Where most small cars charm you with practicality and frugality, some hatchbacks offer the complete opposite. But that’s not a bad thing, especially if the opportunity to drive and review a hot hatchback presents itself. Let’s face it, in a market that focuses on diesel engines and more passenger seats, the Abarth 595 is the antithesis to the usual Filipino car buyer’s habits. Lent to us by Petromax Enterprise, importer of Abarth and Alfa Romeo in the Philippines, the demo 2019 Abarth 595 in white with red trimmings and customary racing stripes was rightfully equipped with a manual transmission.
Does the Italian brand Abarth inject the needed oomph to the otherwise cute Fiat hatchbacks, offering the niche market of small performance cars in the Philippines a needed boost? Read more about our few days with the Abarth 595 in our review below.
The Abarth 595 is exactly what would happen if someone decided to make the otherwise soft and miniscule Fiat 500 hatchback as aggressive and loud as possible. While smaller cars would look weird with blown up dimensions, the Abarth 595 still retains the overall shape of the Fiat, albeit with bigger wheels, diffusers, and a little more styling tweaks so you can be sure that this isn’t an ordinary small car. We definitely love the combination of a white pearl paint scheme combined with the optional larger 17-inch alloys and red stripes; there’s no denying that this car attracts attention, and those who recognize it always smile.
The Abarth scorpion is displayed proudly, and the twin exhaust pipes that peek from the rear diffuser hint at the character of this car. My only complaint is that the front running lights are rather bland looking halogen lights, and a nice LED ring would’ve done nicely. Thankfully, when the headlights are on, you do have HIDs and a whiter lighting signature for the front. The rear gets combination LED lights that are small but effective, and the body panel that occupies the space inside the lighting cluster is a nice touch.
There’s some fun quirkiness to be had in the cabin, as well. Your exterior color will dictate the color of the huge plastic trim piece that occupies most of the dashboard. The “500” logo can be found on the plastic piece itself, somehow reminding us of the humble beginnings of this car. Unfortunately, you’ll find that plastic is the main material of choice here, and there are some scratchy bits found extensively throughout the cabin. There are some small instances of leather, such as the instrument panel hood and steering wheel, but everything else is mostly a carryover from the Fiat 500. Now, I do have mixed feelings about this, because for all the effort they put into making the exterior pretty exciting, the interior kinda falls flat. That’s not to say it’s all bad, though, as the button layout for things like the infotainment and climate control are logical and clearly separated from one another. The window switches, weirdly enough, are found at the base of the raised shifter. Speaking of the shifter, the position may seem weird at first, but once you start driving, the ease of which you can return your hand to the wheel after making a gear change is pretty neat. The seats are fabric and offer good support, but they are manually adjustable, and the location of the reclining adjuster is weirdly placed; your hand rubbing against the door panel if you’re the driver.
While this car is a four seater, only the brave or the unlucky will have the opportunity to sit in the back. Anyone slightly above six feet will find the front seats accommodating enough, but the rear seats in the Abarth 595 will be claustrophobic and downright uncomfortable for an adult of any size. You do have good room for a car seat, however. In terms of cargo space, the Abarth 595 doesn’t offer much, but a few overnight bags will fit just fine. Front passenger storage is okay, and the cupholders do their job, but the lack of actual cargo pockets to leave a charging phone or toll tickets and change are a slight annoyance.
As this is the base level Abarth, you can expect some missing features when compared to the higher trim levels. For instance, we get a rather small 5-inch touchscreen interface with bluetooth and USB playback. No phone mirroring or Apple CarPlay or Android Auto here. You get a single USB port and a 12V socket for charging and connecting devices, and playback is through a standard six speaker setup. Convenience comes in the form of a keyless entry system with push button start, and steering wheel mounted audio controls for hands free calls and adjusting the volume and track selection. Climate control is automatic, but isn’t dual zone, and you get a nice digital driving display featuring a rev counter, speedometer, and a standalone boost gauge for the turbo. Press the sport button and you get a more sporty looking display, complete with g-force measurement. There are no automatic headlight controls or rain sensing wipers, but you do get the HID headlights with front and rear foglights.You also get an auto-dimming rearview mirror as standard, together with rear parking sensors. No cameras here, and, honestly, they’re not needed, as the Abarth 595 is small enough to fit in tight spots with ease.
For a tiny car, the Abarth 595 is nicely equipped in terms of safety features. Of course, ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution is standard, and you have six airbags to protect occupants. Traction control is also standard, and you have speed sensing door locks, too. An immobilizer and ISOFIX mounting points round up this category.
Driving and Handling
Fire up the Abarth 595 and the 1.4L turbocharged engine comes to life, ready to put 143 hp and 206 Nm of torque to work. You get a five-speed manualhere and three pedals; the best way to drive a car like this. Unfortunately, getting a good driving position before setting off can be a bit tricky, as the seat is pretty tall even after adjusting it to its lowest setting. The steering wheel is limited to tilting only, and some telescoping adjustability would've made it much easier. It was definitely one of the more quirky seating positions I had to deal with, but I did get used to it after the first few hours of driving. Once you do get going and you start going through the gears, all the quirks and annoyances in the previously mentioned paragraphs start to disappear, and then you realize that this car is all about the driving experience.
First off, there’s a nice and easy clutch that’s incredibly easy to modulate for everyday driving. Next you have a nice crisp gear throw with a positive notchiness to it. Then you have excellent feedback from a nicely weighted electronically assisted steering wheel that communicates and translates your steering inputs with go-kart accuracy. Finally, you have the nice, raspy tone of the 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder, wanting to be revved high and worked hard. It all comes together to create a fun driving experience that feels planted and exciting. Sure, it may not offer incredible acceleration or blistering top speed, but the Abarth 595 rewards precision and momentum, carrying you through each corner with excellent grip. After all, it’s always better to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow.
The Abarth 595 is a playful little car and the short wheelbase makes it at home on mountain roads and the city than on highways and longer drives. At triple digit speeds and holding fifth gear on the expressway, the exhaust note can drone into the cabin. Ride comfort is also firm, but this is expected in a hot hatch. Road imperfections will not unsettle the car, but you do feel the bumps. Higher trims get a Koni dampers and a geat sounding exhaust, adding a little more kick into this pocket rocket.
Despite my rather aggressive driving style, the Abarth 595 still returned an average of 17 km/l in mixed conditions. I was also able to record at least 20 km/l on the highway at a steady speed of 100-120 km/h, and an extra gear would’ve helped a bit. In the city, results were a decent 10-12 km/l.
With the hot hatch segment being a very small market in our country, the Abarth 595 practically has no rivals in both its price range and size. You’ll likely see more competition from outside the segment, and they come in the form of Japanese coupes or entry-level American muscle. While those cars enjoy higher horsepower figures or even larger dimensions, none have the same character and European flair as the Abarth 595.
For P2,690,000, you’re not just buying a fun, small hatchback; you’re also buying a piece of Italian motoring history that’s up there with the likes of Lancia and Ferrari. And for me, that’s well worth the price of admission, and that’s not considering the amount of smiles per second behind the wheel.