For such a small car the Abarth 595 Competizione has many big things going for it. For starters, there’s that name, which, after a couple of Campari and sodas, becomes an awkward and slurred mouthful. Then there’s the sound.
This Abarth 595 comes with one of the most comically loud exhaust systems I’ve ever heard. Settling down to a flatulent burble at idle, when you prod the throttle those four tailpipes resonate like a big-rig truck thundering through a storm drain.
It’s completely ridiculous and totally at odds with a little yellow hatchback small enough to park in your living room. Some might find it a bit boy-racer for their liking (and sometimes it is) but on the whole I think it adds much to the car’s personality — which is also pretty sizeable.
Now usually the Fiat 500 silhouette is kind of effete: a pretty car for pretty people. In Competizione spec this is not the case. Thanks to aggressive aprons and contrasting wheels (17-inch) this range-topping Abarth 595 looks like a cheeky Italian bulldog with a badass underbite. It’s fun and quirky and devil-may-care. It attracts a serious amount of public attention: a bright yellow blip scorching across the radar.
When you first clap eyes on it, your heart immediately screams at you to get in and drive. Take it by the scruff of its terrier neck and fling it for all its worth down some vacant and winding asphalt.
That’s what I did and, well, I wasn’t all that impressed to be honest. Particularly because the squished cabin ergonomics do the act of spirited driving no favours. There is no reach adjustment on the steering wheel and the seats are as hard as hell and not very supportive. Puzzling, because Abarth bolted in fancy, carbon-fibre Sabelt “racing” chairs that sure look the business. But they fail abysmally at hugging your frame through tight corners: you sit on them, not in them.
It also doesn’t feel all that quick. Despite those decent claimed power and torque figures, I wasn’t blown away by the shove offered up by that 1.4-litre T-Jet motor. Five years ago, maybe, but definitely not in 2017.
So does it handle? Well, considering its Fiat 500 underpinnings, I’ve got to admit that the 595 Competizione is a pretty impressive steer. Trick Koni FSD dampers, lowered springs and sticky 205/40 tyres mean that grip and poise are steadfast. There’s not much roll and that relatively tall bodyshell is well controlled — even through the kinkiest of curves.
Abarth also threw in a proper mechanical limited-slip differential as part of the Competizione package; and it allows you to get back hard on the power with confidence once you’ve ripped past your apex point. Topped off with a set of powerful Brembo brakes, this is a focused bit of kit.
Unfortunately it comes at a cost. When you’re trundling through traffic, negotiating speed bumps and dodging pothole minefields, this highly strung and tightly sprung Italian street fighter becomes frustrating.
The ride will get on your nerves, while the cramped interior and silly seats will see you squirming in discomfort. Especially when you realise that for R117 550 less, you could have bought a Ford Fiesta ST — or for R67 450 less, a VW Polo GTI. Both offer similar (in some cases better) performance, more space and superior livability.
You see, the biggest thing about the Abarth 595 Competizione is its price tag — R443 450 is a ton of money for a car that, despite bursting with feel-good factor, is ultimately overshadowed by its more mainstream and far more polished rivals. After a week behind the wheel I couldn’t help but feel that this 595 just wasn’t worth it. And that’s a big problem. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: 2017 Abarth 595 Competizione
Engine: 1368cc four-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 132kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 3000rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
0-100km/h: 6.7-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 225km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 10.2l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R443 450