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Abarth 595 Review

heycar editorial team

Written by

heycar editorial team

Abarth 595
Abarth 595

1/10

1 / 10

00/10
heycar rating
" Feisty but flawed hot hatch"
  • Launched: 2012
  • Hot hatch
  • Petrol

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Quick overview

Pros

  • Massive character
  • Looks
  • Faster models pack a big punch

Cons

  • Rear seat space? Err…
  • Running costs
  • Feels very dated in every way

Overall verdict

"Long before Fiat launched its retro-cued 500 and turned up the wick with the Abarth models, fast and fun small cars were a relatively common sight on our roads. Most of the mainstream makers had a compact, lightweight pocket rocket ready to fire some excitement into your daily drive, yet by the time Abarth unveiled its first hotted-up modern 500 in 2008, the market had all but disappeared."

Abarth 595 Exterior front

This was good news for Abarth as it suddenly found itself with no natural rivals and a steady stream of willing buyers who wanted something almost ridiculously small and potent. No wonder Abarth’s badge features a scorpion as this car has plenty of sting in its tail. Well, front, actually, as the modern 500 models are front-engined and front-wheel drive rather than punting all of the oily bits at the back as the original 1950s machines did.


No matter, Abarth gave its baseline model an update in 2012 that turned it into the 595 and this was improved again in 2018. So, what we have now is a range that starts with the straight 595 in either hatch or Convertible forms with a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine producing 145PS. That’s a decent amount in a car this small and it sees the 595 from 0-62mph in a sprightly 7.8 seconds.


However, it’s not in Abarth’s nature to leave things at ‘sprightly’, so there are more potent versions of the 595, starting with the Pista. It has the power turned up to 165PS to knock half a second off the 0-62mph dash. There’s also the Turismo version with the same power unit but more luxury kit such as leather upholstery, climate control and rear parking sensors. Quite why you need these in a car as small as the 595 beats us, but there you go.


If you want the full-on Abarth 595 experience, you need the Competizione or Esseesse. They pack a whopping 180PS under the diminutive bonnet and whisk away 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds.


So, you can see the 595 may be small, but it offers a wide range of options to buyers even in the face of increased opposition from the like of the Volkswagen Up GTI and Renault Twingo GT.


There’s no doubt that both of these rivals are more sophisticated cars in most senses, but this is part of the appeal of the Abarth 595. It’s a raw little car that delivers a big hit of fun and driving thrills. You only need to hear the noise it makes when you turn the key to start the engine to know it’s a little bit special and, maybe, just a bit pazzo. After all, why have a pint-sized hot hatch if it’s not going to make you smile every time you get in it?


Of course, there are downsides such as the 595’s handling and ride both feeling quite dated next to newer rivals. The cabin is best described as for two with occasional rear seats, while even the entry-point model is not what you’d call cheap when you can have the far superior Ford Fiesta ST for the same money.


Is the Abarth 595 right for you?

Like so many Italian sporting cars, the Abarth 595 is a car that, if it needs explaining, is probably not for you. There’s little common sense attached to choosing this car as the cabin is cramped, it has high running costs and there are more able, sophisticated hot hatches out there for the same money or less depending on which version you choose.


Yet, and yet, the Abarth 595 holds a certain appeal. It’s the mouse that roars, a car that punches much higher above its weight in terms of fun and personality and kudos that draws in buyers. All of this comes down to the Abarth 595 being a car that makes you smile, so it’s little wonder that many of its owners also have many far more expensive and exotic cars alongside the 595 in their garages.


This is part of the joy of the 595 as you become part of a covert club. For some, that will be just as off-putting, but there are plenty of other hot hatches out there to pick from. The Abarth 595 may be flawed but that doesn’t necessarily detract from what makes it really rather special.


What’s the best Abarth 595 model/engine to choose?

Much as the sensible, rational decision here would be to opt for the least expensive model in the standard Abarth 595, we’re going to nail our colours to the mast and choose the all-out 595 Competizione.


This model is not quite as pricey as the Esseesse but it shares the same 180PS version of the 1.4-litre T-jet turbo petrol engine. As a result, you get all of the performance at a keener price and it also comes with the limited slip differential and superb sports front seats reserved for these two upper trims.


Choosing the Competizione also gains you improved rear suspension for better handling, bigger front brakes for sharper stopping power, and the Dual Mode Record Monza exhaust system with four tailpipes. In essence, this is the most outrageous version of the Abarth 595, so therefore the best.


What other cars are similar to the Abarth 595?

It’s not often the MINI Cooper S will be accused of being too big, but that’s the case when it’s compared to the Abarth 595. So, the only real rival to the Italian is the Volkswagen Up GTI. The Up is slower but no less fun to hustle down country lanes thanks to its willing engine and agile handling.


Others to look at in this little corner of the hot hatch market are the Renault Twingo GT and Suzuki Swift Sport. Neither matches the Abarth on pace or fun, so that leaves the Ford Fiesta ST as the only other credible rival at the same sort of price.


Comfort and design

"In transforming the Fiat 500 into the Abarth 595, Fiat’s in-house tuning arm has made a lot of changes to the driver’s environment. This means you get sports pedals, a smaller, thicker-rimmed steering wheel and an Abarth version of the 5-inch infotainment screen."

Abarth 595 Interior

The sports front seats are another big tell-tale that you are getting into a hot hatch as they are heavily bolstered and look ready for the race track, never mind the weekly shop. However, the seats do not address the overly upright driving position found in other Fiat 500 variations. In a hot hatch, it just feels a bit odd to be perched on top of the car and almost hunched over the steering wheel. Despite this, the seats themselves are comfortable and provide ample support when you’re using the Abarth’s considerable cornering ability.


This is compounded by the cramped foot well that requires the driver to twist his or her left ankle to get comfortable on longer drives when you don’t need to cover the clutch pedal all of the time. This leads to an awkward driving position and that misery is further troubled by the steering wheel only adjusting for angle, so finding the right seating set-up is by no means guaranteed for every driver.


On the up side, the Abarth is such a compact car that seeing out of it in every direction is a doddle and parking is far simpler than in any of its rivals. Even so, Abarth fits parking sensors to all models, just in case.


The dash itself is laid out in the same way as the Fiat 500’s, so the main instrument pod presents information in a clear, bright digital display. Abarth positions the gear lever up high in the middle of the centre console, so it’s only a flick of the wrist away at any moment. Also, the infotainment screen is easy to read on the move.


Quality and finish

If there is one particular area where the Abarth 595 range is really beginning to feel its age and lag behind its rivals, it’s in the fit, finish and construction of its cabin. It looks good to the eye, but when your hands come into contact with the car there are too many hard, cheap-feeling plastics that undermine the experience. In the normal Fiat 500 it’s almost forgivable, but in a car costing as much as the Abarth versions it’s much harder to overlook.


There are other details that make you ponder the quality of the car, such as the lack of a foot rest for your left shoe when not working the clutch.


However, the leather used on the seats of higher spec Abarth 595s adds a touch of class that is welcome. The same is true of the way the controls work as the gear shift has a decent heft to it that speaks of sporting intent and the steering wheel is just the right thickness to let you know this is a hot hatch long before you turn the engine on.


Infotainment

The 5-inch Uconnect infotainment screen in the Abarth 595 is common to all models and positioned high in the centre of the dash as it is in the Fiat 500. The screen itself has a clear, well defined resolution so it’s easy to read the information present on the display.


The system comes with DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connection and a USB port, so it’s easy enough to link up with your smartphone. The basic model does without mirroring tech, but the others get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to pair with smart devices easily and offer access to their apps.


Choose the base 595 or Pista models and you do without satellite navigation, while the optional Hifi by Beats is there for all but the Pista model.


In all of the Abarth models, the infotainment screen is quick to react to the touch of your finger on the screen. It has logical menus and there are shortcut buttons to take you to the most important common functions immediately.


Space and practicality

Given the exterior dimensions of the Abarth 595, it was never going to be the roomiest on the inside for anyone not sitting in the front pair of seats. While they enjoy surprisingly good headroom and enough space for legs and shoulders, those in the rear are far from as well catered for.


Unless the person in the front seat is especially short in stature, there really isn’t enough leg room in the back of the Abarth 595 for adults. Even older kids will find it a squash and a squeeze back here as the sporty front chairs eat up the inches. It really means the Abarth is better regarded as a two-seater with the option to carry a couple of extra passengers for very short journeys.


This approach will also save you from inflicting the Abarth’s rear seat access on to your friends and family. While the doors open wide, the front seats don’t slide forward sufficiently to give much room to fit through. And once installed in the back, there is also not much headroom for adults. Choosing the Convertible models doesn’t worsen the rear room for heads, but at anything above town speeds back seat passengers will be blown about by the breeze when the fold-back canvas top is slid open.


The Convertible also comes off worse when looking at the boot of the Abarth 595. This is because the roof design means the rear hatch gives way to a lid that opens to reveal a small aperture. The boot itself isn’t any smaller than the hatch’s but the restricted opening means fitting anything bigger than a carry-on flight case in there will be a struggle.


With the hatch’s fully opening tailgate, fitting in bigger bags is simple, though you will very quickly fill the available space of 185-litres. The rear seats are divided 50-50 and tumble forwards to free up more room, which is probably a better use of the rear seat space. Even so, the 595 is not going to be the go-to car when you head to the DIY store and even a Volkswagen Up GTI makes for a more practical small car, never mind the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST.


Handling and ride quality

"Such a compact hot hatch should be in its element on niggly back roads where constant changes of direction favour smaller cars like the Abarth 595 that can more use of the available space. This is true up to a point as the Abarth has plenty of grip in all of its different versions, but it’s not the most able small hot hatch due to its firm ride."

Abarth 595 Driving

On anything other than a surface that’s as smooth as Italian gelato, the 595 can get rather jiggly rather quickly. Its short wheelbase combined with the fat tyres and firm suspension introduce a hard edge that sees the car pinballing from one bump to the next, which is not what you want when you encounter these obstacles mid-corner.


A little more give in the suspension would go a long way to solving this and we’d also like feedback through the steering, which is a bit lifeless when compared to the sensory delights of the Ford Fiesta ST’s. Along with this, the front end bite of the Abarth is also dependent on which model you choose. Go for the Competizione or Esseesse versions and you get a limited slip differential, as well as better suspension dampers, to get the power down effectively and make the most of the car’s talents in the bends. On the lesser versions, the front end can become quite choppy and unruly as the power reaches a peak.


As for ride comfort, the Abarth 595 really shows its age in this department. Where a Ford Fiesta ST or Volkswagen Up GTI can provide a good deal of comfort, the Abarth’s suspension is always firm and busy over the bumps, letting every undulation and dimple in the road’s surface make itself felt in the cabin. For some, that will be the sensation of a sports car, but in a hot hatch we’d like a more rounded suite of ability.


Engines and gearboxes

The 1.4-litre T-jet turbo petrol engine in the Abarth 595 comes in three states of tune, comprising 145-, 165- and 180PS forms. For the 595, 145PS feels like a reasonable amount without it ever tipping over into overwhelming the front tyres’ grip and traction. Move to the 165PS Pista and Turismo models and it feels like the chassis is being challenged.


As for the Competizione and Esseesse with 180PS, they are rapid and knock off 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds but feel like they are on the edge of the 595’s dynamic ability.


In every version, the 1.4-litre engine feels bigger and more potent that its size suggests, so you can zip past slower traffic with ease. They rev up eagerly with no delay from the turbocharger, yet they will also cruise with a pleasing amount of refinement and power to spare.


Also, despite considerable power outputs in the faster versions, the 1.4-litre engine is never temperamental or peaky when driven in town. We also like the weighty feel of the six-speed manual gearbox. There’s an automated version of this transmission operated by buttons on the centre console, but we’d leave well alone as it’s sluggish to respond and spoils the Abarth’s fun.


Refinement and noise levels

You can forget about sneaking out of your driveway early in the mornings and not waking the neighbours when you drive an Abarth 595. It has an exhaust note that sounds more like that of an Italian supercar than a tiny hot hatch, but this is part of the fun of the 595. It’s also even louder in the Competizione thanks to its Record Monza exhaust and the Esseesse that comes with a bolt-on Akrapovic system.


However, inside the cabin, the 595 makes a passable stab at being reasonably quiet when pottering through town or cruising on the motorway. Yet, make the most of the engine’s power and it comes alive with whooshes from the turbocharger.


There’s also a fair degree of rumble from the broad tyres as they grip the road and you’ll also get some wind noise at the national speed limit. This is more obvious in the Convertible but it not excessive.


Safety equipment

Like the Fiat 500 it’s developed from, the Abarth 595 comes with a good array of standard safety equipment. This extends to twin front, side and curtain airbags and another for the driver’s knees. There are also anti-whiplash headrests, and ESP traction and stability control.


However, this was not enough to score the Fiat 500, and by association the Abarth 595, any better than a three-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests. This was predominantly down to the poor provision of crash-avoiding technology as there’s not even the option of autonomous emergency braking or a lane keep assistance system.


You do get three-point belts for all four occupants and the most powerful Competizione and Esseesse models come with larger front brakes to help rein in their speed.


MPG and fuel costs

"For a pugnacious little hot hatch, the Abarth 595 is still able to offer reasonable fuel economy given its performance potential. The most frugal are the Pista and Turismo models with their 165PS version of the 1.4-litre T-Jet turbo petrol motor. They better the standard car’s 42.8mpg official combined consumption with a figure of 43.5. Real MPG pegs them at 40.7mpg and the less potent model at 41.9mpg."

Abarth 595 Side Picture

Take the 180PS models and they claim 42.2mpg, while Real MPG rates them at an impressive 44.8mpg to exceed the official economy.

Insurance groups and costs

No need to hold the front page when we tell you the cheapest Abarth 595 to get insurance cover for is the base model with 145PS. It sits in group 29, which is much the same as the Ford Fiesta ST.


Move up to the 165PS Pista and Turismo versions and they fall into group 29, while the all-out 180PS Competizione and Esseesse models are a little further up the scale in group 34 alongside larger and faster hot hatch offerings such as the Ford Focus ST.

VED car tax

Take the Abarth 595 in Pista or Turismo specification with the manual gearbox and you will pay road tax for the first year of £215. With the MTA automated manual transmission, this goes up to the next banding and you will pay the same £540 for first-year Vehicle Excise Duty as the rest of the 595 range attracts.


For the second year and those following after, road tax will come in at a more reasonable £150 per year.


How much should you be paying for a used Abarth 595?

"A seven-year old Abarth 595 with 70,000 miles on the clock will cost you around £7000, while the later car with uprated 145PS engine will start from £10,000 for one with 20,000 miles under its wheels."

Abarth 595 Seat

You can add £2000 to those figures for a Pista model with the more powerful engine, while a Competizione or Esseesse with the most potent motor will require you to dig out a further £1500 from the piggy bank.


If you’d rather have a nearly new Abarth 595, choosing a pre-registered example will save you about £1000 on the list price whichever version catches your eye.


Trim levels and standard equipment

The entry-point Abarth 595 comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, satin chrome door handles, LED headlights, twin exhaust pipes, and a honeycomb grille with Abarth logo. The Convertible comes with rear parking sensors, but not the hatch. On the inside, it provides fabric upholstery and front sports seats, as well as the 5-inch Uconnect infotainment screen.


The Pista gains 17-inch alloys, colour-coded door mirror caps, bumper inserts and brake calipers, and four exhaust pipes. For the interior, you get air conditioning, aluminium pedals, and the infotainment gains Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirroring for your smartphone. There are also uprated Koni dampers for the rear suspension to improve handling.


Choose the Turismo and you benefit from climate control, leather seats, rear parking sensors, and automatic lights and wipers.


With the Competizione, you get unique 17-inch alloy wheels, larger front disc brakes and the Record Monza exhaust system. It also has Abarth Corsa racing front seats and Alcantara covering the instrument binnacle.


The Esseesse model comes with white-painted 17-inch Supersport alloy wheels, Akrapovic performance exhaust, Abarth racing seats and carbon fibre detailing in the cabin.


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