I know I complain about driving positions a lot, but it’s something that can completely ruin a car. I jumped into the 595 and was immediately struck by how high you’re perched. The Sabelt seats are also fairly hard, but they’re comfortable enough, however the thigh bolsters grip a little too tightly - and I’m a slim lad, I feel sorry for those who, ahem, enjoy pies - which just adds to the feeling that you’re sitting on the seat rather than in the seat.
The steering wheel also doesn’t adjust for reach so you have to sit fairly close, meaning the pedals are almost directly beneath your knees; cruising at a consistent speed with little throttle travel requires you to hold your foot unnaturally high. You’re by no means relaxed, and I was actually left with a sore foot from straining to hold it up after a two-hour motorway journey. A first world problem, I know, but a problem nonetheless.
The best solution I can come up with is to move my seat back far enough that I can relax my legs and feet a little better, and resort to shuffling my hands around the wheel since reaching the top requires stretching forward.
The Fiat 500 is a small car, and therefore the interior is spatially challenged. It’ll come as no surprise, then, that it’s quite tricky to get well-bolstered bucket seats in; perhaps this is why the cushion is so narrow.
The ramifications of shoving the buckets in are two-fold. First of all, the seat is slightly off centre, making the pedals offset - this is mostly annoying for the foot rest, as the thigh bolsters get in the way and you have to contort your left foot to rest away from the clutch. The second problem is that the side bolsters are pretty much touching the door, so you can’t get your hand to the seat adjuster without either reaching back over the top of the seat, or opening the door!
Feel free to give me grief for this, but I actually think the Fiat 500 is a good looking car. It’s not the sort of thing I’d buy, but it absolutely nails the cutesy retro look that its target audience laps up. Abarth has tweaked its styling just enough to infuse a little of the badass nature a company with a rich motorsport history and a scorpion for a logo deserves, and it gets a surprising number of looks from people who know what it is.
The guy in the slammed Suzuki Swift Sport who tried to bait me into a race last night and the biker who gave me an Obama-esque ‘not bad’ face at a petrol station over the weekend show that I’m not alone in my respect for the fiery little Italian’s looks. Shame ours is in black as I prefer it in white, but it’s still a head-turner.
It might only be packing a turbocharged four-pot, but this little Abarth makes a great noise. It’s surprisingly loud, with a fun ripple and parp from the four Record Monza tailpipes as you accelerate that’s totally apt for its fun-loving character. Add some comical farts on shifting and perhaps a little overrun crackle and it’d be perfect.
Speaking of the engine, it’s a surprisingly sprightly little unit - just so long as you keep it on boost. It’s a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which makes 177bhp and 184lb ft of torque. Couple that to the 6.7-second 0-62mph time and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 595 is nothing more than an amusing warm hatch. You’d be wrong.
The car feels far more urgent than the numbers suggest, with the low profile rubber that clings to the lovely multi-spoke alloy wheels scrabbling for grip in the upper reaches of first and second. This surprising pace and the rorty soundtrack help distract from some of the more infuriating issues you’ll encounter.
To get back to a negative, the main issue that I’m struggling to get around in the early stages of this relationship is the pedal feel. I’ve never driven a car with such a vague throttle pedal, and it makes progress difficult. On the motorway there’s such little feedback that it’s really tough to hold your speed at a consistent level. I’ll probably get used to it, but the first few inches of pedal travel seemingly do nothing, and there’s no real feedback through your foot to say when you’ve reached the point in throttle travel when stuff does start to happen.
Prod the ‘Sport’ button, and the steering weights up (though it just feels like someone’s tightened an elastic band, so not hugely feelsome), the boost gauge becomes excited, the central instrument cluster reconfigures for sportiness, and the speed readout is italicised. Most noticeably, throttle response is sharpened; this is both a blessing and a curse. With 177bhp, when you’re pushing on, you’re mostly relying on rather enthusiastic throttle inputs, so the vagueness of the initial press isn’t so noticeable.
What is noticeable once the throttle sharpens up is that when you’re just cruising about, the lack of feel results in a very jolty ride, since it’s difficult to give smooth inputs on the throttle - once you push through the initial nothingness the car suddenly jumps into action. I literally only use Sport mode when I’m driving fast, which is a bit of a shame, as the better responsiveness could make squirts between roundabouts more fun.
An Abarth 595 Competizione can cost you nearly double that of an entry level Fiat 500. For the most part, it’s easy to see where the money has gone - the engine, exhaust, Brembo brakes, alloy wheels and new suspension, for example. It’s nice to see that Abarth has focused on performance upgrades, but an interior spruce up wouldn’t go amiss. It kinda works in the standard 500, as large swathes of the dash are covered in brightly coloured plastic, which ups the funkiness.
In the Abarth, that’s replaced with scratchy black plastic, which looks more understated and sophisticated, but you’re no longer distracted from noticing the boring, old climate buttons and the fact that it has a CD player. This will be addressed fairly soon, as a touchscreen infotainment system now resides in the facelifted Fiat 500’s dash, but the dated climate buttons remain.
It’s not going to win any awards for its action, but the five-speed manual is good enough to not get in the way of making progress. At first you’ll lament the fact it feels light and wiggles about, but when you start to ask a lot of it you’ll find the gears slot home with little fuss.
My first impression after getting in the car was that the driving position was very much like that of the van I’d just rented to move house with. The seating position is high, the windscreen is flat ahead of you, and it has an incredibly tall roof. I soon discovered that it not only looks like a van, it also has impressive load-lugging abilities. Sure, an admittedly small van, but I was amazed by how easily I managed to fit this chest of drawers in the back.
The boot on its own can just about carry a week’s shop for two people, and the rear passenger foot space is minimal at best, but put the seats down and it combines to give decent practicality.
Your feelings about the suspension setup will fall into two camps. First of all you’ll be shocked by how stiffly sprung it is, as you bang and crash your way along a rough road. At low speeds, you bounce about having your teeth shaken loose, but once you’re driving like a bit of a hooligan on a decent road you’ll suddenly find it’s brilliantly judged. The suspension seems to find a better groove at speed, and helps give the Abarth 595 a decent level of grip in corners. Once you learn to switch off to the seating position, it becomes a riot to chuck down a back road.
So you’ve heard my first impressions, but what questions do you have that I haven’t answered? It could be anything from ‘can it do a burnout?’ to ‘how many CT staff members will fit in its boot?’
Let us know in the comments, and we’ll do our best to answer our favourites!