Out of the box, the Fiat 500 is known for being cute and compact – but not particularly quick. The making of fast Fiats is left to Abarth, the Italian brand’s slightly unhinged performance brand headquartered in Turin.
The Abarth 595 that we drove for a week is, more or less, the A45 AMG to your everyday 500. It’s a fast, noisy little supercar. Whereas the $85k Mercedes is great every day of the week, the $45k Abarth is undeniably compromised. But that simply serves to give it even more character.
It rides harshly and with the optional, $2,500 Sabelt racing seats fitted, it’s extremely snug behind the wheel. If you’re of a bigger build, this isn’t a car that will happen for you. There’s next to no boot space. It’s loud all the time. Fuel consumption jumps to 10L / 100km plus, if you drive it hard and quickly (as it wants to be driven). Plus there’s the fact that it never entirely strips the Fiat’s cutesy image.
None of that matters, actually. This little car manages to distil the spirit, focus, and noise of a much quicker, much more expensive performance car into a tiny package. It sounds mean – with a crackling, gurgling exhaust and high-pressure turbocharger adding all sorts of beauty into the soundtrack. And, from the middle of the rev range upwards, it pulls meanly, too.
The seven-second-plus sprint to 100 looks a bit of a slouch on paper – and it’s not going to thrash a Polo GTI at the lights. But with an ultra-tight, ultra-short wheelbase, the Abarth is a superb machine to push around a country road.
It offers astounding levels of grip. The 595 holds and holds through tight corners, at much quicker speeds than what faster (but larger) options can maintain, with their more ungainly wheelbases.
It can be a bit of a handful in town, with a jumpy throttle, bizarrely awful turning circle (the Hyundai Genesis is tighter), and thick A-pillars that obscure vision.
But, if you want practicality and usability, buy the Polo; buy the WRX; buy the A45 AMG.
If you’re after something a bit unique, and very passionate, in the shape of a city car – the Abarth 595 isn’t a bad place to start.