What Car? says...
The Abarth 595 is a bit like a granny on roller skates. Let us explain. It’s a fast version of the Fiat 500 and was first launched in 2008 as the Abarth 500. Over the years, the Abarth has had many a nip and tuck to try and keep it fresh – including a name change to 595 – but it’s still technically the same car underneath. In car terms, that’s old.
But while most manufacturers have shied away from making high-performance city cars, the Abarth’s ability to provide pint-size thrills means it still manages to stand out from the crowd, despite its ancient underpinnings.
These days, city cars are ten a penny but finding a quick one is trickier; most of the Abarth 595’s former rivals have now been discontinued. And while hot hatches like the Ford Fiesta ST and Suzuki Swift Sport are of a similar price, they’re quite a bit bigger and technically belong to the class above.
That leaves just one true rival: the Volkswagen Up GTI. And on paper at least, the city car from Turin should have the better of the 113bhp lightweight from Wolfsburg, with even the base Abarth 595 putting out a whopping 165bhp from its 1.4-litre turbocharged engine. In fact, the entire recipe for the Abarth looks quite tasty: there’s lowered suspension, an aggressive-looking bodykit, racy sports seats and a lairy exhaust.
What’s more, in-keeping with the stylish Fiat 500 that it shares its look with, the 595C means that you can have your Abarth with a convertible roof, which retracts electronically with the touch of a button. None of the 595’s rivals can offer you that.
But do these changes make the 595 spicy enough to beat the competition or is it a case of all bark and no bite? Over the next few pages, we’ll let you know. And whichever sporty city car you decide on, visit our New Car Buying pages for the best discounts around.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Abarth 595 comes in a variety of trim levels, but they all share the same 1.4-litre T-Jet engine. That means that regardless of which you go for, you have a whopping 165bhp to play with – enough to easily show the Volkswagen Up GTI a clean pair of heels in a straight line.
The engine is willing to rev harder than most small turbocharged engines, has a progressive delivery and feels responsive even from lower revs. We wish its gearbox was a little more slick, but with a 0-62mph time of 7.3sec and a 135mph top speed, straight-line performance isn’t far off that of bigger hot hatches.
Despite its small displacement, the engine sounds menacing. Below 30mph, small accelerator inputs have the 595 gurgling, popping and crackling; it sounds rather naughty and certainly isn’t a hot hatch for those who crave anonymity. Want to stand out even more? The top-spec F595 is for you; it comes with an even louder Record Monza Sovrapposto exhaust system. That version also gets upgraded suspension, adding Koni dampers to the front (Koni rear dampers are standard across the range) and a more potent Brembo braking system with perforated brake discs to better dissipate heat.
It’s a shamel then, that the Abarth 595’s straight-line pace and sporty noise isn’t backed up with rewarding handling, even if you pick the F595. Compared with the best hot hatches, which allow you to modify your line through corners with a lift of the accelerator or some well-calculated braking, the 595 feels rather one-dimensional and strait-laced. That said, despite not being the most involving hatch on the market to drive, the 595 can still be hustled down a twisting road quickly.
Granted, on busier road surfaces, some might find the very firm, bouncy ride a bit wearing, but the upshot is that there’s surprisingly little body lean given the 595’s tall and narrow body. Ultimately, the Up GTI is even more capable, though, with better weighted steering, a greater sense of connection to the front tyres and a grippier front end.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Open the door and it’s immediately obvious that you're inside an Abarth rather than a regular Fiat 500. The general interior layout mirrors that of the Fiat, of course, but the detailing is pure Abarth.
Even in the ‘standard’ Abarth 595 you’ll find alloy ‘racing’ pedals in the footwell, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and an Abarth-specific 7.0in digital instrument cluster. On top of that the high-mounted aluminium alloy gearlever and boost-gauge-cum-shift-indicator add a welcome bit of theatre.
Upgrading to either Turismo trim or the F595 will cost you the same amount extra but takes the little Abarth in two slightly different directions. If you’re after style, Turismo will be the one for you, because it replaces the otherwise cloth seats with full leather ones.
The F595, on the other hand, is more sports-focused, coming with special diamond-patterned cloth seats and a matte-black dashboard. Sadly, even with the flourishes of the upper-level trims, you shouldn’t expect these touches to completely transform the interior; the hard plastics and flimsy controls still feel cheap.
The bad news doesn’t stop there, either; despite its sporty accoutrements, the 595 is still cursed by the Fiat 500’s sit-up-and-beg driving position (even if it does provide good forward visibility). In fact, finding a comfortable driving position is difficult; there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel so you’re always either too close or too far away from it.
Compared with a Volkswagen Up GTI, you feel like you’re sitting on the 595’s seat rather than in it, and you have to contort your left foot to feather the clutch because the pedal area is cramped, while the lack of a proper left-foot rest is annoying on longer motorway journeys.
The seating position of the 595 does at least mean that you have a good view out of the front and the small dimensions mean that you have a good idea of what’s around you. Parking is also made easy, thanks to rear parking sensors coming as standard on all versions.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Although the front seats are mounted fairly high, the Abarth 595’s high roof line means you’re only likely to have issues with head room if you are well over six feet tall. They also slide back far enough to just about accommodate long-legged drivers.
Unfortunately, as is the case with the Fiat 500, the stylized dashboard with its chunky trim inserts looks great but only leaves space for a very pokey glovebox below it. The door bins are even smaller, but you will at least find two generously-sized cupholders below the dash-mounted gearlever.
Access to the back seats isn’t as easy as in many small cars because the 595 has only three doors. Also, there are only two rear seats and they’re pretty cramped for full-sized adults. The similarly sized Volkswagen Up GTI is far more spacious. And if you need to carry adult passengers at all frequently, you’ll be better off with the larger Ford Fiesta ST or Volkswagen Polo GTI.
There’s enough room for a few shopping bags in the 185-litre boot, but most small cars have considerably bigger load areas, with smaller entrance lips and wider boot openings. The space grows considerably when you fold down the rear seats, but they lie at a slight angle when lowered, and there’s no false floor to iron out the annoying step they create.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Whether you go for the entry-level Abarth 595 or one of the higher spec versions, the 595’s price tag looks like a bit of a bargain. However, the Volkswagen Up GTI is even cheaper and the faster, larger and better-to-drive Ford Fiesta ST won’t require you to spend all that much more.
That said, even the entry-level 595 gets plenty of kit, including 16in alloy wheels, a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system with DAB radio, Bluetooth, and a USB connection, twin exhaust pipes, manual air conditioning, a sporty bodykit and sports seats.
We’d make the jump to the F595 though, because you get better suspension, bigger 17in alloy wheels, better brakes, automatic climate control, a sportier exhaust system and Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto smartphone mirroring. It’s our pick of the range and won’t cost you much more than the entry-level version.
It’s also worth mentioning that Abarth always seems to offer at least one limited edition 595. While some are pretty good value, others are eye-wateringly expensive. If you fancy one of these limited-run cars, look carefully at what you’re getting for the money – it makes little sense to spend thousands on a garish paint job and flashy wheels.
The 595 has a decent line-up of safety equipment, including seven airbags, anti-whiplash headrests and electronic stability control, but with those carbon-backed seats fitted, you have to forgo front side airbags. The 595 hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but the car it is based on, the Fiat 500, scored only three stars back in 2017. That’s a poor performance by anyone's standards, and it’s very disappointing that there’s no option of automatic emergency braking (AEB).
Things don’t get much better when you look at reliability, either. While neither the 595 nor Abarth featured in the 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey, its parent company Fiat was included and took bottom place – 30th out of the 30 manufacturers involved.
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|RRP price range
|£23,225 - £24,725
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|39.8 - 39.8
|Available doors options
|3 years / No mileage cap
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£1,577 / £1,682
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£3,154 / £3,364