Is the Abarth 595 Competizione the wildest small car that you can buy?
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Abarth 595 Competizione
Wants to be a supercar when it grows up
Dualogic hates slow shifts
- Little ergonomic sense in cabin
Abarth has its roots in gorgeous 1950s racing cars developed from the Cisitaliabrand, for drivers like Tazio Nuvolari. Later, in the 1970s and 80s, it was a division of Fiat (which has owned it since 1971) that created and ran iconic Fiat and Lancia rally cars.
But ask Everyperson and the brand is probably most famous for barking-mad versions of the minuscule Fiat 500, both old and new.
Which brings us to this, the fourth-generation Abarth 595. It ticks the heritage boxes of being (a) a Fiat 500 and (b) barking mad.
It’s tradition for an Abarth to have twice the power of a standard 500. This Competizione model passes muster easily: 132kW from its 1.4-litre turbo powerplant, compared with 51kW for a 1.2-litre 500 shopping trolley.
In fact, the 595 Competizione has the same power as the very collectible Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari from 2011, making its $39,990 base price look like an absolute bargain compared with the Tributo’s $79,990 sticker at the time.
The Competizione also comes with Koni shock absorbers, four-piston front Brembo brakes and dual-mode Monza exhaust.
One quirk of this 595 for Kiwi buyers is that it’s the facelifted version of the 500 from 2016 — which wasn’t launched in New Zealand at the time.
A moot point perhaps, when there’s an all-new 500 just out in Europe that’s EV-only. But Fiat has said it will continue with this older petrol-powered generation for as long as there is demand.
That’s relevant because there could never be an EV equivalent to this Abarth 595 Competitzione. It’s all about raw mechanical sensation and noise.
The idle note on startup has to be heard to be believed. Truly the mouse that roars.
On the move, the little Abarth is raspy, irritable and generally hard work.
But there’s also a surreal sense of super-entertainment that never goes away.
The exhaust note is manic. So too is the five-speed single-clutch automated gearbox in the $42,490 Dualogic model.
It’s a two-pedal transmission, but it’s a stretch to call it “automatic”. You really need to drive it in manual mode with the paddles, and feather the throttle between changes like you would in a conventional manual; otherwise urban journeys include a large component of lurching and waiting.
But I don’t think you’d want the three-pedal manual instead. In Sport mode with full-throttle gearchanges, the Dualogic Competizione slams between gears with a brute force that feels like the car might break; there’s a soundtrack of minor explosions that goes with it.
Naturally, you also get those rev-matched downshifts that make you seem like the virtuoso you’d like to think you are.
It’s not ridiculously quick at 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds, but don’t worry about that. It still has the ability to thrill. Occasionally terrify.
Suspension? There is some. Not much.
It’s tied down tight and with such a short wheelbase, the 595 will have you skipping for joy once you start to really work the throttle and steering. It would be a hoot on a circuit; not fast, but smooth curves would bring that mad powertrain and hunkered-down suspension alive.
The list of idiosyncratic and/or annoying details is long. The turning circle is absurdly large for a city car. The ignition key barrel seems to be placed where you can’t quite see it from the driver’s seat, so you have to open the door and hang out of the car to get things started.
The Dualogic transmission has push-button controls, but the main one to switch between automatic and manual operation doesn’t actually put the car in gear. There’s yet another button for that, marked “1”. Of course.
The Abarth 595 Competizione is a toy. You play for a while, get sick of it and go and do something grown-up. Then you’re back for another go.
Everybody in the Driven office who travelled in this car got out giggling like a toddler.
Toys don’t have to make sense; they just have to be fun.