THE NEW 2016 ABARTH 595 ADDS A 'WARM-HATCH' OPTION TO THE MICRO HOT-HATCH MARKET. De-tuned "a bit", and softened "a bit", it is also a bit cheaper than the Abarth 595 Tourismo that it joins in Fiat showrooms.
The addition of this new entry-level 595, priced from $27,500 plus on-road costs, wipes $6500 off the previous ticket to Abarth ownership.
It's cheaper because it loses some performance and the suspension has lost some hard-core sheen.
But Fiat says 595 buyers place sports design ahead of outright performance as their primary reason to buy, so retaining the bodykit while making it a smoother, friendlier proposition should increase sales.
Vehicle Style: Micro hatch
Price: $27,500 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/206Nm 1.4 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 5sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.0 l/100km | tested: 8.5 l/100km
Previously you had to spend $34,000 plus on-road costs to get into the 595 Turismo, which remains in the range with a 118kW/230Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, five-speed manual, 17-inch alloy wheels and stiff suspension.
The new 595 gets 106kW/206Nm from essentially the same engine, but it gets smaller 16-inch wheels and a softer suspension tune. The only real equipment items missing are leather seats and an alloy gearknob.
Otherwise the bodykit, foglights, and Abarth stripes and badges remain. You can even get the 595C folding soft-top version from $31,500 (plus orc).
Both are also available with a $2000-optional five-speed automated manual transmission that we didn’t experience at this model’s national media launch in Hobart, Tasmania.
The brand reckons competitors for the 3.65-metre-long micro hatchback and convertible are non-existent, although pricing points towards larger hot-hatch rivals such as the Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Sport Clio 200 and Volkswagen Polo GTI.
- Standard equipment: power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, air-conditioning, cloth seat trim with sports seats, automatic-off headlights
- Infotainment: AM/FM radio, CD player, USB/AUX inputs, Bluetooth phone connectivity and six speakers
- Options fitted: none
- Cargo volume: 185 litres
It is always difficult to quantify ‘character’ in a score, but the Abarth 595 has plenty of this intangible quality.
Based on the regular Fiat 500 hatchback that will next year blow out ten birthday candles on its cake, things remain fairly basic inside this Italian Bambini.
The plastics are hard and scratchy, there is little storage space and a steering wheel that adjusts only for height. Splashes of colour across the dashboard and a turbo boost ‘pod’ all playfully lift the ambience, however Abarth could have done more - particularly for the price.
There is no cruise or climate control, for example, and only basic manual air-conditioning.
Unlike the updated Fiat 500 range, which includes a fresh touchscreen with modern connectivity options, this 595 gets a budget-looking single-DIN stereo that even lacks Bluetooth audio streaming.
The cloth-trimmed front bucket seats are ok; they're supremely grippy and supportive at their base, but the ‘tombstone’ backrest provides next-to-nil head support as it skews too far back.
And it is cramped inside, but it's difficult to take marks off the car for that. Just like the smaller iPhone versus an iPhone Plus, some sizes fit some better than others, and the tiny dimensions of this hatchback are a boon for parking and zipping around urban streets.
When you see so many people commuting to work or around town with only the driver on board, rating the passenger seat and rear-seat for room makes less sense. The boot, for example, is tiny, but if you’re travelling one-up it’s huge when you fold the rear backrest down.
However, even as an entry model, the Abarth 595 could use more equipment, more attention to its front seat design and certainly better infotainment for the price.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 103kW/206Nm 1.4 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission type and driveline configuration: FWD
- Suspension type, front and rear: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
- Brake type, front and rear: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering type, turning circle: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.4m
Before this model arrived there was a $12,000 gap between the prosaic Fiat 500 and its close-cousin, the mental Abarth 595. The former is a bit slow and rudimentary, while the latter is frenetic and silly.
The new model has got a few things pretty right. The Abarth 595 seems even more comfortable than the regular 500 thanks to front Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) engineered by suspension masters Koni, and softer rear springs compared with the more expensive Tourismo.
The design teams well with the standard, 55-aspect 16-inch Continental tyres to provide the most liveable ride we’ve yet seen in any Fiat 500.
The FSD uses an oil bypass valve that stays open to extend the damping stroke when dealing with successive bumps, but closes when roll or pitch is detected to harden the suspension for better cornering.
It sounds gimmicky, but it works a treat. The 595 remains very firm at low speeds around town, but is composed and comfortable on a country road at speed without banging or bouncing about.
A Sport button needs to be pressed on the dashboard to enliven the steering and throttle, which is otherwise too light and vacant, and doughy respectively. Firmer steering is more in keeping with the Abarth’s sporting personality, while the touchy throttle gets the best out of the engine.
Sport mode also unleashes the full 0.8 bar of turbo boost versus 0.65 bar in regular mode.
Needless to say, the Sport button should be pressed after every twist of the ignition key.
The 1.4-litre turbo feels less laggy than boosty compared with other Abarth models. As with the ride quality, things have settled down quite a bit, yet not by enough to spoil the fun. This is a growly, characterful engine that makes the 595 feel faster than its modest 7.9-second 0-100km/h performance claim.
The standard manual could do with a sixth gear, not to mention a shorter and less rubbery shift action, but it can be rushed without baulking and you do get used to slamming it around before too long.
With sprightly performance and nippy agility, the 595 really is fun to drive. The short wheelbase makes for some hairy handling particularly in the wet, and this Abarth certainly isn’t as planted or finessed as proper hot-hatchback offerings. Think of it as a quick shot of double espresso more than a full sporting feast.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.92 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS and ESC, rear parking sensors
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Frankly, a Fiesta ST and Polo GTI will cream the 595 for performance, dynamics and even liveability. But Abarth is probably right to claim this micro-warm-hatch has no rivals, because its tiny size (and convertible availability) teamed with swift performance and cheeky styling are virtually unmatched for the price.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The latest entry Abarth 595 keeps the good bits of the regular Fiat 500 and mixes in some great bits from the 595 Turismo above it.
In the isolation of the Fiat/Abarth range it is arguably the most well-rounded and likeable model grade of all. It mixes fun handling and spirited performance with tiny dimensions perfect for parking and a light kerb weight ideally efficient for performance and economy.
More equipment such as a touchscreen and climate/cruise controls, and better seats, would improve the 595 substantially. For the price, rivals offer more of everything (size, performance, handling) but occasionally "less can be more".
In terms of finding a park outside your favourite city restaurant on a Friday night, this hot Fiat will get you there faster than a Ferrari.
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VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Fiat 500 Abarth 595 models - Prices, Features and Specifications