Driven: Abarth 595 Competizione

If Maserati made small cars…

I’ve covered a couple of Maserati’s on these pages in the past. The Ghibli, a relatively sensible saloon that is endowed with some Italian design and passion, kept making me glance back as I left it parked. The GranCabrio Sport before it sounded like an angry volcano and could just about manage to stay ahead of a pyroclastic flow. I loved it. It was everything an Italian sports car should be.

Sadly, there’s no way I can afford either car so, for now, I’m stuck in a Volvo estate. A brown one, at that. The Volvo does have the ability to soothe the worst of moods though, thanks to its consistent comfortable competence. However, I’d not been in it long enough to get over the fact that I’ve not hit the Clarkson-esque levels of success required to buy said Maserati when Abarth, Fiat’s hand-assembled sporty side, sent over a 595 Competizione with the promise that it was something of a mini Maserati.

I was rather sceptical. If it looks like a Fiat 500, shares its running gear with a Fiat 500 and has the same engine as a Fiat 500, then surely it’s a Fiat 500?

Arriving, unlike the car pictured here, in a baby-blue colour on the lower half, with a dark grey upper half, it didn’t quite hit the sports car mark. Red, perhaps, would have been a wiser choice, or the dark grey on the photo car. Still, it looked smart, especially once I noticed the intricate 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in rubber band tyres underneath lowered suspension and bulging wheel arches. Around the back are four exhaust pipes (one for each cylinder?) and a spoiler, while the Fiat badges have been replaced by the Abarth scorpion.

Step inside and there’s been more work done to separate the 595 from the 500. Sporty seats with bolsters that squeeze you tight hint at what might be under the bonnet, even if they are mounted too high. A thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel and solid metal gear lever leave you with pleasant touch points with more heft than you might expect from such a tiny car.

But still, a mini Maserati? There must be something potent under the bonnet then? If a 1.4-litre petrol engine doesn’t sound exciting, then add a turbo and you get 180bhp to play with. Not an earth shattering amount of power, but the car is very small.

Press the start button and instantly any doubts about the car are forgotten about. This things barks, pops, burbles and bangs like a supercar. It feels alive, already pushing to be unleashed before I’ve even selected a gear.

I press the Sport button first, then take first gear. The next ten seconds or so felt like how I’d imagine a hyperactive Spaniel’s brain works when it’s running around a house with wooden flooring. It’s utter madness, but brilliantly entertaining madness.

The front wheels scrabble to contain the power, and just about manage it, propelling the 595 towards the horizon with more urgency than anybody could ever really need. The gears go by quickly, a metallic click from the gear lever adding a tiny bit of drama as the engine note grows. In isolation, it’s not particularly pleasant, but once channeled through those quad exhausts it takes on an entirely different, almost menacing tone. Hit the brake pedal and the Brembo-supplied kit scrubs off speed quickly, while the exhaust pops and burbles as the engine catches up. Turn into the corner and the Koni suspension somehow gathers up the body and keeps everything in check, even when I think we’re about to skip across the road surface. The suspension is stiff, certainly, but it’s oddly compliant too. Ride quality is acceptable (never good, but good enough) yet handling remains controlled.

Quick steering, a tiny wheelbase and instant power means the Abarth will be second only to motorbike around Cambridge, and it can probably fit into gaps that some bikes would fail to get through. At the lights the exhaust crackles with intent; where two lanes go in to one, you WILL get there first.

It’s not without fault though. Firstly, there’s the price. At £19,890, it’s ludicrously priced, and that’s before you spot the occasional cost cutting measure carried over from its Fiat 500 sibling. The hard plastic dashboard doesn’t ooze a premium feel, and the fact that there are still a number of 500 badges dotted around the car just feels penny-pinching – surely Abarth can stretch to some 595 badges? In practical terms, it’s a near two-seater. Yes, there are rear seats, but you wouldn’t wish even your worst enemy to use them, and the boot is best described as compact.

But forget all that. If you live in the city and have 20 grand to spare, are you really going to save yourself some cash and buy something ordinary, or are you going to pick up a hand-assembled combination of true Italian style and passion that happens to be a riot to drive?

Like a Maserati, the Abarth 595 is an irrational car. It’s too expensive, too thirsty and too impractical. Almost any other car will be demonstrably better in virtually any area, but the Abarth just doesn’t care.

And neither do I.

Model Tested: Abarth 595 Competizione
Price: £19,890
Engine: 1.4-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 140 mph
0-62 mph: 6.7 seconds
Power: 180 PS (188 bhp)
Torque: 250 Nm (184 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 47.1 mpg
Road Test economy: 37.0 mpg
CO2 Emissions: 139 g/km
VED Band: E / £130 per year
Car insurance group: 34U
Kerb weight: 1,035 kg

Additional photography by Adam Tudor-Lane.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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