It’s not often that on-a-budget car enthusiasts in the GCC actually get what they ask for. But there are good times ahead. The next-gen Ford Focus is coming here, and with it an updated ST surely. There is a Honda Civic Type-R test car running around Dubai. And then there is this one — the Fiat 500-based Abarth 595. There is now an official Abarth showroom in Dubai, and we somehow snagged one for a brief drive around town.
The Abarth 595 offered in the GCC is in optioned-up Competizione trim, complete with dual-zone auto a/c, Beats audio, some premium cabin trim and more. The car looks terrific at first glance, with its fancy wheels, Brembo brakes peeping through them, and with stickers along the sides. It looks as expensive as the Mini Cooper S, but is actually cheaper, starting at Dhs 109,900, and 10 grand more for the Cabrio version. Add another 10 grand to both of those prices for the 695 Rivale version, which is the same car with different trim, wheels and an Akrapovic exhaust.
It’s unique inside, with a button-operated automatic gear-selector, a little multimedia/nav/comms touchscreen (with a UConnect interface, since it’s a Fiat-Chrysler product), optional heavily-bolstered sports seats with alcantara upholstery, optional carbon-fibre dash trim, power windows/mirrors, panoramic glass roof, digital gauge cluster, metal pedals and even a well-padded handbrake handle. Surprisingly, there’s just enough space in the back for average-sized adults, there’s two extra cup-holders in the back too, and the rear seats split-fold for more cargo space.
But once you get over the initial “OMG” moment, you realise it’s not all that great. The a/c takes a bit longer to start cooling in a summer afternoon than we’d like, the glass top only has a roll-out net to block the sun, there is hardly any space between the front passengers, the front seats are cramped for anyone wider than a broomstick, the fixed headrests are angled to offer no support, the boot space fits only a day’s worth of groceries because there’s a full-size spare wheel just thrown in there (that can roll and crush your groceries), and aside from the roofliner and padded armrests, it’s all hard plastics inside. There is basic keyless entry, but no push-start button, although traditionalists will blow it off as being “more connected with the machine.”
Speaking of connecting with machinery, the standard motor is a 1.4-litre turbo-four crammed into the tight engine bay, making 180 hp and 250 Nm of torque, and mated to a 5-speed automated manual. That means it’s an old-fashioned single-clutch auto gearbox that has all the negatives of a manual and none of the positives — it takes its time to shift between gears and causes a jerkiness as it shifts. There’s no clutch pedal, but you can shift gears manually with the paddle shifters.
And that’s the fun part, finally. The engine builds power linearly on full throttle, with a raspy exhaust note that’s loud but not overly so (benchmarking our Chrysler 300 SRT for noise). We didn’t time the 595, but it feels like it probably does manage the claimed 0-100 kph time of 6.9 seconds, so it’s quick but not overly fast.
However, it takes corners quicker than most performance cars, thanks to its tiny size. You can dive into corners with no obvious body roll or tyre squeal, as the 205-width tyres hang onto the road with ease. It understeers at the extreme limit, but by then you’re already travelling at ridiculous cornering speeds.
Oddly enough, it’s the controls we have an issue with. The brakes are expectedly strong, but the pedal feedback is a bit light. And while the steering is well-weighted and offers a bit of feedback, the 595 has a rather large turning circle for a little car. It’s still small enough to park easily and comes with rear sensors, but the ride quality is on the harsher side, and doubly so at lower speeds.
The Abarth 595 is not even close to being perfect. As a city car, you have to work around its deficiencies to get the most out of it (we seat-belted the spare wheel in the back seat to make room for cargo), and as a performance car, you have to accept never winning a drag race (a Honda Civic RS can keep up with it). It’s also not the best value for money (that award goes to the Ford Focus ST), nor will you ever be able to take part on a drifting track-day (that niche dominated by the Toyota 86). But there’s just something about this car that makes it more appealing than any of the aforementioned cars. We can’t put a finger on it, but if you do, let us know.
For prices and specs, visit the Fiat buyer guide.