Pictures: Jason Woosey
Pictures: Jason Woosey
Johannesburg - Just as the scorpion badge warns, Abarth cars have almost always been relatively small creatures packing a proper sting, and the latest Fiat-500-based 595 range continues this tradition with all the expected enthusiasm.

As before, the facelifted 2017 line-up is powered by Fiat’s 1.4-litre T-Jet turbopetrol engine, but now there are three levels of envenomation, with the mildly toxic standard version producing 106kW and 206Nm, the medium-potency Turismo pushing 121kW and 230Nm and the foodchain-topping Competizione, featured here, getting a 132kW, 250Nm sting in its tail.

This configuration was previously found only in the 595 Tributo Ferrari, which was a rather bold branding strategy matched to an even bolder price tag of R550 000 back in 2012.

The new 595 Competizione is a bit more accessible, although it still packs quite a financial sting at R443 950 (or R483 950 if you want the soft-top), but there is a good measure of exclusivity on offer, with this top model being imported in limited numbers and thereafter available only on special order, and it comes with some really cool kit.

This includes Koni suspension with Frequency Selective Damping, Brembo brakes featuring four-piston calipers up front, and 17 inch alloys, while the cabin is kitted out with racing-style Sabelt shell seats up front, a bespoke steering wheel with alcantara and carbon garnishes, and alloy gear knob and pedals.

Crank the key and the Abarth-tuned 1.4-litre turbo is unashamedly boisterous for a modern four-pot engine. You can order yours with either with a five-speed manual or sequential robotised automated box.

Ours was a manual and the gearbox was a joy to stir during spirited driving, but it did feel a bit undergeared on the highway.Up against our Vbox test equipment at the Gerotek testing facility in Gauteng, our car got from 0-100km/h in a hardly-rapid 8.2 seconds, and yet from a seat-of-the-pants perspective it actually feels a bit quicker than that.

In a world where even the hot hatches cocoon you in quiet, smooth-cruising refinement, the Abarth 595 Competizione stands out as a car that really lets you feel the road and hear the action, and that’s quite satisfying in an old-school kinda way. It’s like a sneaky shot of sambuca in a sea of same-old cocktails.

Yes, the ride is firm, and ultimately it’s nowhere near as a good an ‘everyday car’ as other hot hatches that cost similar or less. Which means that this burly  Cinquecento is going to appeal to a unique species of passionate and brand-loyal buyers who appreciate a rawer driving experience.

They’ll also appreciate the pin-sharp handling, particularly if they've ordered it with the Performance Pack (only available on the manual Competizione), which brings a mechanical limited-slip differential to the party, along with beefier wheels and rubber, and leather/Alcantara seat trim among other novelties.

All Abarth 595s, however, come with a Sport button that beefs up the steering, engine and throttle characteristics, while also giving the digital instrument cluster a racier design and configuration.

In addition to that 17.8cm TFT screen, all Abarth models feature a 12.7cm Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system linked to steering controls, while the Turismo and Competizione also receive automatic climate control.

VERDICT

At R443 450 the 595 Competizione is not going to make any kind of value case for itself, not with the far more everyday-life-friendly Fiesta ST, Clio RS and Polo GTI all coming in well below the 400 grand mark.

Even the 106kW Abarth seems a comparative bang-for-the-buck bargain at R299 950. And yet if the range-topper’s purist charms get you all fired up, then your mind is probably already made up.

FACTS

Abarth 595 Competizione

Engine:1.4-litre, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
Gearbox:5-speed manual
Power:132kW @ 5500rpm
Torque:250Nm @ 3000rpm
0-100km/h (tested at Gerotek):8.2 seconds
Standing quarter-mile (tested at Gerotek):16.05 seconds
Top speed (claimed):225km/h
Price:R443 450
Warranty:3-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan:3-year/100 000km

IOL Motoring
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