The Abarth 595 showed me what really matters in a hot hatch
And it ain't horsepower.
I've spent the past two weeks driving around in the delightfully silly Abarth 595 Competizione, and it's quite unlike any other small performance car I've driven. In fact, it's rather rearranged my ideas of what actually matters in a small sporty car. Allow me to explain.
It's not about power
The fastest hot hatches of today - your AMG A45s and Golf Rs - are well on their way to having 400bhp. That is a wonderful, bonkers notion, but at what cost? In the pursuit of straight line speed, manufacturers seem increasingly to forget what hot hatches are all about: lightness, chuckability and fun. A great hot hatch should make you want to constantly drive like a pubescent 17 year-old. If it doesn't, it has failed.
So what DOES matter?
I repeat: Fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you giggle like an idiot when you drive it? And what's more, what percentage of the time is it fun to drive? Do you need a big wide b-road to enjoy it, or can it make you smile even when stuck in traffic? This is the Abarth's party piece. Yes, it's quick (albeit nowhere near as quick as some of its rivals) but what matters more than how fast it is, is how fast it feels. And thanks to its boosty power delivery, firm suspension and super-quick steering rack, it feels bloody nuclear. Yet because you only have 178bhp to play with, you don't have to drive at illegal speeds to make it come alive - meaning you can spend more time in the power band, where the fun is kept.
Yes. It feels really... special. It's hard to put your finger on specialness, but some cars just have that ability to make every drive feels like an occasion. In the Abarth, this is thanks to the wonderfully overdone alcantara/carbon fibre steering wheel, the heavenly noise from the Monza exhaust system, and the sheer tinyness of the thing.
The Abarth 595 Competizione is a big-hearted, happy little car with fun at its core, and we need more like it. It is proof that when car brands prioritise sheer enjoyment, rather than worrying about getting around the Nurburgring quicker than the opposition - beautiful things happen.