There was some head-scratching when the entry list for Bathurst 12-Hour race was published a few years ago because amongst the list of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens and Nissan GT-Rs was a three-car team of Abarth 595 Competiziones. That bewilderment was exacerbated when the race weekend arrived and the petrol heads saw a slick, professional factory-backed team brandishing full race-prepped machines imported direct from the Abarth competition department in Turin, Italy.
And they were fast – very fast - fast enough in fact to finish 1-2-3 in their class first-up at Mount Panorama.
Now, coinciding with the launch of the Series Three Fiat 500 range, the rip-snorting Abarth 595 Competizione road car is available from Fiat dealerships around Australia. “Tasca Razzo” you may say (that’s Italian for ‘Pocket Rocket’) – you bet.
And with the enigmatic Sergio Marchionne laying-down a massive five-year plan for the Fiat Chrysler conglomerate you can bet they’ll be busy in the Abarth R&D Department chiseling-out a new range of ‘Tasca Razzos’ to usher-in a new and exciting era for Italy’s number one brand.
Abarth 595 Competizione Overview
Naturally the Fiat 500 range is massive and starts with the 1.2-litre 51kW/102Nm ‘Pop’ but the Abarth 595 Competizione is the racy turbocharged 1.4-litre 118kW/320Nm range-topper. Abarth was created by Karl Abarth in 1949 and for decades has been responsible for high-performance Fiat-based vehicles.
The Abarth 595 Competizione as tested by Car Showroom retails for $36,500 and as well as that racy turbocharged engine it comes with Sabelt race seats, uprated brakes, massive 17-inch alloy wheels and some carbon fibre trim highlights. There’s also a luxury version called the Abarth 595 Turismo.
But of course, for those tuned into the history of Italian motorsport, the best thing about the Abarth 595 Competizione will always be its famous ‘Scorpion’ logo. That’s the logo of the Carlo Abarth Squadra Corse which dominated racing in the post-war era and went on to create the legendary 750 Abarth and Fiat 500 Abarth (the latter first appeared in 1959).
Ask any enthusiast of high performance Italian cars and they’ll tell you Karl Abarth ranks alongside Messrs Ugo Stella, Alexandre Darraq and Nicola Romeo (Alfa Romeo), Feruccio Lamborghini and Enzo Ferrari.
Abarth 595 Competizione Engine
The Abarth 595 Competizione weighs barely more than 1,000kgs but is propelled by the turbocharged 1.4-litre T-Jet four-cylinder petrol engine.
Maximum power is 118kW at 5500rpm and peak torque of 230Nm is delivered at 3000rpm. Drive is to the front wheels via either a five-speed manual transmission or the five-speed ‘Abarth Competizione’ five-speed electronic automatic.
A ‘Record Monza’ exhaust system with a flap which opens above 4000rpm ensures an appropriately sporty sound even at idle.
Abarth 595 Competizione The Interior
Like the regular Fiat 500 range, the Abarth 595 Competizione benefits from the Series Three model range updates with the addition inside of a seven-inch TFT instrument display developed in conjunction with the Italian giant Magneti Marelli (you see their logos on Ferrari F1 cars).
But of course the 595 Competizione is the high-performance range-topper so you get the works – such as figure-hugging Sabelt ‘Fabric Abarth Corsa’ racing seats in ‘Titanium Grey’, carbon-fibre kickplates and alloy pedals.
And the prominent ‘Scorpion’ logo reminds you you’re driving a car carrying the history of Karl Abarth and the success of his race team – Carlo Abarth Squadra Corse.
A nice sports steering wheel and prominent alloy gear lever remind you this thing is set-up for serious punting along your favourite twisty road.
The back seat? Well it’s tiny, but our Car Showroom Juniors (ages 10 and 11) were so engrossed with everything else about the 595 Competizione they didn’t complain.
Abarth 595 Competizione Exterior & Styling
Everyone knows the Abarth 595 is based on the chic Fiat 500 but the Competizione raises the high performance bar with its massive Abarth diamond finish five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels.
Matt ‘Titanium Grey’ body stripes, tinted rear windows and the fact it sits so close to the road…well the Abarth 595 Competizione looks like its come straight from the race circuit of Europe.
Abarth 595 Competizione On The Road
We thought about that remarkable mechanic Karl Abarth, his Carlo Abarth Squadra Corse team winning all those races in the 1940s-50s, the 1959 Fiat Abarth 500 and the famous ‘Scorpion’ badge as we approached our 595 Competizione looking racy in the Car Showroom garage. Because that’s the history you buy into with this car.
You know - the old black-and-white films of the debonair Italian racing drivers from that era with their leather helmets, cotton overalls and string-back driving gloves, the rough-and-tumble race tracks in Europe during the post-war era and yes, Mr Ferrari himself with cars bearing his name and before that of course his Alfa Romeos. We’ll stop for an espresso first thing in the morning, enjoy a bowl of steaming pasta and some hard bead for lunch and be back in the workshop in Turin for dinner…
So we fired-up the Abarth 595 Competizione in our CBD carpark and plaster fell from the walls, the pigeons exited in a panicked frenzy and passers-by gawked to see what was causing the fuss. It was just the turbocharged 1.4-litre engine and that excellent ‘Record Monza’ exhaust system advertising this very fast road-rocket was heading out the door.
And that’s the thing about the Abarth 595 Competizione – despite its origins as a cute city car, this thing is a serious high-performance machine (as Australian discovered during the Bathurst 12-Hour race).
So we headed straight to our high-speed mountain roads test loop (fortunately in dry weather) and hunkered down for some serious motoring. With its race car-like firm chassis, the punchy 1.4-litre turbo delivering a stunning exhaust note (the ‘Record Monza’ exhaust flap opens above 4000rpm) and nicely-spaced ratios in the five-speeder, the Abarth 595 Competizione was a thrill a minute over the twists and curves – almost rivaling the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG and Renault Clio RS for the best drives ever over that section of road.
Unlike the ‘Benz and more like a Ferrari, the 595 Competizione isn’t particularly refined – it has no pretence to be luxury car – and barks, pops and bellows under hard barking and acceleration…just like a race car in fact.
And speaking of brakes, with a weight only just over 1000kgs and massive cross-drilled discs (240mm at the rear and 284mm at the front with red brake calipers) the Abarth 595 Competizione rewards with brilliant stopping power time after time in the tight stuff.
Plenty of grip too thanks to those massive 17-inch wheels, but naturally when you push the levels of physics too far, understeer is the default setting.
Around town you’re sure to be noticed with the 595 Competizione’s looks and that raucous exhaust but otherwise this racy Italian doesn’t complain too much about hum-drum commuter traffic.
Abarth 595 Competizione Challenges
Abarth retains the classic Italian driving position – long in the arms and short in the legs (owners of Alfa Romeos and Fiats know what we mean). So be prepared for a period of acclimatization.
Abarth 595 Competizione Verdict
A specialized crowd will be attracted to the Abarth 595 Competizione – they’ll probably be fluent in Italian, favour pasta over steaks, their ‘other’ car is probably a Ducatti and they only barrack for Formula 1 cars painted red and made in Maranello. Yes, this is a ‘junior’ Ferrari or a car to drive when it’s too wet for the Ducatti…right at home amongst the pasta restaurants and espresso bars in places like Melbourne’s Lygon Street.
So if you ‘get’ the background you’ll ‘get’ the Abarth 595 Competizione. It’s outrageous, fast and noisy…and great fun.
But the thing is – when you look at the dollars and performance and equipment levels, the Abarth 595 Competizione is actually remarkable value for money.
A well equipped Italian road rocket for $36,500? What not to like about that?
Abarth 595 Competizione The Competition
How many other two-door Italian road rockets priced under $40,000 can you name? That’s right, not many so it’s hard to think of direct rivals for the Abarth 595 Competizione.
Maybe the Toyota 86. Obviously a bit larger than the Abarth and not as ‘racer-for-the-road’ in its execution, the 86 is actually 25Nm shy of the tiny Abarth for torque. Brilliant rear-drive chassis and prices from $29,990 to $38,490 are the headlines for the awesome Toyota 86.
Same car, different badge and miniscule specification changes gives you the Subaru BRZ (priced at $37,150 and $39,730).
Volkswagen Beetle also turns heads but again isn’t a racer like the Abarth. Same power as the Abarth (118kW) and shade more torque (240Nm) but of course the Beetle is considerably heavier. Priced from $29,990 to $34,490, this generation Volkswagen Beetle is more spacious and practical that the predecessor (but some say its looks have departed too far from the original).
Renault Clio RS, like the Abarth 595 Competizione is a genuine pocket rocket and a Car Showroom Favourite. With 147kW/240nm from its turbocharged 1.6-litre engine and a chassis which is amongst the best, the Clio RS (priced from $28,790 to $36,790) hauls the mail (in a compact way).
Mini Coupe is pricey ($34,900 to $52,600) but gets the looks wherever you go. Standard 90kW/160Nm 1.6-litre is a bit underdone but the 155kW/260Nm range-topping JCW model is cracker (as it should be at that price).