It’s bright red, sounds great and, crucially, comes from Italy. It isn’t a Ferrari, though. Meet the CarAdvice Abarth 595, a pocket rocket with character to burn.
This is a Cars We Own diary for our own Abarth 595. Think of it as a rolling logbook, a little window into life with the cars in the CarAdvice stable. You’ll find the most recent entries at the top, and the older instalments at the bottom.
Expect to see monthly updates from here on out. They might be longer, more in-depth breakdowns of specific trips, or sentence-long snapshots of foibles that have popped up.
Let us know if there you have questions about the cars and we’ll try to answer them. Most of all, enjoy!
Sam Purcell, Off-road editor
Sam might spend most of his time driving big, tough off-roaders, but he’s not above getting behind the wheel of our Abarth 595.
Sam: From Italy (Poland) with love
Sliding into this little Abarth was a trip down memory lane for me. While I’ve almost exclusively owned old Land Rovers that accelerate and handle like a whaling ship over the years, my wife had a much-loved 2006 Mitsubishi Ralliart Colt as her daily driver for a long time. I would often nick the keys a give it a run instead of my own car, which was great for reconnecting with how a sharp driver’s car feels on the road.
This cute little brute has a lot in common with that Colt – torquey and willing little turbocharged four-banger, short-geared and sweet-shifting five-speed manual, and just enough practicality to get past as an everyday small car. For zipping through traffic and enjoying yourself when there is an opportunity to stretch the legs, the Abarth 595 feels pretty bang-on.
Where the old Colt had a more businesslike interior, using mostly hard, black plastics and fantastic Recaro seats, this Abarth is laden with big colours and shiny finishes. If you want something a bit different that draws attention, this is probably your ticket. While the fairly prevalent bum gives the boot a decent size, it’s worth noting the Abarth is hardly as practical as the old five-door, minivan-shaped Colt.
There’s definitely more comfortable options to drive out there, plus there is a distinct lack of tech and features for such a new car. That’s not the point of this car, however. As a zippy little unit with a bit of poke and plenty of character, it fits the bill well. I don’t know if I’d outright buy one for myself, but I’m certainly enjoying piloting this one.
Glen Sullivan, Photographer
The Abarth isn’t what you’d call big. Fine, it’s tiny. That didn’t stop our intrepid photographer, Glen Sullivan, from loading it up with his fishing gear and boogie board for some relaxation. He even found it… comfortable?!
Glen: I find the Abarth not a bad car. Weekend trips away are comfortable, and there’s plenty of room for a single or couple. Other members of the team seemed to find it hard to get a comfy seating position – not the case for me.
The back seats fold down easily, allowing me to fit all my gear in for a fun weekend down the coast. It easily fits a 42-inch bodyboard, beach fishing rods and equipment, a small suitcase with all my clothing, plastic tub for wet gear, and a backpack, along with plenty of room for more.
It also works as a ‘business car’ to carry my camera equipment to and from shoots. There are no issues if it’s just me and one other crew member. Again, folding the back seats means I can easily fit 2 good sized Pelican Cases, a large tripod and a few medium camera bags.
The lack of a top tether point or Isofix points in the rear seats eliminates this car for anyone hoping to shuffle around young children, even though children are probably the only ones you’d ever want to put in the rear seats.
Highway driving is easy and comfortable but the absence of cruise control is a big miss. Also missing is a reverse camera. Every car should have one, regardless of size.
The infotainment system is horrible. Bluetooth seems to pair with my iPhone fine to answer calls or talk whilst on the road, but looking for someones contact on the driver display in front of the steering wheel is near impossible. I guess there’s probably a knack to it that, as an owner of the car, you might get used to. I can’t seem to get it to play music via Bluetooth – much easier just to plug the phone in through USB.
I am surprised with the fuel economy being much higher than I had first expected, even for a small car around town. Combine that with a small fuel tank, and you’re stopping for fuel more than is ideal.
Overall, I probably wouldn’t buy one. It’s just not my type of car. But it is plenty of fun to drive. Flick the sport button and hit some windy roads and this car really shows you some fun.
Trent Nikolic, Managing Editor
Trent spent a week running around in the Abarth this month, and a few things quickly became clear. The ergonomics still suck, that’s for sure, but he’s still a fan of the car. Why? Read on!
Trent: I spent a week running round town in the Abarth this month, and as always absolutely loved it. Sure, the seating position and the steering wheel angle are bordering on infuriating as we keep saying but… the engine and gearbox are excellent.
I love this manual gearbox and you’d never recommend the auto, given how sharp and precise it can be when you shift quickly. The engine is punchy, and enhances the go-kart like feel of the Abarth around town when you’re darting in and out of traffic and through crowded city streets.
Its forte is obviously parking, where it makes the perfect city car, but the packaging of the Fiat 500 platform is worthy of mention too. There’s enough room in the boot for a family-sized grocery run, and the second row is useful when needed also.
I’m the first to admit and point out the compromises in the Abarth platform, but overall I think it’s an excellent little city runaround. Short highway runs are dispatched easily and the newer variant with a slightly softer ride, and better seat positioning would make it hard to resist.
It’s got that innate sense of style too, and the point and shoot way you can drive it, along with the raucous engine note, make every drive fun. I remain a big fan of the Abarth, the more time I spend with it.
After 12 months in our keep, the little Abarth was due its first service. How’d the pocket rocket fare?
There were no surprises in the 595’s first checkup. The team at Suttons City in Sydney replaced the oil filter ($38.50) and changed the 5W-30 oil ($85.80).
With labour and an ‘environmental charge’ (waste disposal), the bill ran to $295.
Sarah Aitken, Production Manager – Video, Events
There are some cars purpose-built for driving long distances. The 595 is not one of them. Sarah was the unlucky person tasked with taking the Abarth from CarAdvice Melbourne to head office in Sydney. How did the car stack up?
Sarah: Driving from Melbourne to Sydney in this car was… an experience. It wasn’t the most comfortable of rides, but overall it did the job and got me where I needed to go!
The lack of cruise control made it more stressful than it needed to be, as I was on edge checking I wasn’t going over the speed limit. With three demerit points left, I couldn’t be too careful!
The seating position can be difficult to perfect, but it isn’t too bad once you get it right – with regular breaks to stretch the legs!
For a road trip where you have a bit of luggage, the Abarth isn’t a practical choice. We had the boot full and luggage on the back seats, which isn’t ideal when you’re parking the car overnight in carparks or on the side of the road.
In saying that, parking the car is a breeze because it’s about the size of a matchbox! It fits pretty much anywhere, which is very handy in the city.
At one point I realised we had 50kms of fuel left in the tank. Oh, and it was 69kms before I reached my destination. And there were no petrol stations en route – but I made it! It seems the Abarth runs on the smell of an oily rag.
It has a fair bit of zip when you’ve got it in Sport Mode, but unfortunately it seems the size of the car gives the impression it’ll be slow on the open road. I was tailgated by SUVs and sedans a lot, which was quite intimidating going 110km/h – especially given the car would probably crumple into a cube if I slammed on the brakes and got an SUV in the rear!
Overall, it did the job – a good runabout city car for someone who doesn’t require a lot of internal space, but don’t even think about taking back seat passengers! I probably wouldn’t opt to take it on another road trip though…
Scott Collie, Journalist
This guy is very, very tall. The Fiat 500 is very, very small. You can probably see where this is going. The powers that be at CarAdvice slung Scott the keys to the 595 and, through fits of laughter, said to have fun.
Scott: I realise six-foot-seven is pushing the envelope in the normal ‘fully grown’ stakes, but the fundamentals in the Fiat are so poorly conceived, I defy anyone with fully-formed arms and legs to get comfortable.
Any corner requiring more than a quarter-turn of steering lock makes my hands slam into my knees and, although not certain, I think the cramped setup made me bump my, er, junk into the base of the steering wheel over a particularly nasty speed bump. Lucky the Italians are lovers, not fighters.
In truth, other elements of the cabin would frustrate me if the driving position weren’t so poor. It’s an ergonomic nightmare, with buttons seemingly assigned functions at random and enough mismatched fonts to make graphic designers weep.
At risk of speaking in tired Italian tropes, the 595 is still charming, despite these flaws. Check out why here.
Melissa Ong, Social Media and Community Manager
People are always telling us they want to drive our cars. Thankfully, we love sharing. The newest member of our team, Melissa Ong, managed to prise the keys from us for a weekend before her tenure at CarAdvice. Click the link for all of her thoughts, or check out an abridged version below.
Melissa: My first impression when I was handed the keys was that it was “cute”.
The Passion Red paint job accompanied by white ‘Abarth’ stripe decals down the sides just screams that it’s a little car that wants to be taken seriously.
Inside the car, you immediately notice that style takes precedence over function. The digital speedo has a fantastic animated display when switching between standard and sport mode. The speedo numbers are large and clear to read when compared to the similar cluster on my Kia pro_cee’d GT, but the separate boost gauge sits awkwardly on the top-left of the dash.
As a solo commuter, I seldom find myself with passengers, but I did put the Abarth to the test. While the car can provide seating for four, by the time you have your bag and essentials on board it becomes an intimate space for two.
Despite all this, driving the car was the most rewarding part. Want to know more? Check it out here.
Thanks to Vinh Mangalino for the photos.
Every car enthusiast should own an Italian car once in their life, but we’re working on a budget here…
Budgets are budgets, and as much as we would have loved to gone shopping for a Performante or Quadrifoglio, we settled on the most affordable new Italian sports car available, the 2017 Abarth 595.
Now okay, ‘sports car’ might be a stretch, as the 595 is still very much a hotted-up version of the series-three Fiat 500 hatch, but this is a car to judge more on its abundance of character than outright market positioning, so we can pretty much categorise it as we wish.
Have a read of the full introduction here.