Abarth's continued mission to turn the Fiat 500 into a hot hatch doesn't lack enthusiasm, but is missing the refinement seen in its more well-rounded rivals

Find Abarth 595 Competizione deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
Nearly-new car deals
From £19,900
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

Surely, no car in the past decade has been treated to as many reincarnations as the modern Fiat 500.

Triumphantly reborn in 2007, half a century after Dante Giacosa’s rear-engined Nuova 500 took Italy by storm, the car received its first Abarth makeover a year later.

The original 595 was launched at the Turin motor show in 1963

Abarth had been making Fiat performance exhausts and tuning kits for a decade before it introduced the original 595 at the Turin motor show in 1963.

The car proved an immediate hit, its size and surprising turn of speed guaranteeing it legendary status in its maker’s annals, and helped to lead it up the path to Fiat’s eventual takeover in 1971.

Since then, there have been numerous frivolous special editions, not least the 695 Tributo Ferrari and the Maserati tribute – models whose most accurate and obvious tribute to its namesake was the spectacular £30k price.

Finally, however, the car has been treated to a refresh that doesn’t come with a limited build number. Partly in tribute to Abarth’s original interpretation of the 500 – 50 years old itself in 2013 – the model has been rebranded as the 595 and now comes in standard, Turismo and Competizione trim levels, not to mention still being available as a cabriolet. There was always room for a stripped out track day special in Abarth's stable, and it duly responded with the 695 Biposto.

Back to top

Since we reviewed the 595, Abarth has entered the all-electric era. In our review, we discover if the Abarth 500e is a real hot hatch.


What car new buying red


17in Abarth 595 alloy wheels

Offered in three trims the Competizione is the closest competitor to the cars that dominate this sector - the Mini Cooper S, Ford Fiesta ST and the Renault Clio RS. The Abarth 595 is ostensibly an Fiat 500 treated a peppy, turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine, an aggressively styled bodykit, dual-exhaust system and a race-inspired interior.

Like all Abarth 595s other than the limited-run specials such as the Tributo Maserati and 50th Anniversary Edition, the 595 is built entirely on the standard Fiat 500 production line at Tychy, Poland. Abarth’s stylists design, equip and specify it and the firm’s development team does the component selection and special engineering.

Options include two-tone paint finishes, 10-spoke alloy wheels and racing leather seats

There are no dedicated production facilities or techniques involved here other than in very special cases. Whether that’s enough of a difference to make Abarth a distinct and valid brand in its own right is open to debate. It seems to us much more like a performance sub-brand, like Volkswagen’s R or BMW M division. But be that as it may, the car is undeniably striking and exudes fashionista pocket-rocket charm in cynic-disarming abundance.

Powering the 595 is a 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol engine with an IHI RHF3-P turbocharger, producing 143bhp and a healthy 151lb ft of torque in standard form, the Turismo gets 162bhp at its disposal, while the Competizione punches out 177bhp. Transmission options include a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed robotised manual. The 695 Biposto has 190bhp to play with and is driven through a dog-ringed five-speed box.

Given the car’s trim kerb weight – 1035kg claimed, 1135kg as weighed – it packs a power-to-weight ratio to beat a Seat Ibiza Cupra and comes within touching distance of a Ford Fiesta ST.

The suspension spec is similarly promising. There are 17-inch alloy wheels, lowered sports springs, beefed-up anti-roll bars and Koni FSD selective dampers  on the Turismo, but the Competizione adds cross-drilled disc brakes with high-performance Brembo calipers, as well as a quad-exit sports exhaust.

The Frequency Selective Dampers on the Abarth 595 Competizione work in almost exactly the same way as the ‘double-piston’ dampers on both the Infiniti Q50 Sport and the Nissan Qashqai.

In effect a variable valve solution, the Koni units have additional valves and oil chambers within the damper, around the main reservoir, that come into play in cases of sudden load. This allows Abarth to run a higher primary compression rate for tight low-frequency body control and still allow for extra compliance via the secondary valves, for when the wheels hit potholes and sharp lumps and bumps.

The system works well compared with similar ones we’ve tested. Mercedes-Benz offers a directly comparable dual-path selective system on various models, although it’s not quite as simple in design as this and not as effective.

The computer-controlled variable-rate dampers that are used by Volkswagen, Volvo, Audi, BMW and now Honda are much more expensive and complicated, relying on dedicated ECUs and either motor-actuated valves or the electro-magnetic charging of particles in the hydraulic fluid.


Abarth 595 dashboard

The flamboyance of the 595’s two-tone exterior isn’t quite matched by its cabin. In here, there’s simply no concealing some of the chief limitations of this car. When you’re staring at the available passenger space, fitted equipment and material quality in the Abarth 595, you’d have to be very indulgent indeed not to question why a rational individual might spend £20,000 on one.

Abarth would argue that its customers aren’t rational but passionate, enthusiastic, indulgent individuals – and that the 595’s distinctiveness and charm take it a long way. Fair enough. But this is – on a fundamental level – an overdressed city car.

The visibility gets better the further back you sit from the wheel

The slightly hard, plasticky fittings, the rough leathers on the controls, the dated-looking stereo and the ‘occasional’ rear seats wouldn’t offend at a lower price. But in a car costing four figures more than plenty of quite practical, better appointed, full-sized hot superminis, they’ll be obstacles for a great many buyers. As such the Competizione gets xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, electrically adjustable door mirrors, rear parking sensors, Brembo brakes and Fiat's infotainment system complete with a 5.0in touchscreen display, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

The 595’s driving position is high and the absence of reach adjustment on the steering column will make it trying for some. The secondary control ergonomics are likewise not brilliant.

You can’t get at the trip computer buttons easily because the wiper stalk is in the way – and you have to get at those buttons to turn the passenger airbag off, for example. We also found that Abarth’s metallic powder-finish trim for the fascia and seatbacks marked quite easily.

Counting in the car’s favour are Sabelt bucket seats that are comfortable and offer plenty of support, a high-mounted aluminium alloy gearlever that is a tactile highlight and a boost gauge cum shift indicator that adds a welcome bit of theatre.

You have to be stationary to pair your phone, and it takes a little longer than the average halt at traffic lights, annoyingly. Call quality when connected is only okay and the rudimentary menu screens make negotiating your call lists and phonebook a bit painful. For a £19k hot hatch, you’d expect better.

There’s no factory sat-nav system on the options list and no obvious integrated way to attach an aftermarket Garmin or TomTom. Abarth mentions preparation for TomTom nav as an option, but it wasn’t fitted to our car.

Buyers can also opt for an optional Interscope sound system, which adds a 100-watt subwoofer to the standard set-up, among other things. Sound quality is decent but nothing stellar.


Abarth 595 rear quarter

The Abarth’s 1.4-litre engine is relatively small for a hot hatch but doesn’t require mega levels of boost to achieve its 177bhp and 184lb ft. (The gauge routinely displays about one bar of pressure when you’re on it.)

Sensibly, those are relatively modest outputs by the class’s latest standards, so the Abarth has a pleasingly driveable demeanour. At low engine speeds it retains decent response, and although there is inevitably some turbo lag, it could be a lot worse.

The Abarth's list price really needs to be lower

Pushing the Sport button on the dashboard increases throttle response and the engine’s willingness to produce torque, but even then it’s driveable and responsive – enough to match an admittedly very tight, new Renaultsport Clio RS against the clock.

Besides, if you want to avoid any lag, dropping a cog on the standard five-speed manual is no hardship. It’s not as quick as a dual-clutch automatic unit, obviously, but it’s an enjoyable shift that has very little notchiness, even though it could be more precise and snickety between planes. The optional five-speed automated manual transmission, badged MTA, is an expensive option that's not really worth investing in; it's clunky and slows the car down, so avoid it unless you need an automatic.

The motor eventually spins through to 6500rpm, but there’s little to be gained from working through the last few hundred revs. Even though the numbers we returned say that’s the quickest way, it’s just more pleasing to chuck the Abarth back into the meat of the torque range and feel it build. Peak power is all done by 5500rpm anyway while peak torque comes at 3000rpm, and between those two points is where it feels gutsiest.

Setting the Competizione apart from lesser Abarths and cars like the Clio RS, too, is its Record Monza exhaust, which braps noisily on start-up and always retains an enthusiastic edge. Wearing? It could be, but frankly the road noise and ride become tiresome way before the exhaust does.


Abarth 595

Sometimes you can deal with ride and handling as a whole, so neatly blended are the two elements of a car’s dynamic make-up. Not so the Abarth. This is a car that has ride. And it has handling. And one is considerably better than the other.

It’ll not surprise you to learn, we suspect, that the ride is the lesser of the two characteristics. The tyres – 205/40 R17 Pirelli P Zeros – are no more aggressively profiled than those of many rivals, but this car is hard. The town ride veers somewhere between aggressive and shocking, crashing over bumps and thumping in and out of potholes. If someone had told you that the transporting blocks had been left in the springs, you’d go and check rather than laugh it off.

The TTC system is quite good, but it's not always on in the background

However, there is a pay-off to that paranoid level of body control, and it comes in the precision of the Abarth’s movements when things get twistier. On tracks like those at MIRA, or on good, smooth roads, the Abarth nicks along with rewarding precision and impressive agility.

On busier road surfaces, things are inevitably livelier inside the cabin, too. The body stays less flat than in, say, a Fiesta ST or even a Clio RS 200 but stops short of feeling like you’re being bucked along. Just about.

At 2.5 turns from lock to lock, the steering’s speed feels ‘right’ – neither nervy nor lethargic – although we’d prefer more consistency to the weight, which can build quite quickly off straight-ahead. If it were more linear, you’d say that it was feelsome. As it is, it’s a mite peculiar, but accurate enough.

And the balance is good. At its limit, the 595 will understeer at first, but a trailed brake or a throttle lift keeps it more neutral. It’s keen, hard and composed, in a slightly one-dimensional but enjoyable fashion.

The 595 is a tidy circuit car – composed, grippy, capable and fun. If you’re pressing on, it’s best to engage Sport mode, which sharpens response and weights up the electrically assisted steering. It doesn’t make a discernible difference to the stability control, mind, but that cuts in and out with such finesse that it’s no big deal that it stays active.

Engaging TTC (Torque Transfer Control), meanwhile, makes quite a large difference. Instead of allowing an inside wheel to spin, when engaged it brakes that wheel while allowing power to direct itself as normal to the outside.

It also seemingly relaxes the traction control, allowing both wheels to spin up in low-grip conditions. In the dry, it lets the Abarth put down more power, more often, which helps this little car make very tidy progress, as do its powerful, fade-resistant brakes.

There isn’t the same level of throttle adjustability as in a Ford Fiesta ST, because most of the grip limitations are focused around the front wheels, but it’s very agile and quite engaging.


Fiat 500 Abarth 595 Competizione

You might be wondering why, with its design-led cheekiness and zesty performance, you don’t see more Abarths on the road. The first answer is that it is not cheap. With options, the top-spec Competizione can clock in at over £23k.

The second answer is that the car has a direct rival in the shape of the Mini Cooper S – a British-built model that offers similar retro charm and more talent for about the same £18k asking price.

Don't opt for the MTA – it's expensive and finicky

To make matters worse, our favourite hot supermini, the pin-sharp Fiesta ST, starts at just £17k – almost £1000 less than the lower-spec Turismo.

Admittedly, the Competizione comes with Xenon headlights, tinted rear windows, climate control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity and the dual-mode exhaust system as standard.

But its real superiority over the Fordif not the Mini – lies in the longer options list, where Abarth offers a higher degree of personalisation, including leather race seats, two-tone paint schemes and several decals.

As for running costs, Abarth claims 43.3mpg combined for the 595, which is some way behind its closest rivals. The Mini and Ford are in VED band E, but the Abarth’s 155g/km forces it two rungs higher, meaning that it’ll cost more a year to tax.

Niche appeal will leave the 595 less strong than the Mini and Ford Fiesta in the battle for value retention.

What car new buying red


3.5 star Fiat Abarth 595

If you drove this car exclusively for intense periods on super-smooth roads or small race tracks, you’d adore it.

However, if you never veered away from town roads or motorways, it would rapidly drive you potty. The 595 Competizione is that sort of car: a one-dimensional puppy dog that is forever pulling at its leash, desperate to chase a stick.

Questionable on space, quality and value, but an amusingly big-hitting little 'un, even so

That’s great if you’re in the park on a Saturday morning but a nuisance if you’re on the sofa at the end of a long day.

And, being realistic, there are other cars, such as Ford’s exceptional Fiesta ST, that are better than the 595 at both ends of the scale: more engaging on a good road or circuit yet more comfortable when you’re not – and a good deal cheaper all the time, too. While the Mini Cooper S is far more soothing to drive than the 595, but lacks the aggression that the 595 displays on the track.

There's even the oft-overlooked option of Skoda's Skoda Fabia vRS; it's cheap and practical, although admittedly lacking in a little charm and allure.

Yet there’s something about the Competizione’s enthusiasm that is hard to dislike. It would be better were its springs and its price not quite so unyielding, but it’s a car with charm and a very raw, very real appeal.

Just know what you’re letting yourself in for.

What car new buying red

Abarth 595 Competizione First drives