FIAT’S evergreen 500 has been turned into a fire-breathing hot hatch before by legendary firm Abarth, but the latest version is now a permanent addition to the range.
Available in semi-sensible Turismo or 100 per cent barmy 595 Competizione guise tested here, the Abarth 500 is not for the faint of heart.
For a kick-off, it boasts a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol unit up front which offers a healthy 158bhp but, more significantly, 170 lb ft of torque. The exterior wears a tough-looking bodykit and gorgeous alloy wheel options, while there’s also stiffer suspension and uprated brakes. There’s some interesting touches inside too, such as the attractive metal-topped gearlever.
It’s hard not to love the Abarth 500’s looks, even though from some angles it is almost comically pumped up. It has the proportions of a roller-skate, with a short wheelbase, big wheels and minimal ride height, but it just makes you want to get in and drive it.
Any notion that the standard 500 is a car “just for girls” is dismissed in a flash when it’s turned into an Abarth. Those in the know recognise the badge and those that don’t are intrigued.
Don’t forget that the Abarth is still a city car, however much its transformation has rendered it better suited to the open road. So up front there is a respectable amount of space for adults, but to be fair the driving position is better suited to those under six feet in height. The back is best suited to kids or adults who are willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of fun.
This particular 595 had the optional leather bucket seats, which are terrifically supportive and look superb. In fact it’s very easy to get carried away with the options list, especially when the end result is so much fun.
Drive the 595 in the manner it deserves and you’ll revel in the gloriously torquey engine, the hilariously raucous exhaust note and the way in which it dives into bends with limitless enthusiasm. It’s a car that works best when you chuck it about rather than use a delicate hand. Do so and it’s a complete riot, as well as remarkably quick.
Turn down the wick and it’s a little more like hard work. The great handling comes from the stiff suspension, which means bumps are felt rather than heard, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off.
There’s quite a bit of competition at this price, since the 595 Competizione is far from cheap. However, it does come with a lot of kit too; items like Xenon headlights and the glorious exhaust system are all standard. Go mad with the options list and you can easily break the £20,000 mark.
If you can live with the ride quality then the girl or boy about town who wants a 500 more stylish than anyone else would be very happy with the Abarth 595 – although urbanites might prefer the less frantic Turismo model.
But for anyone who just wants a small weekend toy with which to blast away the cobwebs, the 595 might be right up your street.
Car Abarth 595 Competizione
Engine 1.4l, 158bhp, 170 lb ft
Performance Max speed 130mph; 0-62mph 7.4s
Economy 43.5mpg combined
CO2 emissions 155g/km