It’s a perfect formula for modern-day mobility. Take a small car that’s big on heritage and spirit, inject a sizeable amount of power into its compact frame and you have yourself a hot hatch – the only way to conquer the evil machinations of gridlocks. The Abarth 500, for me, has always been more equal than the rest of the hot hatches in Europe. Yes, it doesn’t come with insane levels of power, but as the Fiat 500’s louche alter ego, it’s automatically put on a plinth other hot hatches can’t reach.
A direct descendant of the car that mobilised a war ravaged Italy, the new 500 was a lovely little Fiat, with short overhangs and a petite, voluptuous frame. Practical and pretty, it really was a masterful neo-retro homage to the original. Then Fiat decided to give it a little sting, just like they did with the original, resulting in the glorious little Abarth 500.
What we have here is the Abarth 595 Competizione – a tad more feisty than the standard Abarth. The car feature’s Fiat’s 1.4 litre T-Jet petrol engine, which has now been turbocharged to give 30 bhp more than the standard Abarth’s 130. It’s essentially a faster version of an already fast car, a formula that is yet to find a single critic since the birth of the automobile. Given the fact that it weighs a smidge over a ton, those 23 kgms of torque make it a cracker of a car.
It’s a welcome sight, with Fiat having draped it with bumpers and skirts that are sporty enough to distinguish it from a regular 500, but not excessively so. Inside, things aren’t particularly exotic, thanks to shoddy plastics, but you do get a nice, meaty, flat-bottomed steering, a colourfully digital gauge cluster, a dash-mounted boost gauge and two well-crafted bucket seats. The cockpit envelops you like a capsule, offering great visibility – as far as practical performance goes, this car seems to ticking the right boxes.
It’s properly quick, then?
It does have a good power-to-weight ratio, so it exercises those horses a lot better, but it isn’t exactly out to conquer freeways. Straight line speed does seem impressive while the car remains in the middle of its powerband, but it does tend to wane towards the end after about 6000 rpm. What makes it stand out is how it feels around the bends and narrow back roads, thanks to its taut chassis and short wheelbase. It’s got wide, 205/40 Pirelli tyres primed for grip. Even though it sits relatively tall, it feels tremendously planted and tactile around corners, and its dimensions make it very manageable if you want to get the tyres squealing a bit.
Alas, it isn’t. Fiat decided that potential Abarth customers wouldn’t want to bother with the inconvenience of a manual gearbox and that sordid chunk of metal sticking out of the footwell that accompanies it. Hence, they decided to give it a five speed automated manual transmission. Even in ‘Sport’ mode, the unit struggles to shift accurately, bringing about tormenting levels of transmission lag, even while using the paddle shifters. The suspension setup suits a race track, so the ride can be quite harsh, but it’s a mere foible compared to the laggy transmission.
Should you buy one?
In a lot of ways, the Abarth 595 is a peerless car. Yes, there’s always the Mini Cooper, but the Abarth feels like the car the Cooper should have been. However, the Rs 29.8 lakh price (Ex-Delhi) makes the Abarth a tricky proposition. It’s a lot of fun if driven right and looks sensational while being relatively easy to live with – so in that sense, it hits the hot hatch trifecta. What would make it a far more compelling purchase is if Fiat dispenses with the AMT unit and gives us a manual version instead (thereby bringing the price down as well.