Believe it or not, but it’s been nearly seventy years since engineer and motorcycle racer Carlo Abarth first became associated with being the go-to guy for go-faster Fiats, and Abarth has subsequently grown from tuning house to a recognisable brand in its own right.
Currently, the most popular models in the Abarth range are in the 595 range, pumped-up and hardcore versions of the Fiat 500. Powered by turbo engines, fitted with track-ready kit and dressed up with angry-looking bumpers and huge rear diffusers, they’re small hatches with big power and bigger personalities.
The 595 Turismo, which sits in the middle of the 595 range, is just that bit naughtier again. If the regular Fiat 500 is the four-wheeled equivalent of a handbag, then the Abarth 595 Turismo is the four-wheeled equivalent of a choker necklace and the dog filter on Snapchat.
Like most Abarth models, the 595 is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the same one that you’ll find underneath the bonnet of a lot of other Fiat group cars. For the 595, however, it’s been significantly reworked with the addition of a big Garrett turbocharger to crank up the power.
The 595 comes in three distinct flavours, ranging from the slightly unhinged to the balls-out mental, with the standard car getting 143bhp. The Turismo we have on test here gets 20bhp on top of that for a maximum output of 163bhp.
Finally, the range-topping 595 Competizione – that would be the balls-out mental one, in case you were wondering – gets 178bhp and all manner of extra performance goodies to make it a much more focused option for those who regularly track their cars. More on that later.
As it stands, the Turismo is probably the best all-round option in the range. Although it misses out on the extra horsepower that the Competizione gets, the fact that it weighs just a hair over 1,000kg means that it can really make the use of all 163 available horses.
It’s quite a boosty little thing; it takes the turbo a while to spool up and so the power delivery tends to come all in one old-school turbo car whoosh, but once it comes on full power the Turismo rockets off into the distance at a pace that would worry many more powerful cars.
Pin the throttle into the carpet and it scoots off in a straight line like an angry bee, and it does a fairly good impression of one too with an exhaust note that sounds ruder than a car its size has any right to. Officially, 0-62mph takes 7.3 seconds and it’ll top out at 135mph, but given its compact dimensions and light weight it feels a good bit faster than that.
It’s a properly quick little monster, deceptively so given all the size of it, and it’ll scamper along B-roads and race tracks alike with the best of them, all the while blowing raspberries out the exhaust like a bear growling into a didgeridoo.
Ride and handling
Abarth says that it’s not all about power either; instead, the 595 range is supposed to be all about the emotion and the experience of driving, so how does this scorpion-badged city car stack up when you’ve got the hammer down?
Fairly well actually, especially when you consider how unsettled and out of its depth the regular Fiat 500 which the 595 is based on feels when you give it the welly. Part of that comes down to the significant revisions that the Abarth gets over the Fiat, which in the Turismo includes the likes of bigger brakes, a mechanical limited-slip differential between the front wheels and Koni shocks in the rear suspension.
In particular, that fettled suspension really helps to make the car feel much more controlled and agile at speed, though in our experience the 595 Turismo is still more a seven-tenths car than the likes of the Competizione or the range-topping 695 Biposto, both of which receive much more extensive upgrades and – in the case of the 695 – a roll cage to stiffen up the body.
This is particularly evident on bumpy roads, where the Turismo will start to undulate and toss around a bit, but perhaps more telling still is that the hazard lights cut in ridiculously early even under moderate braking pressure leaving you looking like a bit of a berk braking late into the twisties.
That said, it does boast suitably impressive body control in the corners, while the tiny wheelbase means it changes direction eagerly and the steering is direct and accurate enough, if a bit numb feeling. On the topic of steering numbness, we’d avoid putting the car in ‘Sport’ mode which leaves the steering feeling inconsistent and artificial. Even if throttle response is reduced a little, keeping it in ‘Normal’ makes for a much more predictable car to drive fast.
Honestly, we’d say that rivals like the Fiesta ST, 208 GTi or MINI Cooper S are all much better to drive overall than the 595, but it’s impossible to discount the Abarth’s loud personality. Just as it is for people who like the regular Fiat 500 too, if they want one of these then the chances are they’re not even going to consider anything else.
Interior and equipment
A total of 15 different body colours are available for buyers to choose from, and Abarth also offers three optional packs to further customise the exterior with side stickers and contrasting mirror caps. Inside, the 595 range has also gotten a full overhaul with carbon fibre detailing to reassert its sporting character, plus a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a new instrument panel.
It does feel suitably sporty and Abarth really has made a decent effort to make the car feel much more purposeful and focused than the standard 500. In particular, the chunky and supportive leather sports seats are a real highlight, along with the big and brilliantly juvenile turbo gauge perched up high on the dashboard.
There are a couple of complaints we have with it, particularly in terms of driving position. We understand that it’s limited by the amount of interior space inside the car, but for us personally it can be a bit of an ergonomic nightmare.
For example, the driving position is much too high and the pedals positioned oddly, so your foot has to tap them down instead of push them in. The steering wheel is too far away and doesn’t adjust for reach either, so in order to be able to grip the wheel right you have to slide the seat to a position where your legs are squashed up against the steering column.
The car is packed with kit though, with all 595s getting a five-inch Uconnect touchscreen as standard. Granted, it’s a bit fiddly but it comes with sat-nav, DAB radio and rear parking sensors. There’s also the option to upgrade to a larger seven-inch screen, plus an optional Beats sound system for audiophiles.
Our test car came with the optional convertible roof, which can be raised and lowered via a switch mounted on the roof. It resists road noise surprisingly well, however it should be noted that opting for the convertible means that the boot opening is limited to a small hatch, rather than the rear door that the hardtop gets.
That further impedes its already limited practicality, with small and tight rear seats and 185 litres of boot space which is really only good for a few shopping bags and which makes it near impossible to fit large or awkwardly-shaped items in.
Prices for the 595 start from £15,090, while the Turismo is £18,290 and the Competizione £20,090 – convertibles like ours cost £2,000 more across the range. Depending on trim and options, it puts it bang on par with rivals like the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi and MINI Cooper S.
Running costs are surprisingly alright though; Abarth claims this car can return 47.1mpg with 139g/km of CO2, and while we haven’t quite matched that over the past week it’s been fairly cheap to run. The trip computer claims that we were able to get into the mid-30s, not bad considering it’s been driven fairly vigorously.
While it mightn’t be the fastest or the best-driving small hot hatch out there, the Abarth 595 Turismo more than makes up for it with its big personality, the fact that it makes a big noise and the fact that it feels like a genuine sports car in a dinky Matchbox-style package.
In the city car class, it outguns more or less everything else in terms of sheer power; it’s a car for which the term pocket rocket was pretty much invented and it brings with it a real sense of character and charm. Sure, in some ways it’s a little bit silly – but isn’t that the whole point?