Fiat Abarth 595

Feisty Italian gains comfort and value

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

ABARTH versions of the Fiat 500 are, you can easily imagine, the Jack Russells of the motoring world.

Small and cute, yet at the same time tough, they’re pint-sized bundles of energy and performance constantly pulling at the lead to mount your mate’s leg.

Now there’s a new one, and things aren’t quite so froth-atthe- mouth manic. It’s simply called the Abarth 595 and on the surface it’s hard to tell what’s different. There’s the same aggressive Abarth bodykit, the same turbocharged 1.4-litre fourcylinder engine and the same retro-funky interior.

The biggest change is to the price. Starting at $27,500 for the five-speed manual version (the flawed ‘Dualogic’ semi-auto adds $2000), this is the cheapest Abarth ever offered in Australia, undercutting the previous entry point by a hefty $6500.

The 595’s performance is also designed to be more approachable.

The turbo 1.4 has been detuned slightly to produce 103kW and 206Nm (15kW/24Nm less than the $34K Abarth Turismo). The sports suspension, which comprises Koni “frequency-selective” dampers up front, has also been softened, while the 595 rolls on 16-inch wheels, not 17s like the rest of the Abarth range.

The 595’s promise is the best of both worlds: tiny hot-hatch fun that’s easier and more comfortable to use every day, at a more affordable price. And that’s what you get, mostly.

The ride treads a brilliant line between sporty tautness and everyday suppleness, the handling is sharp, chuckable and engaging, and the turbo four is rorty and eager, despite its diminutivesounding outputs. Is it as sharp as a Fiesta ST or as polished as a Polo GTI? No, but in isolation this lessfrenetic 595 is a hoot.

What’s lacking is the crackle and pop from the exhaust you get in other Abarths, and the seating position is too high for a performance car. At least the cloth bucket seats are supportive, though (like the entire cabin) they might be a little narrow for some drivers. And then there are the rear pews, which are big enough only for small children or friends you plan on slowly torturing.

Interior design is typical 500 funky, but is beginning to show its age. And the Abarth versions are based on pre-facelift versions of the 500, so there’s no centre touchscreen, no reversing camera or cruise control, and the infotainment system is outdated.

The plastics on the dash and doors aren’t up to standard, either.

Yet somehow these faults aren’t enough to dull the 595’s sheen.

Its blend of personality, pointy performance, greater compliance and improved value make it a hugely likeable hot hatch. he

Tough timing

Just days after our first local taste of the Abarth 595, Fiat HQ in Turin stole some of its thunder by unveiling a new, updated and even racier version. Design tweaks include a more aggressive front end with larger air intakes and a more prominent rear diffuser. The 1.4 turbo produces 5kW more and inside there’s carbonfibre trim and Fiat’s latest Uconnect infotainment system. Timing wise, Fiat expects the updated 595 to arrive mid-2017.

PLUS & MINUS

Interior plastics; no reversing camera; cabin ergonomics; noise Fun and funky; accessible price; improved ble comfort; dynamics Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Fiat Abarth 595 1368cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 103kW @ 5500rpm 206Nm @ 2000rpm 5-speed manual 1042kg 7.9sec (claimed) 6.0L/100km $27,500 Now