Energetic. Turn the key and the turbocharged 1.4-litre bursts into life with an intensity that is entirely unbefitting of a car this size. Below 30mph, small throttle inputs have the Abarth gurgling, popping and crackling, eliciting scornful looks from confused onlookers. Even without leaving town, it’s clear that this is not a hot hatch for those who crave anonymity.
Thankfully, once we were out onto the desolate North Yorkshire moors, it was possible to exploit all 178bhp away from prying eyes. Stretch your right foot and there is inevitably some turbo lag before you get into the meat of the power, but once past 3000rpm the Competizione pulls with a fervour that is lacking from the more powerful yet portlier Mini Cooper S. In fact, with a 0-62mph time of 6.7sec and 143mph top speed, straight line performance is on a par with our favourite hot hatch; the brilliantly effervescent Ford Fiesta ST200.
However, straight line pace has never been the Abarth’s problem. Instead, it’s the 595’s lack of adjustability that has prevented it from being looked upon as a truly rewarding driver’s car. And unfortunately, that hasn’t changed here. The new limited-slip diff feels almost intermittent in its operation and the car’s innate tendency to succumb to understeer early is still a prevalent theme. Compared with the best hot hatches, which allow you to modify your line with a lift of the throttle or some well-calculated braking, the 595 feels rather one dimensional.
That said, despite not being the most involving hatch on the market, the 595 is still startling quick point to point. Uprated Koni frequency-selective dampers endow the 595 with impressive body control, and allow the top heavy Abarth to remain surprisingly flat through quick direction changes. Granted, on busier road surfaces, things can get fairly lively inside the cabin, but it’s something we’d be prepared to live with in return for the precision of the Abarth’s movements when things get twistier.
However, what we’d struggle to live with is the Abarth’s carbon backed Sabelt seats. From the Alcantara inserts, to the fighter jet inspired seat pulls, these £1,200 competition spec units are dripping with quality. And yet, for everyday driving, they are wholly inappropriate.
With minimal cushioning and a lack of lumbar support, back pain is guaranteed, and despite their sporty looks, you feel like you’re sitting on them rather than in them. And don’t try adjusting them on the move, either. With a spatially challenged interior, it’s virtually impossible to reach the seat adjuster without opening the door. A triumph of function over form? Absolutely.