It’s a rainy day on the Slough trading estate. Probably the least idyllic location to test drive a car, but this didn’t bother me. A few years ago I sat in a 595 Abarth and have ever since been eager to take one out for a spin. They just look really fun to drive! It’s a car I’ve always been curious about. How does it handle? Is the upright driving position frustrating? Does it make you smile as you squirt the throttle of the hot pocket rocket? I’d soon be finding out. Why Slough? Well it’s because that’s where Abarth have their main dealership, and they just so happened to have a brand new 2020 595 Abarth Turismo in a gorgeous blue. Now the Fiat 500 has barely changed since it was first unveiled in 2007, and neither have the 595s. It’s more or less the same chassis and only a few minor tweaks have been made to the design, with little updates on the engineering front here and there. That being said, a half an hour test drive in a new 595 was sufficient to give me an idea as to what they’re all about.
The first thing that is apparent as you step into the 595 is the driving position. It’s not exactly sporty. It’s just like a 500, upright, high and rather tricky to get comfy in. To be expected though, I guess. Likewise, the pedals feel as if they’re angled in the wrong way, it’s a bit like driving a van. Not the best start for the Italian hot hatch but, it quickly ups its game when you turn the key and hear the engine rumble to life.
As I made my way out of the dealership I immediately hit some traffic. Typical! Something I instantly noticed though was the length of first gear. It definitely felt a bit too long for stop and start traffic jams. This was soon forgotten though, as I escaped the tedious jam and was able to use the lengthy first gear to really let the 162 horses go wild. The little 1.4L really is a masterpiece it has so much torque to play with and the power feels progressive and consistent throughout the revs. But the sound of this animal really is the party piece of the 595. I was disappointed to not hear any pops or crackles as I lifted off, but apparently only the Competizione and Essesse models have the exhausts to be so childish. Oh well!
Once the engine had a chance to warm up, I cautiously pressed the sport button on the centre console. Instantly the steering feels heavier, sharper, the suspension stiffer and the engine more excitable. You can forget about the driving position as you get to attack some mini roundabouts. It really hooks up nicely with little quick changes. However, as I tried to be a little more aggressive with the steering, chucking it into longer bends, I did feel a slight hesitation with how the body wanted to roll in, a tad lazy and this was at relatively low speeds. Not quite the go-kart sensation I was after. You get the feeling other smaller hot hatches would find a lot more lap time on a track day. Not that it mattered so much in a road test, but this particular model I was driving had Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres. Not pushed to the limits for obvious reasons, but the 595 certainly felt stuck to the road in the wet. Small amounts of torque steer were apparent eagerly exiting some roundabouts, but if this bothers you a front limited slip diff is available on other models. Tempting.
The steering wheel feels great and like the gear knob and pedals has a good quality and sporty look. If anything the wheel could maybe be a little smaller to give a sense of more playfulness. The pedals as I have already said didn’t feel quite right but the gear stick, positioned like in a 500, is definitely in a good place for making quick shifts and getting back to the wheel. Although a slight distraction, the turbo boost gauge and digital G metre on the dash that appears in sport mode are rather cool features. It’s definitely a fun car to be in, and the Abarth logos dotted everywhere remind you it’s a little special. The basics like indicators, lights etc were all easy to use and the sat-nav infotainment screen a good size and fairly intuitive.
The trim on this particular model was a tan leather which personally I found looked quite tacky; an all black interior is available. For a little car priced at nearly 17K, some of the materials felt very cheap. Likewise, seams in the leather leaved a sizeable amount of excess to grab and just felt like a rushed job. If leather can’t be pieced together properly, don’t do leather at all!
After just a half an hour test drive I have to admit the seat didn’t exactly support my back very well. This might have been because of my search for a lower sportier position, but it doesn’t exactly bode well for using this car regularly. To be expected from the Fiat 500’s naughty sibling, the boot space and passenger leg room in the back aren’t ideal for longer trips or for packing a lot with you. For such a small car though, the turning circle seemed rather pathetic. Perhaps the 595 has a shorter steering rack than the 500? I can’t find out anywhere! There was a definite drop in turning circle performance in sport mode. The sport mode however, is perfect! What I mean by that is, in normal mode, the car is extremely easy to drive and can achieve an honest 41.5mpg (more efficient small cars are about). Moreover, the change in performance in sport mode is significant to make it an occasion. But if you want to drive more efficiently and comfortably, the normal mode can accommodate that. The Kosi suspension didn’t feel too bumpy compared to reviews I have read of previous 595s, although not exactly a Rolls Royce for obvious reasons. Unlike a Rolls Royce though, it does have the 500’s good visibility. Again, to be expected really, they are related of course!
Well first and foremost, the 595 really did make me smile and that alone makes it a commendable hot hatch. The steering response was fantastic, it’s more the body roll and overall high centre of gravity that takes away confidence in some corners. The engine is good enough to please any petrol head and is by far the pièce de résistance of the 595. Personally if money was no problem, I would pay more for the pops and cracks of the exhaust on the Competizione and Essesse models. Not to mention their Brembo brakes and front limited-slip diff on the front to really abuse the power out of corners. It would truly complete the experience.
But the elephant in the room with the 595 is the price. To really have the complete sportier package you’re looking at £24,000-£27,000. For a car that’s not exactly built to the highest standard (cough cough) is known to have reliability problems (check out some forums) and be ergonomically flawed and impractical like the 500, it’s a bit of a rip off. Again, the driving position is not in the slightest bit sporty, it’s like a van! Maybe if Abarth had addressed this problem they could justify the price but to be honest, they’re laughing on their way to the bank with the 595. Yeah I am frustrated about the driving position. Sure the visibility may be compromised but if you felt lower it’d feel a lot sportier and more enjoyable.
But that’s not to say I don’t like it. I do, it has its charm. But my advice to anyone with the hots for this little thing, is don’t buy one brand new! There’s loads going second hand and they do seem to depreciate so you’d be foolish not to. Unless of course you’re loaded with money, in which case yeah, go on buy it new, well done you! As for me I wouldn’t say no to one and maybe we’ll meet again at a nicer location, perhaps as a holiday rental? I mean, I will need to drive this thing somewhere better then Slough. It does deserve that much after all.
By James Drujon
Abarth 595 Turismo 2020 – £16,995
|Average Fuel Consumption||41.5 mpg|
|Co2 Emissions||155 g/km|
|Acceleration (0-60 mph)||7.3 sec|
|Top Speed||135 mph|