Abarth 595 Competizione review – The little hatch with a big voice
Is the tiny Italian hatch's character any more than just skin deep?
What is it?
Loud, mostly. Despite the bight yellow paintwork, black stripes and bulbous bumpers, it the noise that’s most obvious about the new Abarth 595 Competizione.
The new, facelifted 595 Competizione has been updated with the current Fiat 500’s coloured centre rear lights and some new, more sculpted bumpers. But the 595 still retains the 500’s cute looks and diminutive proportions, which are a huge contrast to the big, aggressive noise it makes.
It’s in the details where the 595 discovers its identity, though. Everything within the 595 has been finished exquisitely. The parcel shelf is covered in leather with ‘Competizione’ embroidered onto it, there’s an abundance of carbon fibre (including carbon backed Sabelt seats), there are scorpion badges everywhere, Abarth is written large in the front grill and there’s a machined aluminium plug to replace the black plastic aerial.
This new Competizione is equipped with a mechanical, limited-slip differential from the 695 Biposto. That signals just how focused the 595 Competizione is, and when you start to explore the Abarth’s spec sheet it’s equally as impressive: Koni FSD dampers and four piston Brembo brakes with 305mm drilled and vented discs.
Ok, so it doesn’t have the dog ‘box with exposed mechanical linkage like the Biposto, but the 595 is significantly cheaper at just £20,290 compared to the fully specced Biposto at £51,000.
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
The 595 has the turbocharged, 1.4-litre, four cylinder engine found in every Abarth. In the 595 Competizione it puts out 178bhp which is good for a 0-62mph time of 6.7sec.
You can have the 595 with a sequential, automatically operated manual gearbox. However, the car we tested had a conventional, H-pattern manual. The position of the gear lever is excellent; it’s up high and close to the steering wheel. But the action isn’t as delicate or as snickety as the linkage in the Honda Civic Type R, which has a similarly high-set lever. Although it isn’t perfect, it’s still satisfying to bang through the gears as the exuberant exhaust cracks on up-shifts.
The engine seems delightfully unhinged too, exhibiting all the traits that made old-school turbos so exciting. It’s easily bogged down in the lower reaches of its RPM, but wind it up and it lurches forwards on waves of boost. The Abarth isn’t fast enough for it to feel like you’re having to hanging on, desperately trying to tame a wild beast, but it’s still thrilling.
The boisterous noise adds to the excitement, creating some real theatre when you rev the little Abarth to the red line. It’s also quite vocal as it decends through the revs too, popping and banging like a rally car with anti lag. This sort of behavior – and the crackles when you change gear – can feel too juvenile in many cars, but it seems as correct on the fun-filled Abarth as inappropriate as it does when on a Jaguar or Mercedes.
What’s it like to drive?
The way the Abarth drives is as full of contradictions, just as the sweet aesthetic is in contrast with the assertive noise. The 595 is stiff, and is seems, initially, set-up for real driving enthusiasts; few people would tolerate such a harsh ride.
The seats exaggerate the uncompromising ride, the cushioning is minimal and despite their sporty looks, you feel like you’re sitting on them rather than in them. It’s also nigh-on impossible to adjust the rake of the seat with door closed, the gap to put your hand through to reach the rotary adjuster is tiny.
A harsh ride and rigid seats is hardly a deal breaker, especially here at evo. Often the result of a hard chassis is oodles of adjustability, absorbing interaction and lashings of fun. Sadly the Abarth lures you in on a false pretense, it just isn’t as involving as the suspension leads you to believe it might be.
The 595 is eager to turn in, resists understeer well, there’s minimal roll and the body is extremely well controlled. So although it’s competent, and surprisingly fast for such a small car, not being able to exploit the chassis and modify your line with a lift of the throttle or some well calculated late braking, robs you of the involvement that makes the best hot hatches so great.
The traction control cannot be turned off, which would certainly restrict the Abarth if it had a natural tendency to want to oversteer. But it doesn’t, you never feel the Abarth start to rotate let alone the electronic safety net catching a slide.
The bold looks, silly noises and committed suspension do bestow the Competizione with bags of character, and even though it’s a capable performance car it feels like an eccentric choice. However, it seems a huge shame the 595 Competizione isn’t gifted with a chassis that allows it to drive with the same sort of extravagance.
Price and rivals
At £20,290 the Abarth is placed directly in the firing line of some exceptionally talented hot hatches. The Ford Fiesta ST200 and Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport are roughly the same sort of money as the Competizione.
Neither the Peugeot or Ford are finished to the same high-level as the Abarth, but they both have about 20bhp more and are bigger, more practical cars. The three cars all have the stiff, uncompromised chassis we expect of modern hot-hatches. But the Peugeot and the Ford rotate and dance around to your every command; they are some of the most engaging and entertaining cars on sale.