► We drive Abarth's new hotshot 500 cabrio
► Full review of 595C Competizione
► Rabid flaws aplenty - but plenty of thrills too
You have to be realistic about these things. There is simply no rational excuse for praising this car, the convertible version of the Abarth 595 Competizione.
At £18,990 before options – let alone £20,530 as tested – it is wince-inducingly expensive for what is, still, a city car. The wheelbase is really too short, the body and seating position too tall and upright, to form the basis of a genuinely capable performance machine. And while the optional two-tone paint finishes might look wonderfully evocative in the sales brochure, the rollback roof means you’ll be able to hear the laughter of passers-by with even greater clarity. And there will be people laughing. Pointing, too.
But what do they know? Being rational is over-rated.
Sounds like you’ve got some persuading to do…
Okay. Let’s start by re-evaluating the price-to-pleasure ratio. It seems unlikely that anyone who actually forks out the cash for this car is going to feel like they’ve gotten poor value for money. The 595C Competizione might be based on a Fiat 500 that starts at just £10,420, but the bits and bobs that comprise the visual transformation are persuasively top quality.
The chunky Abarth and 595 badges on the flanks remind you of this every time you go to open the door, an impression immediately reinforced by the frankly awesome pair of Sabelt racing seats in the front. If you want these in leather and alcantara rather than fabric, that’ll be an extra £1050 – a drop in the monthly payment ocean, so indulge. Elsewhere inside you’ll find the Competizione’s standard-fit aluminium pedals and footrest, delightfully tactile globular aluminium gearknob and an extra gauge pod sprouting from the dashboard.
Switch into Sport mode and this gives you a boost read-out; elsewhere Sport reconfigures the digital instrument cluster – very mini Alfa 4C – adds weight to the steering and enhances the throttle response. A separate button operates the Torque Transfer Control, which is designed to calm down the inevitable torque-steer. Personally, we prefer the full hooligan, so usually left this switched off.
Hmm. Ok, but how does the Abarth 595C Competizione drive?
Imagine yourself strapped into a rocket-propelled dining room chair, and you’re halfway there. The driving position is very upright and very high, and steering wheel adjustment is limited to rake – but the gearlever isn’t far away, the seats are comfortable and clamp you tight: make do and make tracks. In this version the 1.4-litre turbo under the bonnet produces 158bhp, and it does so in such an addictively riotous manner, you’ll have lost your conviction to keep a straight face within about 200 yards.
That short wheelbase means it tends to climb bumps rather than absorb them, but the Competizione’s standard Koni Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) tech make this more bearable than it used to be. Certainly, gone is the sense that prolonged high-speed shenanigans are going to end with you bounced right off of the road. You’ll need strong teeth and a finely tuned lower back to deal with this every day, but it could be done if you’re committed.
Reason for that commitment will be reaffirmed with every passing roundabout. The Abarth bursts forward with an enthusiasm that makes every gap in the traffic look like an opportunity, as if the wickedly vocal ‘Record Monza’ exhaust system is in fact a quadruple rocket thruster array (the upshift pop during the warm-up cycle adding joy to every cold morning). And though the front end is keen to tussle, upsetting the balance between grip and slide is ultimately your easily modulated decision. This is not a razor-guided implement, but you can still crack a nut with a hammer.
The Abarth 595C Competizione is one of those cars that makes little logical sense, but nevertheless brightens the automotive landscape – the kind of car that inspires a nod of respect whenever you pass someone enamoured enough to have put down the funds. Better yet, there’s a new version coming and it now produces 178bhp…