Regular readers will recall my review three years ago of the Fiat 500 and the award-winning image we took of it at the Pavilion in Brighton. I certainly recall the shock felt by many readers that l absolutely loved the car - the shock coming from the fact that it is not a tarmac ripping supercar.
Now we have the devil child that is spawned from the standard 500 married to the Abarth tuning house. That bastard child is the 595 Competitione and in my fantasy seven car garage, there is definitely a place for this monster box of metal.
It is basically a Fiat 500 on steroids and whoever came up with the idea deserves a firm pat on the back. It is a total hoot to drive and the look on that Audi R8 driver’s face at traffic lights in Guildford, when this pint sized junior tore away from the lights and left him standing, will stay with me for years to come. I could almost hear him choking with shock.
The Abarth company was created in 1949 in Bologna, Italy, by Carlo Abarth who dedicated his life to creating word-class racing cars. In 1933, he developed a sidecar that beat the Orient Express on the 1300k journey from Vienna to Ostend and his cars won the Mille Miglia, Formula 2, ten world records, 133 international records and over 10,000 track victories over the years. Now Abarth is effectively a tuning house such as BMW’s M Series and Mercedes AMG. The difference here is that they bolt their magic onto small cars to make them my kind of monsters. The Scorpion badge seen on all Abarth models is based on Carlo’s astrological sign of Scorpio.
As a city car, it is almost unbeatable. It will fit into almost any parking spot, the steering is light, the gearbox smooth and a breeze to fly through, and if you need to get going, there is almost nothing on the road in this class that will catch you. The superb Abarth seats have huge wraparound bolsters that keep you tight in place although if you are carrying a tad of extra ‘holiday weight’, you might find them a tight squeeze. Getting into the back two seats is a challenge but no more than any standard 500 and the boot is good enough.
This car is all about the driving and it does not disappoint - in all conditions. Whilst in my care, l attended a Cabinet briefing from MP Greg Clark, Minister for Industry and Energy with my dear friend Bruce Hayter of Rix & Kay, and it was the evening when all hell broke loose when over six inches of snow fell in an hour - and l was in the wilds of Uckfield!! Having departed Uckfield at 9pm on a journey to Brighton that normally takes 40 minutes, l found myself in hell with snow everywhere, abandoned cars littering the roads and accidents every ten minutes. Having made it along the totally deserted and somewhat surreal M27, l girded my loins to try to get over the downs on the Falmer Road. Having passed at least ten cars that failed to make it, l avoided the three car crash at the Downs Hotel and made it into Rottingdean, where there was total gridlock. Cars everywhere, buses stuck and abandoned cars blocking every road. This little thing, being light, low geared and on brand new tyres (and a world-class driver at the wheel, of course) enabled me to drive on the pavement though the snow to get past the first bus and then up the middle of the traffic in the deepest snow to get past the next three. When hundreds of people walked home or slept in their cars, this little darling got me home - OK, the 40 minute journey took 4.5 hours but l got home.
It does have competition in the form of the Mini Cooper S but l would venture that this is more fun. The Abarth gets a 1.4-litre engine with a turbo and a new front end to make way for all the cooling systems, 16-inch alloys, new springs and dampers, Koni shocks all round and large Bemba brakes. Inside, you get the great bucket seats, a large and very silly turbo boost gauge that sits on the dash and looks like an afterthought of a 16-year old twit with an account at Halfords, and there is a Sport button on the dash that adds a bit of weight to the steering. The rest is petty much standard Fiat 500 with a/c, Bluetooth, electric front windows and a 5-inch touchscreen. Outside, you get the brilliant Record Monza exhaust that pops and crackles, and carbon fibre bits and pieces.
Getting 177bhp out of a 1.4-litre engine is an achievement although the Cooper S manages 189bhp but the character and peppiness of the Fiat outshines the Mini. It might take 7.6 seconds to get to 60, but l can assure you it feels ten times faster than that and the brilliant brakes will stop it on a sixpence.
The ride is firm and there is no way to hide that and little you can do about it. Many will find it uncomfortable but then go buy the standard 500 if that’s your issue as this car is about going fast and for that, you have to suffer some inconveniences in such a small car.
There are cheaper hot hatches; there are faster hot hatches; but ladies and gentlemen, l defy you to find one that does what this car does in the way it does it and, ultimately, it achieves what hot hatches were designed for - it puts a smile on your face.
I have had two review cars since they took the Abarth away and I’m currently driving a Honda Type R in full B Class rally spec but l often find my mind wandering back to the fun l had with the Abarth and that really does tell you everything.
My fantasy seven car garage is very limiting as only choosing seven cars from the hundreds available is really tough but l can assure you that the Abarth 595 Competitione is in there.
I am going to need a bigger fantasy garage!
Model tested: Abarth 595 Competitione
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged
Speed: 0-60 7.6 seconds
Economy: 43.5 mpg combined
Price from: £19,890