Abarth 595 Turismo - It's The Little Things In Life
A fantastic recipe for a hot hatch, but in the real world, does it hold up?
A while before all this started I had the chance to test the middle of the range Abarth 595 ,the Turismo being the one that most people actually buy. This is far from a new car of course but not something I'd ever had a go in and when I thought about it, it sounded like a package that could really work. You take a tiny car, with a stupidly short wheelbase, rip out the yummy mummy engine and put in it's place a 1.4 Petrol with a massive turbo. Tiny car, biggish engine. That's definitely worth a go. So, if you too are looking at a warm hatch for your next car, let's see if this one could be any good for you shall we?
The REALLY Good Bits
I'm just going to say it - this is a ridiculous car. Not ridiculously good or bad, just plain ridiculous. To passers by it looks like a Fiat 500, until you put your foot down. The exhaust gives a childish burble and suddenly they're looking at a 70's rally car. The noise is silly and I love it. It crackles and bangs through the gears, all the while pushing out a creamy grumble from the exhaust. Then when you've had enough of accelerating, lift off and you get the most man made and unusual whistle from the turbo I've ever heard. All this noise is obviously the result of a computer and a trick exhaust, but when you're blasting down a B road you simply don't care. It's bags of fun and how that's achieved is of no concern to me, nor should it be to you.
It also has a feature that's now missing from most modern cars - turbo-lag. Oh how we've missed you. You floor the throttle in any gear and there's a suspense filled pause. It gives you time to think about what's for dinner or to contemplate one of life's many complex issues. Then, the boost builds and the whole car wallops you in the back. Hours of entertainment, it really is the little things that make a car great fun.
I also must say that (controversially) I really love the looks. It manages to be understated (if you get the colour right) and aggressive in equal measure. It's no longer a 500 with some two tone paint, it's got it's own style now and that's certainly no bad thing. It looks and sounds special, there's a real theatre to it and that's what this car is all about - Drama. It's a toy, it's a blast down a country lane at a weekend with the windows down and your summer tunes on. Fabulous. But the issue is this. Most of us can't have a weekend car, this is the real world and in the real world things such as fuel economy and practicality matter. So, can it hang with the big boys in everyday life?
In a word, no.
Let's start with the worst bit. The interior. It's just a symphony of awfulness. Look beyond the leather steering wheel and you'll find endless plastic trims, panel gaps and debatably the worst infotainment system I've seen on a modern car. It doesn't make any sense and that's coming from a millennial. So if someone has figured out how to do anything with it, please let me know. The bucket seats might look great, but they're unnecessarily firm, making an already harsh and unforgiving ride even worse. It really does seem to me that they finished it, looked back and went "yep, that'll do". Also I'm sorry but putting the gear lever in the same stupid place as an early 2000's Renault Scenic - IN A HOT HATCH? What on earth were they smoking.
Boring, Boring, Bored...
It's not all terrible though, at £17,000 it is considerably cheaper than it's rivals - but obviously you do sacrifice the refinement in the cabin found in VW's and, crucially, MINI's.
Once you get it out on the road, there is a beacon of hope though. The poorly positioned gearbox has a lovely short throw and is just notchy enough to give you some real satisfaction. Meanwhile, with the car weighing the same as a bag of frozen peas and being about as long as Chris Evans career on Top Gear, it dives into corners like a housefly. The steering in sport is beautifully weighted, giving that rewarding feel and massive grin we associate with a good hot hatch. However, because it's about as long as it is tall, it feels boxy. What I mean is that at higher speeds, it feels improperly balanced and doesn't give you the same confidence to chuck it round a bend that you get from say a Cooper S or Fiesta ST. In the real world then, this simply won't keep up with it's competitors, it's great fun - just not that fast.
The other main issue is practicality. For one, it suffers from the same issues as any small displacement car. It simply doesn't have the same confident pull at motorway speeds as it's 2.0 litre rivals. This isn't helped by being mated to a 5 speed gearbox, the drone from that exhaust at 4000RPM would drive you mad after just a few miles on the M1. If you did decide to use it on the highways, let's hope you aren't going on holiday as, in the same way as the Fiat 500, boot space is pitiful. You'll have to leave the kids at home to, at most you could take two of them but only if you're willing to sacrifice their legs. Real world mpg is also no better than its rivals, you're not gaining anything over buying a larger engine'd alternative.
So, who should actually buy one?
If you want a fast(ish), hot hatch that's uncompromisingly fun, then you should. But not many of us do. It's really just a big boys toy, with silly sounds and great driving feel it's sure to put a smile on the face of all who get behind the wheel. The problem is, it's a bloody expensive toy. This means that for most of us, the choice is simple - MINI Cooper S, Fiesta ST or Polo GTI.
So close, yet so far. Still, good effort Abarth.