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.

Anything else?

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.

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Comments (18)

  • A 595 is all about the smiles per gallon 😁 I had a 595 for two years and have now moved on to a 124 Spider but still look back fondly on my time in the 595 .

    One other thing 595 owners will do? Look back at the car as you walk away from just can’t be helped

      2 years ago
  • Great write up.

    I’m Sick of these bhp wars, hot hatches are supposed to be cheap and most of all fun. I don’t care if it’s got xxxbhp or if it can do 0-60 in a freakishly low time.

    How does it feel when you find a twisty b road? How does it feel when an m135i can’t lose your 182 around the bends at the evo triangle?

    None of this can be quantified in pure numbers.

    Hot hatches are supposed to make you feel like a hero, then do the shopping, then break down. Not necessarily in that order.

    It’s a French/Italian things

      2 years ago
    • Couldn't have put it better myself mate!

        2 years ago
    • Horsepower isn’t everything you need in a hot hatch, this is why I choose the new Suzuki swift sport, I also like the Abarth too it has to be said. I think these days you have to think about mpg, the tank size and then the interior and exterior what...

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        2 years ago
  • Love em, my mx5 is similar . Just can’t stop driving. It

      2 years ago
  • Having owned a 595 they are a blast of fun. However after 2 months it was in the garage for a new gearbox, a month later recalled for engine issue,, in the 2 years of ownership it spent 3 months at a dealer being repaired. I'm guessing it was a bit of a lemon car so probably unlucky. When it was running it was awesome and look back with sadness to see it go. I now have a Golf R which whilst being awesome to drive doesn't capture your heart

      2 years ago
  • Don't forget the 695 BiPosto. Faster to 60 than a Golf GTi and Focus ST

      2 years ago