Abarth 595 review
There’s nothing shy or retiring about the way the Abarth 595 looks and drives, but other small hot hatches are roomier inside and easier to live with.
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The Abarth 595 is a sporty version of the compact Fiat 500 city car that comes with more powerful engines, upgraded suspension and a few eye-catching styling tweaks. It’s a more outrageous alternative to the likes of the rather restrained (and slower) VW Up and Suzuki Swift Sport and can be had in a seriously speedy Competizione guise with plenty of racy additions.
Unfortunately, although it might have the competition licked in a drag race, it can’t quite match them for practicality. Sure, the Abarth’s cabin comes littered with sporty touches – from the race-car-inspired rev-counter to the supportive sports seats and optional carbon-fibre trims – but head and leg room in the back are limited at best and the cramped footwells means it isn’t particularly comfortable to drive for long periods.
The Abarth 595’s boot size is similarly disappointing. There’s room for a weekly shop or a baby buggy – but only just – and both the Up GTI and Swift Sport have bigger load bays when you fold the back seats down.
Things don’t improve when you take a look at the 595’s equipment list. You get a 5.0-inch touchscreen as standard, but smartphone mirroring, sat nav and an upgraded stereo are all rather expensive options.
The Abarth 595 is as flamboyant and charismatic as you’d hope from a dinky Italian hot hatch, but ask it to carry some flat-pack furniture and it’ll be completely flummoxed
If you’re more interested in what the Abarth’s like to drive than how good the stereo sounds, however, you’re in luck. All versions come with a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but even the entry-level 145hp model accelerates faster than the VW and Suzuki. The range-topping 180hp Competizione car even gives the more powerful Ford Fiesta ST a serious run for its money.
On a tight, twisty road it can’t quite match the agility of the nimble Fiesta ST or featherweight Swift Sport, but the Abarth 595 is still seriously good fun – especially with the Competizione model’s sports suspension and optional limited-slip differential.
Fuel economy is on a par with the Fiesta ST, too, and the Abarth’s small size and good visibility mean it’s pretty easy to drive around town. The rather firm suspension means you’ll feel a pretty sudden thud from large bumps and potholes, but at least it’s easy to park and the standard five-speed manual gearbox is a doddle to use in heavy traffic.
Things are less relaxing on motorways, however, where the 595’s engine drones quite loudly and you’ll hear a fair bit of wind and tyre noise. You can’t get the Abarth 595 with cruise control, either, and no models come with automatic emergency braking to help prevent low-speed collisions around town.
Despite this, the Abarth 595 makes a great weekend toy or – if you’re happy to put up with its bumpy suspension and slightly spartan equipment list – a very sporty everyday hot hatch with bags of character.
There’s space for six-footers to get comfy in the Abarth’s front seats but space in the back is pretty cramped and the boot’s significantly smaller than in almost every alternative
Getting tall friends to sit in the Abarth’s claustrophobic back seats will take some serious bribery – or the threat of making them take the bus…
There’s just as much room in the front seats of the Abarth 595 as the Fiat 500, so you’ll have no trouble getting comfy if you’re six-feet tall. Legroom is reasonably good if you move the seat as far back as it’ll go, but there isn’t anywhere to rest your left foot beside the clutch pedal.
More of an issue is the very upright seating position – even in models with the optional Abarth Corsa sports seats. This is fine in a city car because it gives you a good view out, but in a sporty hot hatch it slightly dulls your sensation of speed. Thankfully, the seats themselves are nice and supportive which means you won’t slide about too much in tight corners.
Unfortunately, they don’t come with adjustable lumbar support to help reduce back ache on long drives and the lever to adjust the backrest angle is tucked so tightly down by the door that it’s quite difficult to pull.
Like the Up GTI, the Abarth 595 only comes with two rear seats but the car’s three-door-only design means your passengers have to climb in through a small gap behind the front seats. There isn’t as much headroom as you get in the VW either, and there’s significantly less space for adults to get comfy than in the Suzuki Swift Sport.
You get two pairs of Isofix points in the back, but they’re hidden behind the seat padding and the narrow opening makes it tricky to lift in a bulky child seat.
The Abarth’s cabin doesn’t come with many particularly practical storage bins to help you keep it looking nice and tidy. The glovebox is fairly small and the door bins will struggle to hold anything larger than a 500ml bottle. You do get a pair of cupholders in the centre console, but the lack of a folding rear armrest means there aren’t any cupholders in the back.
The 595’s 185-litre boot is significantly smaller than what you get in the 251-litre Up GTI and 265-litre Swift Sport. There’s just enough space for a large suitcase and some smaller soft bags, but fitting a baby buggy is a fairly tight squeeze.
There’s also a tall boot lip that makes carrying very heavy items rather difficult and you don’t get any netted cubbies or shopping hooks to secure smaller items.
The back seats fold down in a two-way (50:50) split as standard so you can carry some longer luggage and a passenger in the back at once. Even with both seats folded, the Abarth’s 550-litre load bay lags more than 400 litres behind the Up’s 959-litre capacity.
You can just about squeeze in a bike, but you’ll have to remove both its wheels before it’ll fit and the step behind the back seats means it’ isn’t particularly easy to slide heavy items right up behind the front seats.
Go for a range-topping Competizione model with the most powerful engine and the Abarth 595 is a seriously speedy hot hatch. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly comfortable one…
Driving the 595 on a motorway is like dragging a toddler around a garden centre – it makes it abundantly clear that it’d rather be somewhere else. A deserted B road, for instance…
The Abarth 595 comes with a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but you can choose between 145hp, 160hp, 165hp and 180hp versions in standard, Trofeo, Turismo and Competizione guise respectively. The most affordable models with 145hp will sprint from 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds which is 0.3 seconds faster than a Suzuki Swift Sport and a whole second faster than the Up GTI.
The 160hp and 165hp versions both cover the same 0-62mph sprint in 7.3 seconds while the most expensive 180hp models take just 6.7 seconds to reach 62mph from rest – that’s only 0.2 seconds shy of the more powerful 200hp Fiesta ST.
The Abarth matches the Ford when it comes to fuel economy – where the Fiesta ST returns a claimed 47.1mpg, Abarth claims all 595 models will return 47mpg. You’ll probably see a figure closer to 40mpg in normal driving conditions, however.
The Abarth 595 comes with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, but you can get the 145hp, 165hp and 180hp versions with a five-speed automatic. It’s not particularly smooth – especially at slow speeds – but does boost claimed fuel economy by around 2mpg across the range.
Around town, the 595’s small size and upright seating position makes it reasonably easy to drive. The steering isn’t too heavy so your arms won’t get tired each time you squeeze it into a tight parking space and the thin pillars between the doors and windscreen make it a doddle to spot traffic approaching at junctions, too.
Unfortunately, the 595’s firm suspension and relatively large alloy wheels (for a small car) highlight every pothole and poorly repaired road surface around town. You’ll hear quite a bit of wind and tyre noise on motorways, too. It’s certainly not as comfortable to drive for long periods as the slightly more mature Suzuki Swift Sport.
Stick to quiet country roads, however, and the 595 makes significantly more sense. The raspy, throaty gurgle from its exhaust makes it feel like you’re travelling much faster than the speedo suggests.
The less powerful Trofeo and Turismo cars still feel pretty nippy, and you don’t notice the Abarth’s body leaning much in tight turns – even without the Competizione’s fancy upgraded suspension. It doesn’t feel quite as nimble as the likes of the Up GTI or the more powerful Fiesta ST, but it’ll happily put a giant grin on your face at every opportunity.
Unfortunately, the Fiat 500 (on which the 595 is based) scored a mediocre three-star safety rating from Euro NCAP when it was tested in 2017, and the Abarth doesn’t come with as much safety kit as other small hot hatches. You can’t get automatic emergency braking, for example, and rear parking sensors are a pricey option on entry-level cars.
The Abarth 595 interior gets plenty of eye-catching visual upgrades over the standard Fiat 500, but smartphone mirroring and an improved stereo cost extra on most cars
Abarth 595 colours
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