Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
In the 1960s Carlo Abarth’s tiny Bolognese team got their hands on the original Fiat 500 and began to have a play. Carlo had begun his association with Fiat back in 1952 with the 1500 Biposto and that relationship flourished through the next decade, during which the Italian people’s car was born – which Carlo was convinced could be improved. Come the 1963 Turin Motor Show, Carlo and Abarth unleashed the Abarth 595 on the world. The 595 took the dinky 500 and made it faster, an engine capacity increase from 499cc to 593, allowing the top speed to pass 120km/h – a dizzying speed in such a tiny vehicle. In came wider wheels and tyres and a new exhaust system and carburettor helped boost power from 22bhp to nearly 30! That 595 would live on until 1971, delighting a generation of fans. Delighted by the success they saw in the re-tooled 500s, Fiat went and bought the lot, taking over Abarth on October 15 that year. It would not be until 2012 that the 595 badge re-emerged on a Fiat and Abarth have been fiddling with 500s ever since.
The original Fiat 500 was a masterpiece in utilitarian design. Arriving before the Mini was even a drawing it was the ultimate people’s car for Italy. When Fiat decided to revive the famous Cinquecento nameplate it was obvious they weren’t going to dare deviate too much from the formula. The 500 is a grown-up, enlarged version of the icon it follows and the current version is just a polished version of that homage. When Abarth get their hands on it they add a little bit of beef, or should that be torro. The 595C Turismo we see here gets two-tone paint, in a rather fetching series of greys, an aggressive set of bumpers, with two delightful exhaust tips poking from its now ample rump and what could be described as a relaxing roof, in that if you push a button the fabric cover gently removes itself to the rear of the car, but doesn’t stow. Inside there’s plenty of light Abarth touches to what was already a jolly cabin from the 500. The Turismo carries Fiat’s uconnect infotainment system, which features everything you really need in a rather nicely packaged seven-inch screen. If you are so minded, the on board telemetry system can also let you review your recent driving, should you wish to make improvements.
Start the car and you get a lovely bark from those exhausts, and a definite sense of extra power over the 500, but it’s not until you push the sport mode that the 595C Turismo really comes into its own. Suddenly everything tenses up, the feel through the wheel becomes slightly electrified as it weights up and the front tyres begin to scrabble for grip, not producing oodles of nervous torque steer, but instead that gentle tug that signals this car has power, but is just at the right level to keep it under control. Under the bonnet its 1.4-litre four-cylinder motor will help you dispatch 60mph in a little over seven seconds, before motirng on to a top speed of 136mph. On the open road the Abarth feels fun and nimble, that insistent engine not barking at you at each gearchange as if ordering you to push that little further. Steering feel in normal mode leaves much to be desired, but pop it into Sport and that is rectified, along with any sluggishness under the right foot. Perhaps the only thing that could be improved is a slightly wooly gearchange, carried over from the standard car, but at a smidge over £18,500 for a hot hatch we can probably just about forgive them.
The original Abarths bring out passion not just in Italians, but anyone who loves a brilliant piece of design. Updated for the 21st century the modern 595 hopes to reignite that passion for motoring that some hot hatches have perhaps lost with the propensity for four-wheel-drive, harsh driving aids and ‘Ring records. This is a simple hot hatch which doesn’t ever claim to be anything other than a bit of a little monster. The sport button makes it almost two different cars, quite and reasonably sedate in normal mode, and a tiny maniac in sport mode. Keep it in sport mode at all times outside of town and you’re in for an absolute hoot.