The Fiat 500 shucks off its cutesy image with its purposeful Abarth 595 variants. Jonathan Crouch reports on the latest versions.
Ten Second Review
There's something just so right about a beefy engine in a tiny car. The Abarth 595 models take that formula and really amp up the details. Whether you choose the standard 595, the Turismo or the F595 version, you get a 1.4-litre T-Jet turbo engine driving the front wheels in a lightweight body that spells fun with a huge F.
The Abarth name might be a bit of a mystery to some younger buyers who won't remember it being plastered over hot Fiats of the Seventies and early Eighties. In case you were wondering, the Abarth name has been owned by Fiat since 1971, but it was originally the racing team of Carlo Abarth, founded in Turin in 1949. A long and illustrious competition history lent the Scorpion badge quite some kudos and those of a certain age will go a little dewy eyed remembering cars like the Autobianchi A112 Abarth and the Fiat 131 Abarth.
In later years, Fiat used the badge sparingly, although it appeared on some fairly undistinguished vehicles like the Fiat Stilo. These days, Abarth is a separate division, housed in the old Mirafiori factory. It's responsible for these Abarth 595 models, probably the best cars to wear the badge for many a year.
In the great scheme of all things hot hatch, 165hp isn't a huge hill of beans. You can get hatches with more than double that power output, but as recent developments in sports car manufacture has shown, more power isn't always analogous with more fun. The next stage up lies with Abarth 695 variants which boast an uprated 180hp output.
Flog the 165hp version off the line and the 1.4-litre T-Jet turbocharged petrol engine will deliver 60mph to you in a mere 7.1 seconds en route to a top speed of 127mph. In the 180hp 695 derivative, those figures improve to 6.7s and 140mph. That should be quick enough to get your jollies, especially when peak torque is achieved at a mere 3,000rpm. Useable power in a small package? Brilliant.
The engine uses an over-boost function which modulates the amount of available turbo boost and is activated by a 'Scorpion' button on the steering wheel. Carried over from the original Abarth 500 model is Torque Transfer Control, which helps to improve the transfer of torque to the driven wheels. The car is fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard or, as we said, on some models you can choose the MTA paddle-shift gearbox. Useable power in a small package? Brilliant.
Design and Build
It's hard to go too far wrong with a donor vehicle as pretty as the Fiat 500, but making it look convincingly mad, bad and dangerous to know is an altogether tougher task. Here, the essential character of that car changes from something a little bit cutesy and twee to something that is decidedly malevolent in its intent, whether you opt for a hard top or the convertible body style.
The base 595 model is probably all you need, with a silhouette enhanced by 16-inch alloy wheels, a double chrome exhaust, front fog lamps and mirror caps in body colour. The internal mouldings and door handles are satin chromed. Plus inside, the grey dashboard fascia perfectly matches the black fabric of the seats, the leather of the cockpit, the steering wheel and gear knob. Finishing off the sporty equipment, there are stainless-steel pedal caps a racing touch which works well with the flat-bottom steering wheel with a focal point, designed for more effective sporty driving. The car comes with Koni rear suspension and Abarth's special, high-performing braking system which offers the most in safety thanks to its 284-mm front and 240-mm rear ventilated discs.
If you want more, the 'Turismo' version gets satin chrome mirror caps and light Granturismo 17-inch alloy wheels. Or there's the similarly priced 'F595', which features 17-inch wheels and a throatier Record Monza Sovrapposto exhaust system with four vertically stacked tail pipes.
On all 595 derivatives, the interior is snug, with the front two well supported by sports seats, though the rear chairs are best left for bags or very small kids. The boot is a paltry 185-litres and even when you fold the rear seats and load the car to the roof, there's not much room to play with. A 7-inch 'Uconnect' centre-dash touchscreen with 'Apple CarPlay' is standard.
Market and Model
Prices for the '595' models start at just under £21,500, which gets you the standard 165hp '595' variant. There's a £2,650 premium for the cabriolet bodystyle. The 165hp 'Turismo' and 'F595' versions start at just under £22,500, both variants available with the option of paying around £1,300 more for MTA auto transmission.
The 'Turismo' derivative features Alutex trim for the pedals, footrest and door kick-plates, bespoke floor mats, machined aluminium fuel and oil filler caps and dark tinted rear windows. There's also upgraded front and rear dampers, automatic climate control, leather upholstery and xenon headlights. Go for the Competizione and you also get some beautiful Sabelt seats in fabric upholstery, a Monza exhaust upgrade and anthracite finished alloys.
We'd want the 'F595' model's throatier Record Monza Sovrapposto exhaust system. Here, the exhaust valve is controlled through the scorpion button on the dashboard. This allows the driver to choose, with a simple push of a button, between the sounds of a gentleman driver and Abarth's more traditional, deeper roar.
If no kind of Abarth 595 is quite fast enough for you, you'll be looking at the even more focused 180hp 695 Abarth models, priced in the £25,000-£30,000 bracket, offered in standard, 'Turismo' and 'Competizione' forms.
Cost of Ownership
While it is possible to spend up to £25,000 on one of these, especially if you opt a cabrio or a version with a paddle shift gearchange, you can get all the fun for a saving of well below that figure if you opt for the entry level 595 model, the version that seems to represent the value in the range.
You should find that day to day running costs won't break the bank as its 1.4-litre T-Jet powerplant is one of those modern turbocharged engines that actually returns really good fuel economy if you're not constantly making the turbo do manic hamster wheel impressions. The quoted economy figure for a manual Abarth 595 Turismo is 42.2mpg on the combined cycle and even around town it'll manage over 30mpg. Emissions are pegged at between 156g/km and 152g/km.
Residual values will be good if previous hot versions of the Fiat 500 are anything to go by and reliability seems to be improving after teething troubles with early cars. Expect insurance in the Group 29D upwards region.
Abarth has hit this nail squarely on the head. If you want the most stylish and funky warm hatch on the market, this is unquestionably it. The Abarth 595 looks great and is quick enough to entertain yet not so overblown that it brings with it massive bills. Hotter versions of the MINI come close, but Abarth has really upped the standard and offered all of those cool design cues in an even more distilled form. Of course, there will be some who sniff at the relatively modest 165bhp power output and claim that this car could be faster, ignoring the fact that extra power would probably ruin its delightful handling balance.
Whether you choose the base version, the Turismo or the F595, hard top or soft top, manual or MTA paddle shift gearbox, it's hard not to find a place in your heart for a car this cheeky. You'll need to keep an eye on the price you end up paying when looking at option packs, but other than that, there's not much cause for complaint here.