UK Drive: The Abarth 595 remains a hugely entertaining hot hatch

·6-min read

What is it?

This Abarth is available in both ‘595’ and ‘695’ guises. (Abarth)
This Abarth is available in both ‘595’ and ‘695’ guises. (Abarth)

You’ve got to hand it to Abarth for keeping its 595 and 695 models going for so long. While most manufacturers work to launch a next-generation model every six or so years, this Italian sports car brand still sells models very similar to the first Abarth-badged Fiat 500 launched back in 2009.

Though there have been updates every now and again, they tend to be very small – usually revolving around a new special edition and revised trim levels. It’s been a good few years since we last tested an Abarth, so is this hot hatch still burning bright, or has the flame already been extinguished?

What’s new?

The Abarth 595 has only received light updates over the years.(Abarth)
The Abarth 595 has only received light updates over the years.(Abarth)

The 2021 update for the 595 and 695 (the latter is a slightly more focused – and expensive – version) was a typically small Abarth update.

There is a new set of heritage-inspired 17-inch alloy wheels, while a Rally Blue paint scheme was available too. The ‘Sport’ mode has been renamed ‘Scorpion’ (Abarth’s logo features the arachnid), while inside you can now have the dashboard trimmed in Alcantara, and even get brown leather seats if you’re feeling particularly bold. There’s even a new ‘light up’ sequence on the touchscreen. Can you tell we’re struggling with ‘new’ things?

What’s under the bonnet?

A trio of turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engines are offered on the Abarth 595. (Abarth)
A trio of turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engines are offered on the Abarth 595. (Abarth)

All Abarth 595s have always used a turbocharged 1.4-litre ‘T-Jet’ petrol engine, with three power outputs on offer these days – 143bhp, 163bhp and 178bhp.

In the Competizione car we’re testing, it uses the most powerful output with 250Nm of torque being produced. Though an automatic 595 was offered for a time, all new models now use a five-speed manual gearbox.

That power figure might not sound all that much, but it’s worth considering this Abarth weighs just over a tonne, and allows for a 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds, and a top speed of 140mph. Provided you don’t thrash it too hard, it won’t be too bad on fuel either – Abarth claiming 40.9mpg and 156gkm CO2 emissions.

What’s it like to drive?

Jump in the Abarth and the first thing you’ll notice is the odd driving position. For a hot hatch, you sit very high up, and with the Sabelt racing seats not being height adjustable, it’s almost like getting in a van at first – particularly with the offset pedals. So, not the best first impressions.

But turn the key and the appeal comes on quickly. You’ll want to press the ‘Scorpion’ button too, as it gives the exhaust a much deeper tone (almost comically so), adds further weight to the steering and sharpens the throttle response significantly. This is no half-hearted sport mode, for sure.

The engine is a real highlight, feeling boosty and offering more than enough pace – to the point the car will pull to one side if you really floor it. It can really be thrown into corners too, and is generally a huge amount of fun in an almost ‘old-school’ kind of way. You’ll want to be smiling to put up with the 595’s rubbish ride as it’s firmly sprung, to the point of being uncomfortable on pockmarked roads.

How does it look?

Quad exhaust tips give the 595 a sporty look. (Abarth)
Quad exhaust tips give the 595 a sporty look. (Abarth)

While clearly based on the cutesy Fiat 500 that continues to be bought primarily for the way it looks, Abarth successfully adds some aggression to it. Though there’s still the big round headlights and familiar silhouette, the 595 gets a muscular bodykit incorporating different bumpers, while around the rear there are four exhaust tips (depending on version), which makes it look suitably sporty.

It certainly stands out, even more so in our test car’s garish yellow paint. Many wouldn’t even consider an Abarth simply for the way it looks, but for everyone that dislikes it, there will be two that love it.

What’s it like inside?

Sabelt racing seats offer plenty of support. (Abarth)
Sabelt racing seats offer plenty of support. (Abarth)

It’s a real mixed bag inside the Abarth 595. Let’s start with the good, and up there as a highlight are the Sabelt bucket-like seats. They’re brilliantly comfortable, and keep you in place even if you’re pushing on. Similarly, the Alcantara, leather and carbon-fibre steering wheel is one of the nicest out there, and feels almost as if it’s taken from a supercar.

The same can’t really be said for the rest of the 595’s interior, as its cheap Fiat 500-based roots are quickly exposed. The door cards feel especially low-quality. It’s also not what you’d call practical, though that’s not exactly a surprise. The rear seats are not really suitable for adults on all but the shortest trips, while the 185-litre boot is dinky. The rear seats (it’s a strict four-seater) fold separately to improve boot space, though.

What’s the spec like?

All versions get a seven-inch touchscreen included. (Abarth)
All versions get a seven-inch touchscreen included. (Abarth)

Though the Abarth 595’s price has gone up over the years, it remains the cheapest way to get behind the wheel of a hot hatch – minus the Volkswagen Up! GTI, though that’s significantly less powerful.

The range kicks off from £21,995 for a regular ‘595’ car, and you get a decent level of kit, including 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, rear parking sensors and a seven-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Prices unsurprisingly rise as you go through the range, as the power and specification rises, but keep it towards the lower end of the spectrum and there are few more affordable new cars that are more fun to drive. Just be prepared that the tuned 695 models command quite a premium – starting from £25,195, and rising to an eye-watering £32,995 for a top-spec ‘Tributo 131 Rally’ model.

Verdict

The Abarth 595 remains huge fun to drive. (Abarth)
The Abarth 595 remains huge fun to drive. (Abarth)

You’ll often hear an eccentric, slightly strange – but perfectly harmless and often funny – person described as a ‘character’. The Abarth 595 is the automotive equivalent of that.

At times, you’ll curse its scratchy-cheap interior, questionable seating position and brittle ride, but you can forgive it because of the way it looks and its grin-inducing driving experience that will brighten up the bleakest of days. It’s the very definition of ‘flawed’, but you just can’t help but love it.

  • Model: Abarth 595

  • Price: £21,995

  • Model as tested: Abarth 595 Competizione 1.4 T-Jet 180hp

  • Price as tested: £23,970

  • Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol

  • Power: 178bhp

  • Torque: 250Nm

  • 0-60mph: 6.5 seconds

  • Top speed: 140mph

  • Economy: 40.9mpg

  • Emissions: 156g/km CO2