2016 Abarth 595 Review

Abarth now offers a more affordable entry to the range than ever before. The Abarth 595 now promises to be easier to live with day to day as well.

The new 2016 Abarth 595 will be the company’s new entry point into the tuning brand and the most affordable step from a Fiat 500 into an Abarth ever. Aside from the new pricing structure, which starts from $27,500, the main focal point is the retuned suspension which, according to Abarth, makes the 595 a lot easier to live with day-to-day.

Fiat Australia is adamant that this new entry point will attract new buyers to the brand rather than largely rusted-on Abarth tragics like the previous iterations. That means that new buyers will, unlike previous Abarth owners, cross-shop this 595 with other warm - and potentially hot - hatches. That factor will bring some new challenges to the table for the Abarth 595. Pricing for the 595c starts from $31,500.

Previously, there was a pretty hefty gap between the most expensive Fiat 500 and the most affordable Abarth-tuned variant. That mean’t many potential buyers couldn't quite make the jump and had to settle for a Fiat. “What we’ve done is cut that price gap in half,” says Allan Swanson, FCA Senior Manager Product Planning and Strategy. “The new $27,500 starting price for this model is down from the $34,000 starting price of the previous model.

Read our 2016 Abarth 595 pricing story for more information.

Approximately 18 months ago, I reviewed the Abarth 595 Turismo model in what was our most recent experience with the scorpion from Torino. Some of the negatives that we discussed then, still remain so once again, let’s get them out of the way first, because to focus on them too closely is to completely miss the Abarth point.

First up, there is no reverse view camera. Some of you will find that a negative, although I don’t. Not in this vehicle anyway. I really don’t think a vehicle as tiny as the Fiat 500 platform is crying out for a reverse view camera, but when the cross-shop competition has it and you don’t, it might be a problem. The seating position is still compromised, in that you can’t move the steering wheel far enough away from the dashboard to best suit the position you’d like your legs to be in. The chunky wheel is adjustable for tilt but not reach and it results in the driver feeling like they are sitting up too high, rather than down into the cabin as we’d like. It would also be better if you could drop the seat base further down into the cabin as well. Lastly, the turning circle still isn’t as tight as we’d like to see from a compact hatch like the Abarth.

Despite those few negatives though, I absolutely love the new Abarth 595, and here’s why…

First, there’s the price. Few vehicles under 30 grand can put a stupid big smile on your face like the Abarth can, and as we ascertained at launch, the little hatch is quite capable on a racetrack too. Most owners will never realise that, but the fact the 595 is as capable as it is for a starting price of $27,500 is a bonus. We still don’t think the main percentage of Abarth buyers will care about more competent competition either, even though some new buyers might. Buying a Fiat 500 and indeed an Abarth, is as much a lifestyle decision as it is a mode of transport.

The vastly improved ride quality is the big story with the new 595 and it is the most obvious improvement from behind the wheel too. We think the softer tune probably helps the Abarth on track as well, but it certainly makes a huge difference when you’re ploughing around urban areas, where the Abarth can soak up poor road surfaces with more comfort than any model before it. A step back to 16-inch rims and taller sidewall tyres makes a difference here as well, down from the previous model’s 17-inch rims and tyres.

Aside from the smaller wheels, the exterior styling package remains the same. As such, the Abarth retains that low, broad, bulgy appeal of the outgoing model, while still looking different enough from a standard Fiat 500 to make owners happy. There’s no mistaking this as an Abarth model, which is exactly how it should be.

Under the stubby bonnet, there’s a 1.4-litre 16-valve turbocharged four-cylinder which develops 103kW and 206Nm. The power figures aren’t stratospheric in modern terms, but remember the Abarth weighs in at just over 1000kg. The 0-100km/h sprint takes 7.9-seconds, and the Abarth uses an ADR claimed 6.0L/100km for the manual and 5.8L/100km for the automatic.

At launch, we sampled only the manual gearbox, and with the auto a $2000 option, the manual remains the only way to roll if you want an Abarth 595. While the Dualogic automatic might appear to be a smarter option around town for crawling through traffic, the sharp shifting manual is absolutely the way to go. The Abarth 595 doesn't have the snap, crackle and pop exhaust experience of the Turismo we tested in late 2014, but that makes sense as the raucous exhaust might be an option for buyers stepping up higher into the revised range.

Get comfortable in the cabin, seating position aside of course, and it’s all familiar Abarth fare. The Turismo we tested had leather seats, where this new 595 has sturdy cloth-trimmed seats, but aside from that, there’s no surprises in the cabin. The 7.0-inch display is the same, the boost gauge still sits proudly atop the dash, and all the controls are exactly where they were in the outgoing model. The cabin is tight with two large males in it, but it’s still comfortable enough for longer drives. The back seat can be useful for one occupant who isn’t too tall, seated behind the front passenger seat when it’s not all the way back. You’ll absolutely love how tiny the Abarth is externally, it’s a feature that is a real bonus around town. There’s 185-litres of storage in the surprisingly useful boot.

As you’d expect, the Abarth is an absolute hoot in urban areas. Slicing through the manual ‘box, it feels like you’re driving a go-kart and there’s enough burble from the twin exhaust outlets to keep most people happy. The clutch action is light, and the accelerator pedal responsive, although we would like a little more room in the footwell for drivers with big feet.

Where the previous model would skip, pogo and crash over poor surfaces though, the new Abarth simply soaks that stuff up and gets on with business. There’s no uncomfortable crashing through the cabin, the suspension never bottoms out, and you don’t lose confidence with the rear end especially even when faced by mid-corner ruts. All round, it makes for a markedly more assured (and enjoyable) driving experience.

The meaty steering, and indeed meaty, flat-bottom steering wheel itself, make for precise cornering and a solid feel to the input and feedback. In Sport mode, the steering weights up a bit and to be honest, we’d probably leave the Abarth in Sport mode all the time, even around town. Manoeuvering and parking the Abarth is a breeze pretty much anywhere, even with the heavier steering feel of Sport mode.

The 595 will deliver its maximum power and torque in Sport mode, meaning you get the full 0.8-bar of boost as opposed to the 0.65-bar offered in Eco mode. The little four-pot spins cleanly to redline and sounds good while doing it, with barely a hint of turbo lag, making for easy and fast getaways. While there isn’t the outright theatre of the Turismo’s exhaust system, the Abarth 595 still sounds purposeful as the revs climb. Traction is reliable too, even on damp roads as we experienced at launch, and the sensible power delivery means you rarely get any tramp from the front tyres unless you’re really trying to be silly.

Once we hit the racetrack - where it was raining and reminiscent of an ice-skating rink - the Abarth really came into its own. Traction remains a highlight, the engine singing as you work the gears and you can genuinely point the Abarth where you want it to go and floor the throttle. It will slide on wet surfaces, but the ESC is exceptional, catching it quickly and getting everything back into line efficiently. With the ESC disabled on track, there’s sliding aplenty to be had, especially if the track is as wet as our test day was with plenty of nasty standing water. The overall balance is exceptional though, and the chassis comes alive the faster you drive and the harder you push.

The more supple suspension tune makes for significantly more comfort on the road, but it seems to also assist the Abarth in getting power to the ground on track as well, which is an unexpected bonus. Few cars at this price point will be as much of a laugh on track - not to mention as capable - as the Abarth 595.

The Abarth’s TTC system (Torque Transfer Control) is effectively an electronic way of achieving a very similar result to that of a mechanical LSD. Abarth has always been adamant the 595 had to have a sporty feel to the way it drives, but it also wanted a car which is more comfortable to drive every day. The 595 is fitted with specially-designed Koni dampers up front, which have an inbuilt ‘frequency select system’. They have been set up to deliver ride quality over poor surfaces but also be capable of handling properly at higher speeds and have a way of internally controlling the valving of the oil flow around the piston to do so.

Fiat Australia doesn’t currently offer capped price servicing for the Abarth, but service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km and the Abarth is covered by a three-year/150,000km warranty.

So, the central question revolves around whether the 2016 Abarth 595 is better than the previous Abarth 595 Turismo entry-point into the range. And the answer is that as an entry point it most certainly is. It’s more affordable, more competent around town, still excellent on a race track and thanks to the new suspension tune and smaller wheels, is significantly more user-friendly as a daily driver. It still retains all the Abarth appeal and charm too. It might only be a small step forward in revolutionary terms, but the new 595 is a good one.