The Fiat 500 has manned up: the Abarth Competizione is the most potent, race-ready version of the 500 since the hard-riding Essesse model of 2009. It’s 1964 namesake – the two-cylinder Abarth 595 – made 32bhp and boasted Solex carburettors. But against the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST and Renaultsport Clio, it needs a few more cylinders to be a threat in 2014.
So what’s the 595 been given to live up to the name?
While the base 500 has 69bhp, the Competizione has 158bhp, and 170lb ft of torque from its 1.4-litre turbocharged ‘T-Jet’ four-cylinder. That means it matches the Essesse for power, making this the most potent 500 this side of the ballistic Abarth 695 Biposto, and to manage the extra shove there’s firmer Koni suspension, 17in alloys and thicker anti-roll bars. Oh, and a set of superb Brembo stoppers up front.
To announce to the world that you’ve spent up on mechanicals, the 595 also comes with a neat-looking two-tone paintwork option (£950, and sadly not the car pictured). Our test car has a beautiful finish with a light grey top layered over crimson, with a white waistband separating the colours. Very Italian….
Has the cabin been give the Abarth treatment?
A pair of brilliant sport seats are comfy and hold you in tightly, but like the 500 itself, they’re probably a bit narrow for some drivers. They’re mounted too high as well, and the steering wheel is much too big – it needs to be an inch smaller for both space and driving comfort. The cabin is neat, but showing its age, with no centre display let alone a touchscreen, and the plastic quality on the dash, doors and almost everywhere else is not up to standard: you can tell this is based on a much cheaper model.
What’s it like to drive?
This car is a little smart alec on wheels. The short wheelbase and firm suspension mean its never going to float like a pillow over bumps, but it’s a much more polished ride than in the back-breaking Essesse. The electric steering has good response, and quick throttle reflexes when you have the Abarth high in the rev range make it a cracker of a drive around town.
Its 7.4sec 0-62mph time makes it pretty handy. It’ll destroy unsuspecting victims for gaps in traffic and merges, as they expect you to have a chuwawa-stuffed handbag on the passenger seat. Instead, you’ve got a potent, responsive and fun machine that has superb grip, an excellent gearshift for the five-speed manual through that beautiful metal gear lever and those superb, tightly-packed aluminium pedals. A tough, bassy soundtrack that burbles on the overrun shakes the exhaust and rumbles deliciously at red lights backs the touchy-feely fun.
In world of fatter, porkier models badged 500, this car is the 500 at its performance best. The Abarth is hugely entertaining and will put a grin on your face even if you’re merely poking around town. It’s surprisingly good on the motorway, too, but overall it’s dated and expensive. A Fiesta ST would make an instant meal of the Abarth, but the 595 does have charm and character in spades. This car is completely irrational, and is beaten hands down in not just a few, but dozens of areas against its rivals. Yet it will still win people over.
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