FIAT 500s look good. No question.
The cute style icons lack for little save cabin space and maybe a touch of - and I'm not sure what the Italian word for this is - mongrel. Mongrello?
That's where Abarth comes in. Let the car maker loose on the butter-wouldn't-melt Bambinos and it brings the muscle and fizz to enter hot hatch territory. They've never been cheap though. The 140kW 695 Biposto version for example weighs in at $65,000. You could get a VW Golf GTI Performance and a regular Fiat 500 for the same coin.
Staying true to the brand's heritage, your extra money goes towards performance enhancements, particularity on the suspension front. That keeps things basic inside the cabin, but point this Abarth towards your favourite twisty road or (better yet) race track and these entry-level Scorpions begin to shine.
A la Fiat 500 it's a cosy cabin, and the Abarth sport seats are very firm, especially on your back during long trips. They look good though with holes for harnesses, and hold you well during more enthusiastic driving. Seating position is high for a hot hatch, sadly losing some of the sportiness.
The leather gear knob is brilliantly placed and the steering wheel nicely chunky, flat-bottomed and also with that lovely leathery feel. It really is far too big for such a car though, and it not being telescopic adjustable makes finding a comfy driving position a near impossible chore.
There's a 17.7cm instrument cluster behind the steering wheel which is superb and drags the cabin into the modern era as the rest feels a generation old. No touch screen and an abundance of hard plastics has sees the Abarth struggle against the likes of a VW Polo GTI's dashboard. A dash-mounted oversized turbo boost gauge also looks a tad stick-on.
On the road
Cabin shortcomings are soon forgotten when you hit the road. Compared to a Fiat 500, the Abarth brings lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tyres to go with the 103kW from a turbo four-cylinder, making for excellent power-to-weight ratio.
It truly is a delight to throw into the turns, its ickle size making for real go-kart like fun. It sits flat and limpet-like, changing direction sharply while communication through the steering wheel keeps the driver well informed while he or she enjoys a permanent grin.
For you track day enthusiasts, Abarth's Torque Transfer Control - basically a diff lock system - transfers torque from a wheel that slips to one that grips. On dry public roads this will barely be needed such is the 595's superb grip, so race-track testing is advised. You won't regret it.
A Sport button sharpens up steering and throttle response, while the note from the Abarth exhaust is the right balance of throatiness and subtlety.
The engine is a punchy thing with pull that makes it feel faster than its 0-100kmh time (7.9 seconds), and the manual five-speed is a silky unit with short-ish throw.
Around town it isn't too crashy if you avoid big bumps and holes, and highway cruising is acceptable if a bit high revving, meaning the 595 is more a weekend toy than everyday transport.
What do you get?
Not flush with luxury, toys or safety kit; you're paying for what matters most to many hot hatch fans: those chassis tweaks. Also included are 16-inch alloys, seven airbags, bluetooth, front fogs, rear parking sensors and red brake calipers.
You miss out on a lot of expected kit these days though, like cruise control, telescopic adjustable steering wheel, touch screen and reverse camera.
Not the Abarth's strong point. Rear seats are emergency only for adults, with head and leg room pinning you in position. Boot space at 185 litres is fine for a small shop or overnight bags, but little else. In the cabin are four cup holders but none will accommodate a sports bottle, while door bins are skinny.
Positively the fuel consumption keeps bowser costs a treat. We returned exactly as quoted: 6.0-litres/100km despite much playtime.
A real head-turner with Abarth badging, decals and roof spoiler to go with racy graphite wheels: it's the Bad Boy Fiat 500. The cabin may not be too comfy or premium but the colour-coded dash panel, steel pedals and be-Scorpioned steering wheel add pizazz.
You need to spend an extra $500 for paint other than white (ours was metallic Trofeo grey), with Officina red, Legend blue and Rally beige pastel colours all looking funkier.
A hot hatch glut means the Abarth has stiff competition. You'll have great fun sampling the VW's Polo GTI ($27,490), Renault Clio RS200 Sport ($29,990 drive away), Peugeot 208 GTi ($30,900) and Ford Fiesta ST ($27,490) rivals.
The cheapest it's ever been to get in an Abarth: sub-$30k means VW Polo GTI shoppers should take a look.
Lovely to behold, talented chassis and punchy engine combine for a great fun steer on the right road, but the 595's skinny kit inclusions and lack of comfort and practicality hold it back.
To the right buyer though, that scorpion badge holds great sway.
What matters most
What we liked: Subtly more muscular Fiat 500 looks with that lovely scorpion badge, go-kart-like handling, fun and punchy engine mated to a sublime five-speed manual.
What we'd like to see: Bit more modern tech inside like a touch screen, less of the hard plastics, better seat comfort and lower seating position, smaller steering wheel that needs to be telescopic, lose the cheap Turbo dash-mount gauge.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/150,000km warranty. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km.
Model: Abarth 595.
Details: Two-door front-wheel drive hot hatch based on the Fiat 500.
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder generating maximum power of 103kW @ 5500rpm and peak torque of 206Nm @ 2000rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual (Dualogic auto with paddle shifters a $2000 option).
Consumption: 6.0-litres/100km (combined). Performance 0-100kmh: 7.9-seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $27,500.
Driving experience 15/20
Features and equipment 13/20
Functionality and comfort 12/20
Value for money 14/20
Style and design 17/20
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