Dammit, now I want to buy an Abarth again. This happens every single time! I hooned the bright yellow 595 Competizione all of last week (speeding tickets are waiting for me...) and welled up when it was time to give it back. Small cars, generally speaking, do not do it for me whatsoever. I understand their reason for being of course; they’re ideal for congested cities and blah, blah, blah whatever. They’re not the most exciting to drive and nor do they look particularly fetching. However, this 500 bucks that trend and is easily the most enjoyable car I have driven this year. In fact, I may be hard pressed to find something that’s more of a hoot than this.
The regular Cinquecento is a bit of a Plain Jane but thanks to a lower, wider stance, the scorpion badges, 17in alloys, beefier shocks and dual pipes, the 595 Competizione exudes an overtly sporty persona and is ever so endearing. The fascias have been redrawn too; the new front and rear light clusters are equipped with polyelliptical headlights, LED daytime running lights and Xenon headlights while under the revised rear bumper is a more pronounced and effective diffuser in a tar cold grey finish.
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The interior gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a brand-new sports instrument panel, a new for 2018 7.0in Uconnect infotainment touchscreen and plenty of cool design elements, my pick of the bunch being a cheeky boost gauge which sprouts from the dash.
When I took the tightly scrunched Italian ball of anger for a spin and vacated the most prominent spot outside wheels HQ in the process, I fully expected the surrounding Range Rovers and Porsche Cayennes to have filled the void — but on my return an hour later, its turf hadn’t been poached. That’s right — the bigger boys fear it. The Abarth is so feisty that it’d probably pick a fight with its own shadow. It commands respect.
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Our tester was equipped with the automatic gearbox and yes, the spirit of some cars is lost when they’re fitted with these transmissions, but that isn’t the case here. In Manual and the Sport button pressed, the Aisin robotized sequential unit (with shift paddles) is fabulous and even feels like a row your own with the way it lurches between gears. It even holds third through quick bends and is mated to a 1.4-litre Multijet turbo inline-four that belts out 180bhp and 250Nm. Indeed, most of the Fiat’s charisma comes from the peppy motor which responds as if you’ve stamped on its tail but there is so much else to like here (such as the yankable manually-operated handbrake which adds another cheeky element if the driver should ever feel so inclined...). The frisky 595 can hit 0-100kph in 6.7 seconds, but it feels a lot faster than that, while in the corners it displays plenty of grip and zero body roll thanks to the ultra-firm Koni dampers (be warned: you may lose a few fillings on bumpy roads — the chassis really is that stiff) and the big Brembos provide ample stopping power.
However, the best thing about this Fiat is the Record Monza exhaust which ensures this angry pocket rocket will let everyone within two blocks know of its temperament. A quiet mode? Ha, you’d be lucky; the exhaust, which probably spans about the length of your arm, is either loud or when in Sport mode, louder and will put a massive grin on your face. Imagine a Chihuahua doing a booming impression of Pavarotti and you get the idea, but the 595 is not without its foibles.
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Torque steer is one such issue; when you floor the throttle — which is what you’ll immediately do the moment you get in — you will be fighting the steering wheel to keep it from wriggling from left to right. The cargo space is minimal (the spare tyre takes up the entire 185-litre boot), visibility isn’t the best, the racing seats aren’t fully adjustable, it has a truly pathetic turning circle and the ride quality is harsh.
But you will accept all of its shortcomings because it really thinks it is a baby Ferrari. If you want something that is fast, bullish and displays playful handling in a tiny package, look no further than this over-the-top little hooligan. It is absolutely brilliant.