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
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 speed 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 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 means 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.