The Fiat 500 shucks off its cutesy image with its purposeful Abarth 595 variants. Jonathan Crouch drives the latest version.
The Abarth name might be a bit of a mystery to some younger buyers who won't remember it being plastered over hot Fiats of the Seventies and early Eighties. In case you were wondering, the Abarth name has been owned by Fiat since 1971, but it was originally the racing team of Carlo Abarth, founded in Turin in 1949. A long and illustrious competition history lent the Scorpion badge quite some kudos and those of a certain age will go a little dewy eyed remembering cars like the Autobianchi A112 Abarth and the Fiat 131 Abarth.
In later years, Fiat used the badge sparingly, although it appeared on some fairly undistinguished vehicles like the Fiat Stilo. These days, Abarth is a separate division, housed in the old Mirafiori factory. It's responsible for these Abarth 595 models, probably the best cars to wear the badge for many a year.
In the great scheme of all things hot hatch, the 165hp output you get with an Abarth 595 isn't a huge hill of beans. You can get hatches with more than double that power output, but as recent developments in sports car manufacture has shown, more power doesn't always equate to more fun. If you really feel the need for it in an Abarth, the next stage up lies with 695-series variants which boast an uprated 180hp output.
Flog this 165hp version off the line and the 1.4-litre T-Jet turbocharged petrol engine will deliver 62mph to you in a mere 7.3 seconds en route to a top speed of 134mph. Thanks to the recently updated Garrett turbo, there's decent pulling power through the gears too - 230Nm of it from just 3,000rpm, which means that 50 to 75mph takes only 7.8s. In the 180hp 695 derivative, those figures improve to 6.7s and 140mph. That should be quick enough to get your jollies. Useable power in a small package? Brilliant.
The engine uses an over-boost function which modulates the amount of available turbo boost and is activated by a 'Scorpion' button on the steering wheel. Carried over from the original Abarth 500 model is Torque Transfer Control, which helps to improve the transfer of torque to the driven wheels. We tried an F595C variant with a five-speed manual gearbox: urban dwellers also have the option of specifying an MTA paddle-shift 5-speed automatic.
Beyond the city limits, as you'd hope, this little Latin micro hot hatch grips through the turns tenaciously, helped by bespoke Koni rear suspension. It stops arrestingly too, thanks to Abarth's special, high-performing braking system which offers 284mm front and 240mm rear ventilated discs.
Design and Build
It's hard to go too far wrong with a donor vehicle as pretty as the Fiat 500, but making it look convincingly mad and purposeful is an altogether tougher task. Abarth has managed it though, whether you choose this car in fixed-top or in Convertible form.
The Abarth visual changes are just enough to change the basic Fiat 500's essential character from something a little bit cutesy and twee to something more decidedly malevolent in its intent. We tried the motorsport-themed F595 variant with its emotive vertically-stacked Record Monza Sovrapposto exhaust system tailpipes.
Look around inside and it all feels a world away from the shopping runabout donor car. You press on silver branded pedals, grasp a leather-stitched silver faced gear knob and feel your nether regions clamped into place by grippy black sports seats. Appropriately, you clasp a chunky three-spoke flat-bottomed wheel with a race-style 12 o'clock marker. And through it view Abarth-branded dials of the virtual sort, displayed on a 7-inch instrument screen. Another 7-inch screen decorates the centre of the grey dash, this Uconnect display featuring audio streaming and 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring as standard.
Given that the external dimensions of this car are so short, you won't be expecting to find much room in the rear - and there isn't. Larger adults will find their heads brushing the roof when the top is raised and will need to make full use of the elbow cut-outs indented into the side panels.
As for the boot, well on the Convertible version, what draws the eye when the roof is down are the substantial folds of fabric that create well-publicised issues when it comes to rearward vision. At least though, they don't very much impinge on boot space, the 182-litre capacity of the cabrio being virtually the same as you'd get on the alternative fixed-top model.
Market and Model
At the time of this test in Autumn 2022, prices for the '595' models were starting at just under £22,500. Abarth 595 sales are now based around 'Turismo' trim, with the choice of hatchback or convertible body styles - and manual or automatic tranmission. 'Turismo' spec gets you black leather seats and 17-inch Turismo alloy wheels. Plus there's a 7-inch centre screen with navigation, automatic climate control, a 'Beats' audio system and Xenon headlamps. Lots of bold colours are also available, including a bright 'Orange Racing' shade. This was created from the combination of the brand's iconic colours of yellow and red. It is the essence of the Abarth badge and represents the colours that have made the Scorpion marque legendary.
If no kind of Abarth 595 is quite fast enough for you, you'll be looking at the even more focused 180hp 695 Abarth models, priced as we tested this car in the £25,500-£31,500 bracket and offered in 'Turismo' and 'Competizione' forms. The 'Turismo' version gets a 'Record Monza' exhaust, upgraded to a 'Record Monza Sovrapposto' set-up in the 'Competizione' version. All Abarth 695 variants have 17-inch wheels, an Alcantara-upholstered cockpit and race-style Sabelt Fabric front seats with Matt grey shells. The 695 Turismo offers leather upholstery and a sunroof on the fixed-top variant. And the 'Competizione' adds a mechanical limited slip differential for extra cornering traction and, inside, red stitching and carbon shells for the front seats.
Cost of Ownership
You should find that day to day running costs won't break the bank as its 1.4-litre T-Jet powerplant is one of those modern turbocharged engines that actually returns really good fuel economy if you're not constantly making the turbo do manic hamster wheel impressions. The quoted economy figure for a manual Abarth 595-series fixed-top model is up to 42.2mpg on the combined cycle and up to 152g/km of CO2. For the manual 595-series Convertible, the figures are up to 41.5mpg and up to 155g/km of CO2. with emissions pegged at between 156g/km and 152g/km.
For the 695-series manual fixed top and Convertible, the figures are the same, up to 40.9mpg and 156g/km. Whichever Abarth model you choose, even around town you should find you can manage over 30mpg.
Residual values will be good if previous hot versions of the Fiat 500 are anything to go by; independent experts reckon that after 48 months use of this F595 with a 6,000 annual mileage, you'd still see £9,513 back from it. Reliability seems to be improving too, after teething troubles with early cars. There are around 100 UK Abarth dealers and servicing is every year or 9,000 miles (whichever comes first) and Abarth offers a three year Easy Care servicing package for around £400. Insurance for the 595-series models varies between 27D and 28D, while for the 695-series variants, it's up at group 31D. You get the usual three year Fiat warranty with three years of roadside assistance.
Abarth has hit this nail squarely on the head. If you want the most stylish and funky warm hatch on the market, this is unquestionably it. The Abarth 595 looks great and is quick enough to entertain yet not so overblown that it brings with it massive bills. Hotter versions of the MINI come close, but Abarth has really upped the standard and offered all of those cool design cues in an even more distilled form. Of course, there will be some who sniff at the relatively modest 165bhp power output and claim that this car could be faster, ignoring the fact that extra power would probably ruin its delightful handling balance.
Whether you choose the base version, the Turismo or the F595, hard top or soft top, manual or MTA paddle shift gearbox, it's hard not to find a place in your heart for a car this cheeky. You'll need to keep an eye on the price you end up paying when looking at option packs, but other than that, there's not much cause for complaint here.