Australia is a market hardly lacking in viable hot hatches. But there are none quite like the tiny Italian pocket rocket that is the updated 2015 Abarth 595 Turismo.
Sensible? Hardly. But then again, is that such a crime at this end of the market? Fiat updated this familiar shape in August this year - see full pricing and specifications here - so it seemed high time to have another crack.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way from the outset, because it’s true, the Abarth 595 Turismo has a few.
The most obvious is the seating position, which is all wrong, making you feel like you're constantly hunching to get the best view out over the stubby bonnet of the road ahead. Taller than 187cm? The Abarth is going to be a pain in your neck – literally.
Secondly, the turning circle is unacceptable for a vehicle this tiny. I’ve just handed back a Toyota Tundra that wasn’t much worse than the Abarth – and you’d just about fit the Abarth in the Tundra’s tray. Isn't the Abarth supposed to be a city car?
Finally, the ride is pretty abominable over most of Sydney’s poor suburban road network. The stiffly sprung Abarth bounces and skips, and often crashes over the worst surfaces leaving me wondering whether a kidney belt should be on the list of optional extras.
So yes, the Abarth 595 Turismo is by no means perfect. But then again is any proper Italian love affair ever devoid of heartache? Talk to an Alfa Romeo fan. Or Ferrari. Or Lamborghini.
With the negative points made, the reality is this: To criticise the Abarth on these weaknesses may be justified, but I'd argue it is also to completely misunderstand the attraction of this crazy little car.
This is because few new models have the ability to stir the soul for such little outlay. And in my experience, the Abarth buyer couldn’t care less what is better or more competent. Abarth ownership is, first and foremost, about making a statement, the same as it has always been. Intangible things such as that sometimes matter.
What began in 1949 as high performance exhaust manufacturing morphed into a tuning company. Abarth’s original legendary Fiat was the 595 – based on the Fiat 500. You’d have to agree that anything with an Abarth badge has always been a little unhinged. Anyone with a decent sense of reality wouldn’t have considered a mid 1960s Fiat 500 as a potential performance weapon would they?
I’ve driven an original Abarth 595. It was a few years ago now, but I remember the experience well. It was loud, raw, hot, reasonably fast, mightily uncomfortable and entirely silly. Pretty much exactly as I expected. That’s why every time I step into a modern Abarth, I take a minute to remind myself of that original experience.
Despite the fact that I ‘get’ the tuned Abarth Fiat 500s in general, I’ve always detested the automatic gearbox. I’ve tested three, including the Maserati and Ferrari Tributo models, and both were let down by the self-shifter. I simply couldn’t live with it, which makes the 595 Turismo complete with manual gearbox even more appealing.
That’s what we had this time in the CarAdvice garage, and it's what you're reading about here.
Not everyone can afford a Lamborghini, Ferrari or Maserati – obvious comment, but a pertinent one here. The Abarth exists for those of us who can’t afford to go shopping within the Supercar set, but still desire a healthy dose of Italian flair and madness packaged in a vehicle that you could conceivably drive every day. There’s a certain sense of theatre that oozes from the Abarth’s pores even when you’re going nowhere in traffic.
Resplendent in rich red beneath battleship grey, the Abarth attracts attention whenever and wherever you happen to be. People of all ages and walks of life find something charming in the Abarth even when it’s parked quietly waiting to come to life. There’s something about its diminutive size, lowered stance and eye-catching styling that ensures everyone who sees it can’t help but take a second look. From behind the wheel it’s the same story too, you’ll find there’s always something to enjoy about driving it.
The two-tone paint scheme actually works really well. The new 17-inch alloy wheels (painted gloss black) also help to sweeten the exterior styling deal, with silver trim accents and a white stripe between the two body colours contributing to a racy overall look.
You can read our full pricing and specification story here, but it’s worth noting the new Abarth 595 Turismo is $1490 cheaper than the model it replaces (EsseEsse), with our test vehicle starting at $33,500 plus on-roads not including dealer and on-road charges. Turismo is the entry-level grade and is available as a hatch only. The Dualogic automatic is a $2000 option, but whatever you do, don’t tick that option box – not even jokingly.
The 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine crackles to life as you twist the key and settles into a raucous idle. If you park in an enclosed garage, you’ll wake the neighbours every morning. There’s 118kW and 230Nm on offer and the potential of a 0-100km/h sprint in 7.4 seconds with the manual gearbox. The ADR fuel claim is 5.4L/100km, and over our week of testing, the on-board computer showed an average figure of 7.1L/100km – not bad at all considering this reporter suffered a severe case of lead-foot for much of that week.
The engine roars up to redline, and hard shifts elicit a crack from the exhaust. Maximum power comes in at 5500rpm, while the max torque figure is delivered at 3000rpm, so there’s a near-perfect real world balance between the two that gets the Abarth up to speed rapidly – and keeps it there. Unless you specifically want to potter around, the Abarth never feels slow. I left the Abarth in Sport mode for the entirety of my test, which in practice means sharper throttle response and meatier steering feel.
Driving position aside, the retro feel of the Abarth’s cabin is pretty likeable. The new 7.0-inch TFT instrument cluster is a clever addition that doesn’t look out of place possessing the Fiat/Chrysler family DNA. The other feature that suits the Abarth’s rorty performance is the boy racer dash mounted boost gauge.
The leather-trimmed seats (standard on the Turismo model) were relatively comfortable, though it would be nice to be able to lower the seat further down into the cabin, which you can’t, hence the previous pain in the neck comment. Annoyingly, the steering wheel is adjustable for tilt but not reach, meaning some drivers won’t be able to get set up exactly how they’d like.
The body-coloured interior trim is an eye-catching addition but there’s still plenty of hard plastics that cheapen the overall cabin experience.
The Blue&Me Bluetooth and USB system works well. Once paired, the phone connection proved stable and reliable and calls were clear at all times. There's no Bluetooth audio streaming, which is poor, though you can play via cable. In contrast to the attractive TFT display ahead of the driver, the audio system display looks decidedly old tech.
As you’d expect, the Abarth (ridiculous turning circle aside) makes total sense around town. Parking is a breeze, visibility is excellent and it’s physically tiny, so even the tightest underground city carparks won’t create a problem. The nose is low though, so you need to be careful negotiating nasty driveways, speed humps and shopping centre parking guides.
On a few occasions during my week behind the wheel I needed to transport more than one person. Surprisingly, fully-grown adults will fit in the second row. They will need to be something of a contortionist to get in there, but once in, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic.
The luggage area is, as you’d expect, pretty compact. There’s room for an average family’s weekly shop there though, if you’re clever when it comes to packing. You can fold the rear seats forward as well, to liberate more room.
Find a section of open road where you can stretch the Abarth’s legs and it fires as you shift up through the gears, pops and crackles on the overrun and accelerates rapidly. It’s as if it comes alive progressively the more rapidly you’re travelling. The suspension, which seemed too stiff around town, translated to exceptional handling through sweeping bends, and you’ll be left thinking the Abarth is an oversized go-kart such is it’s balance and seat of the pants feel.
It’s an absolute riot on the open road, and you don’t need to be breaking the speed limit to be grinning like a Cheshire cat.
There are plenty of things about the Abarth 595 Turismo that don’t make sense. One thing that does though, and perhaps the most important, is the fact you can get behind the wheel of an Abarth for less money than before. The second fact is that cars like the Abarth have nothing to do with making sense. We should rejoice the fact that in this day and age they exist at all. They are all about the fun of driving, the enjoyment of getting behind the wheel and smiling every time you do so.
Colleague Anthony recently scored the Abarth 500C EsseEsse 6.5 overall, and I’m adding an extra half point for the manual gearbox. We tend to agree that niggles aside, the auto’ transmission was the only major let down. Therefore, this manual Turismo gets a slightly higher score for not suffering though poor shifts. Incidentally, my head might say 7/10, but my heart gives it a perfect 10/10.
The Turismo spec (with manual gearbox) is the perfect balance for me in the Abarth range. I don’t need the ragtop, and I definitely don’t want the auto. Is The Abarth 595 Turismo the best option in the segment? Not even close. Would I buy one? Absolutely. If I needed a proper city runaround, I wouldn’t hesitate. It really is that much fun.