The chic and premium 500 came to India to give brand Fiat a boost. Now, six years later, it's back, this time with more power, to try and do it again.
What is it?
Abarth 595 Competizione – the name boldly implies that it has a lot more zing than the 500 Abarth we drove in 2012 or the Nuovo 500 of 2008. To be sold in limited numbers, Fiat hopes these cars will once again seed excitement and passion for the brand in people’s minds. This new car is a forceful crack at this task. Like the regular Fiat 500, this car is also blessed with a friendly and fresh look, but the bit of tough-guy swagger injected into it makes it immediately endearing. The Competizione looks more confident too, as it sits lower and has large 17-inch rims with 205/40 Pirelli Zeros to anchor it further. The coarse, graphite-like finish for the plastic parts, such as the door handles, wing mirrors and grille, shimmers in the sunlight, giving it a more exotic, work-in-progress race-car-like feel too. The chin juts out a bit obstinately and has a large mesh air dam cloaking the intercooler underneath. Apart from this, there are no dramatic changes to the design.
So, to mark it out as an Abarth, the 595 gets a smattering of badges. Actually, you won’t find the Fiat name or logo moulded, stamped or sewn anywhere. Instead, the beautifully crafted scorpion turns up at the usual places, such as the grille and steering wheel, and at some unexpected places like the seat-back recline adjustor and the fuel filler cap. On the inside too, the sporting intent is the focus. The Sabelt race seats are slim and contoured beautifully. Getting in and out isn’t an art that needs to be mastered, and it doesn’t try to re-sculpt your body either. The machined alloy pedals and chunky, flat-bottomed steering wheel shout out the 595’s leanings. Then there are many neat touches like the LCD instrument cluster with its smart, clear graphics, and a metal board in the footwell for the passenger to brace against. While space in the front is more than adequate, the rear bench is best used for stowing soft luggage.
What’s it like to drive?
There is some substance behind all the show of course – the Competizione packs a 1,368cc T-Jet motor with a meaty 158bhp on tap. This in a 1,155kg car means a power-to-weight ratio of 136.79bhp per tonne. To put that in perspective, it is not too far off from the Mini Cooper S’s 145.96bhp per tonne. But that’s all on paper. From behind the wheel, I can’t help but smile at the engine’s mushy earnestness. This turbocharged motor has some lag, but it is driveable even at low RPMs. It really gets down to business when you cross the 2,500rpm mark, and from there on, it will rev to its 6,500rpm limiter with a steely resolve. The engine even makes a tinny, race car-like rattle as it nears the rev limiter. The exhaust note, although throaty at low speeds, is drowned out by road and wind noise at higher speeds. Sharper response to throttle inputs and more ratios to choose from would have made the 595 delightfully frisky, but even as is, it is entertaining. The 595 has a Sport button that, among other things, increases the boost available from the fixed-geometry turbo to increase the torque from 21.01kgm to 23.45kgm. On an open road, you’ll be impressed with the engine’s willingness and ability to scoot forward. On a sweeping road, its ready supply of torque provides for some entertaining corner exits too. The TFT display for the driver shows you the percentage of throttle being used and g-forces too!
The 595 will be offered in India with a five-speed automated manual or AMT, and this is perhaps its weakest link. At city speeds, in Auto mode, the gearbox shifts up early and leaves you wanting for response, put your foot down to pass a car and there’s a nervous pause as it swaps cogs. Thankfully, this can be overcome by using the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. There’s a pause during upshifts too, and that is largely to blame for the Abarth trailing the Mini Cooper S in the 0-120kph run by over four seconds. Rolling acceleration figures are similarly unimpressive. The suspension setup too, despite its sporting ambition, isn’t punishing. There is a low-speed stiffness that lets you feel rumble strips and it does feel a bit too bumpy at higher speeds on the highway, but it manages to soak up larger bumps with surprising generosity. However, some care is required over rough patches as the low ground clearance could cause damage to the body work. From behind the wheel, there’s no dismissing the its dynamic ability. The 595 has tremendous grip and excellent body control, which makes it incredibly chuckable. Fiat’s Torque Transfer Control, activated by a switch on the dashboard, transfers torque from a spinning wheel by braking it. It also makes the traction control a bit more lenient, allowing for more wheel spin. However, changing directions at high speeds requires some getting used to as the rear suspension feels a touch soft and makes the rear feel a bit slower to follow through. However, what it lacks sorely is a talkative and frisky steering. The electric steering’s 2.5 turns, lock to lock is hefty in Sport mode and feedback could be better.
Should I buy one?
The Abarth 595 Competizione comes incredibly close to hitting its target. Although no longer nuovo, it is still refreshingly good looking, especially so in this sporty guise. It handles well, is reasonably quick and won’t be tedious to live with either. However, we would have liked to have a lot more fizz and more toy-like joy a car like this promises especially if the asking price is likley to be between Rs. 27-30 lakh.