Test: Abarth 595 Competizione MY2014
Both are small city cars, but that’s probably the only thing the Lancia Ypsilon we drove one week and the Abarth 595 Competizione we got our hands on the week after have in common. No more cruise control, automatic lights, automatic wipers or butter-soft ride. In come “Abarth Corse by Sabelt” bucket seats, “Record Monza”-exhaust, lots of badges with a scorpion on them and a tiny 1.4 MultiAir engine which puts out a whopping 160hp. In what is basically a Fiat 500. Time to turn the key.
After having done so, that engine comes alive with the noise you’d expect to hear from a product produced in Maranello or Modena. Certainly not from something that’s assembled in Poland. That noise comes courtesy of the four (!) exhausts named “Record Monza”. The 595 Competizione gets these as standard and they’re optional on every other Abarth; you’ll want to tick that box if the Competizione isn’t the one you’re buying. It builds from a deep bass up to about 2.000 rpm to a plain evil sound up to around 4.500. And then it’s sheer lunacy all the way to the red line at 6.500. Mind you, it doesn’t sound like some cheap tuned exhaust in any way. Instead it has real character and drama to it, sounding especially raucous at half throttle. Bangs and pops make their way out onto the streets when changing gear occasionally, especially when changing from second to third in our experience. Yes, we were pretty dazzled by the noise this beefed up 500 generates.
Let’s talk about the interior. Sabelt seats keep you firm in place when the going gets twisty and absolutely look the part, too. Covered in brown leather and fabric, they are a true joy to behold. It’s a shame they can’t be lowered (or heightened), though, as you feel like driving a 500L instead of a sporty car due to the high driving position. You get used to it after a while, but it’s bizarre to step into a Lancia Delta afterwards and notice you’re actually seated lower than in the Abarth. The flat-bottomed steering wheel, with two patches of brown leather where your hands should be, looks amazing and feels that way, too.
Behind that wheel we find the biggest change this MY2014 brings with it; a 7” digital display that puts out a crystal-sharp image with lots of geeky animation. In regular mode (and in all Fiat 500s from 2014 onwards) it shows the rev dial on the left, the current speed in the center (there’s no more complete speedometer) along with current consumption and the range you have left in the petrol tank. At the right we find an ‘eco Index’, going up to 5 when driving like a grandma and dropping down to 0 when driving like… you’re in an Abarth with Record Monza-exhaust. The entire screen changes for the better when pushing the Sport-button, though. The numbers on the rev counter get bigger, the speed indicator goes italic and there’s an awesome diagram underneath showing how much g’s you’re currently generating in four different directions. The eco Index on the right luckily gives way to a throttle-indicator which shows how much throttle there’s currently being applied. Not of much use if you ask us, but it looks funky and at least we now know about 15% is being applied when driving at a steady 125km/h in fifth gear.
Driving the 595 Competizione is something special. People respond really well to it, though it takes a while for most to realize that the noise is actually coming from what looks like one of the thousands Fiat 500s out there on our roads and not from something that costs a fortune. Question is, though, how many people have never even heard of Abarth before and just think you’re some lunatic who’s put a body kit underneath his 500 and added four exhausts as a joke. But no matter, it makes people smile as it does its driver.
But driving this Abarth is special for another reason, too. One would expect such a short wheelbase with a lowered suspension and big wheels underneath to guarantee ludicrously dangerous situations in corners and a spine-breaking ride around town or on country roads. But it doesn’t. The 595 Competizione sticks to the road like a baby to its mother’s nipple and the ride – although firm of course – is more than reasonable. I’d even dare say it’s more compliant than a regular Fiat 500 after having driven them back-to-back, though that might be down to the big difference in mileage (the Abarth only had 1.500km on the clock, the 500 had over 20.000).
Performance. Something that can’t always be measured in numbers. 7,4 seconds for the classic sprint and a top speed of 210 km/h (130 mph) is certainly not record-breaking nowadays, but it’s the way it delivers that performance and how it feels from behind the wheel. The tiny amount of turbo lag low in revs is quickly forgiven once you get this powertrain in its element, which is between 3 and 5,5 thousand rpm. Throttle response is immediate in that area and you can even get it up to 6.500 rpm if you want everyone within a mile radius to hear you, but there’s not much to be gained from doing so performance-wise. The gear changes are lovely thanks to a wonderful round gear lever knob that lets itself be repositioned with short but firm throws. Frankly, the 595 Competizione feels like it sends more than 160hp to those amazing-looking front wheels.
Differences between regular and Sport-mode are minor, but nevertheless adequate. The exhausts sound even louder in the latter, though even in regular mode you won’t be trailing someone unnoticed as it never really settles down entirely. The steering gets weightier as well in Sport-mode, which is good as it is too light otherwise. SPORT lights up on the small turbo bar to the left of the dashboard and the gauge goes up to 1.2 bar at times. There’s a button with ‘TTC’ on it on the center console. Torque Transfer Control is what it stands for and it makes the ‘e-diff’ a bit more aggressive, allowing for a bit more silliness while intervening when necessary. It works really well and you feel it engaging when you get on the throttle too early out of a corner, sending the torque to the wheel that can use it best instead of wasting that energy on screeching tires. The ESP can’t be turned off entirely, but we didn’t feel held back with TTC turned on.
Attacking twisty roads is a great deal of fun in this small Abarth, though it has to be said there’s little feel through the steering wheel in terms of what’s going on with those front wheels. The weighting is spot-on in Sport-mode, mind, and you’re still able to point the Abarth fairly precisely into the corner. The red Brembo-brakes are absolutely fantastic and give you great confidence. Breaking is something you do in a straight line with this Abarth, as the rear end is not afraid of stepping out under firm breaking due to the short wheelbase. Just slam the brake pedal until you’re at the right cornering speed, make the turn and then pin the accelerator as you exit the corner. Make sure you’re north of 3.000 rpm at that point, TTC will take care of things and off you go onto the next corner with those demonic sounds coming from behind you all the while. Wonderful.
Drawbacks? Well, yes. The turning circle must be twice the size of the moon, economy is something the Abarth has never heard of and, as you know already, the driver is seated way too high. Do we care? No. The Abarth has so much appeal to it, so much character and feels so addictive, you’ll never want to part from it even despite these minor issues. Abarth-badges are all over the place, even on the wonderful fuel cap (which I’m told is identical to that of an 8C) and it’s just one of those cars that makes you feel special. There are tons of small details to remind you you’re driving something special, too. From the fabulous door sills over the subtle ‘595’ upholstered into the seats to the glorious floor mats that are partially finished in leather and are attached to the bottom of the car with wonderful inox-like buttons. I can’t remember having ever driven an entire week without the radio on just to hear that amazing soundtrack coming from behind me and I can’t recall having ever felt so sad I had to say goodbye to a car. The Abarth 595 Competizione is one hell of a package, ladies and gentlemen.