At the end of March I was handed the keys to an Abarth 595 Competizione. I was pretty excited, because I’ve always had a soft spot for these fizzy little Italian hot hatches. They look great and sound wicked, so you can imagine my disappointment when I immediately found myself disliking a number of aspects of the car.
In my ‘first impressions’ post I talked about the pedal feel, driving position and interior quality being pretty poor, but I was suitably impressed with its performance once you found a fun road. So, after a month of getting to know the fettled Fiat, has my opinion changed?
Well, yes and no. But let’s start with the positive. I mentioned that the Abarth was good fun once you get it onto a back road, and one month later I’ve learned it’s actually way more fun than I’d even given it credit for. The steering’s a little vague and elastic, but you quickly learn you can throw the car around and it just sticks.
The hard suspension seems to settle a bit once you’re pushing harder, though it does cause a clenching of the buttocks when the road gets really rough - my local supermarket entry has a hairpin on which the tarmac gave up a long time ago, and it was always great fun in the Abarth. It was like driving on ice, drifting and understeering in equal, hilarious measure, despite speeds still being fairly low.
For such a small car, it actually has impressive performance. With 177bhp and 184lb ft of torque it has enough about it to get you in trouble should you be in the mood. Mash the throttle and the wheels will enthusiastically grope at the tarmac once the revs build adequately. While its on paper performance doesn’t sound electrifying, on the road it really feels like you’re covering ground impressively quickly.
I still detest the pedals, though. Fortunately the power figure is perfectly judged, so you can get away without any finesse, simply pushing the throttle to the firewall at every opportunity. It’s only when things calm down and you need to hold a gentle throttle, such as when cruising on the motorway, that it becomes unbearable.
In the facelifted 595, which will be with us soon, I can only hope Abarth spends a bit of time tweaking the actual pedal mechanism rather than simply swapping out the pedals for shiny branded versions.
The driving position itself became a bit more acceptable as I got used to it, but I couldn’t have lived with the car for much longer as a daily driver. I either had to sit close enough that my arms were comfortable on the wheel and accept that my legs and feet would ache, or stretch out my legs to a comfortable position until I had to lean forward just to reach the top of the wheel. Driving long distances was a painful chore, and it could all be fixed with a steering wheel that adjusts for reach.
My overall conclusion is that if you’re a little more vertically challenged than I am, you can probably find a comfortable driving position and be very happy with your Abarth 595. The pedal feel is my biggest disappointment, though; I don’t think I’ve ever driven something with such annoying throttle response. It’s something Abarth is inheriting from the Fiat 500, but since it went to so much trouble to overhaul the rest of the car, it’d be nice if the smaller details got some attention, too.
I’ve been contemplating this car compared to the king of this segment, the Ford Fiesta ST. For me, it’s the ST all day long. It has far more composure, more kit for less cash, and it takes itself a little more seriously. And I think that’s the key here. If, like me, you like things to be done properly, there will be too many minor bug-bears in the Abarth, but if you’re a bit more carefree and like cars with a sense of humour, I reckon you’d love the 595. At a shade under £20,000, I don’t think it’s particularly great value for money, but it really is a little firecracker, and sometimes character’s all you need.