Abarth 595C Competitzione on test: this cabriolet rocks
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Abarth 595C Competitzione
- Angry and addictive exhaust note
- Great with the top down
- Seems fast with the weird transmission
- Gearbox takes some getting used to
- Very noisy
- Harsh ride
Breaking Bad was an incredible show; one of the best of modern times. But in all its dark drama, there was still room for Hank’s “They’re minerals, Maree!” gag when his spouse would mistake his mineral collection for a bunch of rocks.
During my time with the Abarth 595, I felt like Hank Schrader at times. Not in the police-officer-with-a-moral-dilemma way, but more in the pained enthusiast way. Because the Abarth 595 Competizione is an enthusiast’s car through and through.
Almost everyone who saw it mentioned what a cool “Fiat” it was. I found myself explaining the whole Abarth brand far more than I should have, but I did it every time, because I liked the car so much. Like Hank’s minerals, not everyone understands what the 595 is at first glance. But getting behind it is easy once they realise how special it really is.
Abarth has been selling its modern version of the Fiat 500 for quite some time now, but it hasn’t changed much since 2008, save a facelift in 2016.
In New Zealand, the 595 Competizione is now the only model sold by Abarth, and it’s available as a hatch or the cabriolet (595C) tested here, with two transmission options. It gets a lot of special kit, including 17-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, a quad-exit exhaust… and that’s just the outside.
On the inside it has carbon fibre detailing on the steering wheel, sports seats, and a rather large boost gauge mounted alongside the gauge cluster. With the roof up, it feels like quite a cramped space inside, but once the soft top is lowered, it loses that cramped feeling.
On paper, Abarth’s 595C Competizione isn’t overly impressive by today’s hot hatch standards, with a 1.4-litre turbo engine pumping out 132kW/250Nm. In standard form, power is sent to the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission, but the one we tested was equipped with the (rather curious) Dualogic automatic that we’ll get to later. In terms of performance, this is good for a 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds, which doesn’t really stack up to something like a Golf GTI; but you have a lot of fun getting there.
That’s where the beauty of this Italian pocket rocket lies. Abarth didn’t set out to build the world’s fastest hot hatch, but it’s obvious that fun was a top priority. As the 595 is rip-snorting its way to 100km/h, the dual-mode Monza exhaust provides an addictive soundtrack that urges you to bury the accelerator even deeper into the floor.
The five-speed Dualogic automated single-clutch transmission feels like it’s fighting the engine at times, but after learning to drive around the manual-like shifts, it adds to the theatrics of the whole experience.
As far as tech goes, this Abarth is no-frills. It’s the first new car I’ve driven in a long time to not feature any form of cruise control. It also goes without any of the modern automated safety systems such as Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) or Lane Keep Assist (LKA). Anti-lock braking and stability are still standard of course.
The infotainment system does have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, but the screen is not the easiest to navigate, especially considering that it’s placed so far from the driver. The sound system is nothing impressive - but who really needs a radio when you’ve got an exhaust note like this?
I took the Abarth for a night away, north of Auckland. Once off State Highway One, the roof was rolled down and the 595C became one of the best weekending cars I have ever experienced. It lapped up the coastal drive between Mangawhai and Waipu Cove with vigour, the exhaust note rebounding everywhere. The ride from the suspension in Sport mode can feel harsh on a NZ backroad, but again, it adds to the theatrics. The Abarth puts smiles on passing motorists’ faces; it just feels like a happy car.
If I were to buy one, I’d go for the manual option, as I think it would be more enjoyable. The robotised manual in this car is probably the most pure way to drive an Abarth, but it takes patience to learn, and isn’t overly rewarding in a spirited drive.
ABARTH 595C COMPETIZIONE
ENGINE: 1.4-litre turbo
GEARBOX: Five-speed automated single-clutch transmission, FWD