Offered in three trims the Competizione is the closest competitor to the cars that dominate this sector - the Mini Cooper S, Ford Fiesta ST and the Renault Clio RS. The Abarth 595 is ostensibly an Fiat 500 treated a peppy, turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine, an aggressively styled bodykit, dual-exhaust system and a race-inspired interior.

Like all Abarth 595s other than the limited-run specials such as the Tributo Maserati and 50th Anniversary Edition, the 595 is built entirely on the standard Fiat 500 production line at Tychy, Poland. Abarth’s stylists design, equip and specify it and the firm’s development team does the component selection and special engineering.

Options include two-tone paint finishes, 10-spoke alloy wheels and racing leather seats

There are no dedicated production facilities or techniques involved here other than in very special cases. Whether that’s enough of a difference to make Abarth a distinct and valid brand in its own right is open to debate. It seems to us much more like a performance sub-brand, like Volkswagen’s R or BMW M division. But be that as it may, the car is undeniably striking and exudes fashionista pocket-rocket charm in cynic-disarming abundance.

Powering the 595 is a 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol engine with an IHI RHF3-P turbocharger, producing 143bhp and a healthy 151lb ft of torque in standard form, the Turismo gets 162bhp at its disposal, while the Competizione punches out 177bhp. Transmission options include a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed robotised manual. The 695 Biposto has 190bhp to play with and is driven through a dog-ringed five-speed box.

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Given the car’s trim kerb weight – 1035kg claimed, 1135kg as weighed – it packs a power-to-weight ratio to beat a Seat Ibiza Cupra and comes within touching distance of a Ford Fiesta ST.

The suspension spec is similarly promising. There are 17-inch alloy wheels, lowered sports springs, beefed-up anti-roll bars and Koni FSD selective dampers  on the Turismo, but the Competizione adds cross-drilled disc brakes with high-performance Brembo calipers, as well as a quad-exit sports exhaust.

The Frequency Selective Dampers on the Abarth 595 Competizione work in almost exactly the same way as the ‘double-piston’ dampers on both the Infiniti Q50 Sport and the Nissan Qashqai.

In effect a variable valve solution, the Koni units have additional valves and oil chambers within the damper, around the main reservoir, that come into play in cases of sudden load. This allows Abarth to run a higher primary compression rate for tight low-frequency body control and still allow for extra compliance via the secondary valves, for when the wheels hit potholes and sharp lumps and bumps.

The system works well compared with similar ones we’ve tested. Mercedes-Benz offers a directly comparable dual-path selective system on various models, although it’s not quite as simple in design as this and not as effective.

The computer-controlled variable-rate dampers that are used by Volkswagen, Volvo, Audi, BMW and now Honda are much more expensive and complicated, relying on dedicated ECUs and either motor-actuated valves or the electro-magnetic charging of particles in the hydraulic fluid.

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