the lines of the standard car, and the 16in wheels (an inch bigger than standard) appear puny now all family hatch rivals offer 17s.
It's more distinctive inside, with white dials and aluminium-effect trim. The driving position feels good, with multi-adjustable seats and steering wheel, though the seats seem a bit soft and side support is lacking. The pedal box is cramped, too.
All that's forgiven when you move away with the windows down. The engine sounds great, low-rev burble turning into Audi quattro-like wail at high revs. But it's not quick: 170bhp in a 1265kg car is barely enough, and 0 to 60mph in 8.5 seconds is mediocre.
And what of the gearbox? The shift is unremarkable but slick enough, a sharp, responsive throttle aiding smooth changes. Unlike the jolting Selespeed, the manual is more fluid, less frustrating. The novelty of Selespeed-blipped downshifts is more than offset by compromised upshifts. With the manual, your skill and intuition do a better job.
This Abarth is more of a cruiser than a racy hot hatch, despite the promise of the scorpion badge and the new gearbox. The manual 'box offers an improvement, but it's not enough - it highlights the lack of true sportiness in the rest of the car. It's harsh to say it isn't worthy of the Abarth name, yet if it were a Ford, it would struggle to warrant the ST tag, never mind RS.