Good Car Bad Car
Can a car be as good as it is bad? Abarth like to think so
The phrase ‘good cop, bad cop’ is often used in police/crime shows to get information out of seemingly tough criminals. Therefore we know that cops can be good and bad in such a scenario but has there ever been a car that is good and bad at the same time? I am going to take a punt and say there has been but I do not believe that any other car could play this balancing act as well as the Abarth 595 Competizione does.
One thing that the Fiat Chrysler Group loves to do is create spin-off brands. When I was growing up, RAM and SRT were both Dodge brand while Abarth belonged to Fiat. Technically they are unchanged except the fact that the Dodge Viper was called the SRT Viper and the Fiat 500 Abarth is just the Abarth now. Though, Abarth was originally an independent brand founded by Austrian racecar driver Carlo Abarth in 1949.
The Abarth 595 looks great from any angle
Enough with the history lesson and back to this Abarth. I may be slightly biased going forward so I must confess that I do love the Abarth 500, I seriously considered getting one but the thought of dealing with a manual everyday put me off so I got the GTI instead. The Abarth is based on the Fiat 500 as you all know, a car that is usually owned by Youtubers and people who carry a dog in their handbag. The Abarth is different because it is a car for purists but people hate on it because of its impractical size, reliability issues and so on but the truth is, we all would love one.
The exterior gets some quite major changes to distinguish it from the Fiat brand. Firstly, you have those ultra cool black scorpion badges along with some numbers and writing that says ‘Competizione’. If you look closely, you will also see Abarth written in the front grille. The wheels are black 17 inch pieces of art with a little red scorpion in the centre. They hide the red Brembo calipers that give this Abarth some serious stopping power. You also get some blacked out bits for a contrast effect along with some air vents to cool that fire breathing little engine.
The attractive but terribly impractical interior
The interior seems like it was designed and then built by someone who doesn’t know the first thing in ergonomics. Everything is covered in hard plastic except the top of the gauge cluster which is covered in alcantara for some reason. There is also some useless carbon fibre on the steering wheel and in the paddle shifters, go figure! The interior features plenty of glass around and the car is not very big so maneuvering it isn’t an issue despite the horrid seating position. The seats say Abarth on them and look very cool but they offer no thigh support to a slightly taller person and the lower back support is even worse. You will need a rest after you finish driving this. The seating position is bad and it means that you sit quite high making it especially uncomfortable for taller people. All of that is painful but you quickly forget about it when you see that boost gauge build up.
On a side note, I would prefer having soft plastics over the useless carbon fibre.
So far, it isn’t looking that good for the Abarth. The exterior looks great but the interior is shocking quite frankly. What about the driving, will that make you fall in love with it? That tiny 1.4L turbo engine produces 132kW which isn’t much for a hot hatch these days but the way it delivers the power and the rising turbo boost gauge makes it feel like it packs so much more. That and the punchy 250Nm torque that catapults this little car to 100 in under 7 seconds. What makes it an even more enticing car is the noise, that ‘Record Monza’ exhaust makes an absolute raucous. That becomes so much more unbelievable when you realize that all the noise comes from a tiny little engine. The loud note does tend to become a drone when cruising but that is still bearable. What’s not bearable is the ride quality after a point because it is harsh. That is due in part to the car being lowered and sitting on stiff Koni shocks. All this does mean you will get some early panel rattles and a bad back possibly. Another pain point is the infotainment unit which is FCA's Uconnect system, notoriously slow but at least easy to use and you also get a cool graphic on start-up and switch off. It's the little things that matter, right?!
The steering is incredibly responsive and you really can throw into corners and it will stick, the handling is just sensational. Downshifting into a corner and then flooring it, this car really loves to just go for it. I honestly don’t know what to say about it but you really need a nice windy road to push this to the limit. That is the beauty of a little hot hatch like this because it can be pushed to the limit at sort of legal speeds, you don’t need a track for this. It is the definition of driving pleasure.
Then there’s that horrid 5 speed single clutch auto gearbox. Leave it in auto mode and it does not know what to do so please use manual mode, for your sake and mine. Trust me, drive it and you will want to use the paddles all the time. That jerky shifting is due to the single clutch box and if like me you are wondering why they didn’t just use a double clutch unit, I would have to blame that on the lack of space. Remember, this is a teeny tiny car. Yes, the gearbox is bad and it could certainly have done with a sixth gear at least but I will share one hack that will make your driving experience better. Lift off the throttle when you are just about to shift, just like a manual car because it just makes the shifts so much smoother. It’s all well and good to grumble about that but remember this is an Italian car and they are notorious for their quirks. It's one of the reasons why we love them.
I know that the Abarth will drain my wallet and ruin my back but I so desperately want one!
Uncomfortable, impractical, cheaply built and pricey, there are a lot of things wrong with this car but it is all redeemed by the way it drives. Driving this car is an event, the noise and the sensation it gives you is like experiencing a rock concert at the Ritz.
I would love to hate it but i can't
Thanks for reading! Apologies for my long hiatus but I'm back now :)
Words and pictures by Matthew D'souza