WE have become accustomed to seeing the Fiat 500 looking pretty in pastel shades and often being driven by young women as stylish as their set of wheels.

But the Abarth 595 Competizione version is a different animal, the equivalent of Dennis The Menace with a pocket full of firecrackers.

It comes with body colours with names such as Adrenaline Green and painted brake callipers to hint at its performance.

Yes, it still looks as cute as any other 500, but there’s a plethora of scorpion badges and four tail pipes to let you know that this one ain’t just for tootling down to the shopping centre.

But the biggest giveway to the car’s performance credentials is the noise from the turbocharged 1.4 T-jet engine. It positively explodes into life and is guaranteed to either annoy or amuse the neighbours or the chap in the sensible car in the lane next door in a traffic queue.

The reason for that cacophony is the Record Monza Active exhaust featuring an active valve controlled by a Sport button. When pressed, the Sport button opens the exhaust valve and the engine rumble becomes deeper and bolder. The driver can choose a more composed engine sound or a tougher, sportier - and more traditionally Abarth - roar.

Not only that, you get an immediate slug of power that propels the 595 Competizione from a standing start to 62mph in under seven seconds. It feels extremely fast in this small and lightweight car.

Available in a choice of hatchback or convertible, the 595 range actually features four versions - 595, 595 Trofeo, 595 Turismo and 595 Competizione. All Abarth 595 models come with the 1.4 T-Jet engine with power levels ranging from 145hp to 180hp.

The 595 Competizione, tested here, is more radical and designed for no-compromise sports car fans, whereas the 595 Turismo embraces the style and comfort typical of Italian gran turismos.

As the pinnacle of performance, it delivers 180hp and can also be equipped with an optional mechanical self-locking differential.

Shell-shaped seats immediately get you in the mood for an exciting drive, but don’t expect a comfortable ride. Those seats are rigid, even harsh, and the ride quality is by necessity stiff and unforgiving.

Thankfully, the car uses a Brembo braking system with aluminium monobloc fixed callipers. Red callipers are standard, with the option to change to either grey, black or yellow, and are paired with self-ventilating, perforated 305mm discs. The road-holding is enhanced by the so-called frequency selective damping shock absorbers, standard on both front and rear.

Now, back to that Sport button, which is key to getting the most out of the 595 Competizione. It can be used to adjust various parameters of the car, such as torque delivery and power steering calibration, for a more direct feel and a less invasive intervention of the electronics, as well as managing the exhaust system. The system adjusts engine response to the accelerator pedal and the TFT instrument panel switches to a racing configuration.

Excuse the mixed metaphor, but you really are lighting the blue touch paper when you press that button. After hard acceleration, listen out for the popping as you descend through the revs.

All 595 variants are paired with a five-speed gearbox but they can be optionally fitted with an Abarth robotised sequential gearbox with shift paddles. Personally, I would have liked a sixth gear rather than paddles.

The 595, the 595 Competizione and the 595 Turismo are equipped with DAB Radio with touchscreen, but I was disappointed to see that the Apple Car Play/Andriod Auto feature only came as a £150 option. In the age of the smartphone, that particular piece of equipment is essential to me.

By no means essential but very desirable,is the £350 optional BeatsAudio system with seven speakers. Developed in collaboration with Beats by Dr. Dre, the system boasts a total output of 480watts and is capable of recreating the entire sound spectrum that an artist experiences during studio recording.

The three-door 595 has been synonymous with small car, big performance driving for the past 55 years. Abarth 595 is the model that invites drivers to embrace the tuning and upgrading concept and get behind the wheel of a car offering quite exhilarating performance and unmistakable style.

But in the final analysis you will also have to ask yourself whether you could live with the pay-off of such a playful, uncomfortable ride with its obvious limitations on space. Maybe I’m past the sell-to date for the 595 Competizione.


Abarth 595 Competizione 1.4 T-Jet

Price: from £20,360 (595 range from £15,690)

Engine: Four-cylinder petrol producing 180hp

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Performance: 0 to62mph in 6.8 seconds; top speed 140mph

Economy: 47.1mpg combined

CO2 emissions: 139g/km


Performance: ****

Economy: ****

Ride/Handling: ****

Space/Practicality: ***

Equipment: ***

Security/Safety: ***

Value For Money: ***