The Abarth’s 1.4-litre engine is relatively small for a hot hatch but doesn’t require mega levels of boost to achieve its 177bhp and 184lb ft. (The gauge routinely displays about one bar of pressure when you’re on it.)
Sensibly, those are relatively modest outputs by the class’s latest standards, so the Abarth has a pleasingly driveable demeanour. At low engine speeds it retains decent response, and although there is inevitably some turbo lag, it could be a lot worse.
Pushing the Sport button on the dashboard increases throttle response and the engine’s willingness to produce torque, but even then it’s driveable and responsive – enough to match an admittedly very tight, new Renaultsport Clio RS against the clock.
Besides, if you want to avoid any lag, dropping a cog on the standard five-speed manual is no hardship. It’s not as quick as a dual-clutch automatic unit, obviously, but it’s an enjoyable shift that has very little notchiness, even though it could be more precise and snickety between planes. The optional five-speed automated manual transmission, badged MTA, is an expensive option that's not really worth investing in; it's clunky and slows the car down, so avoid it unless you need an automatic.
The motor eventually spins through to 6500rpm, but there’s little to be gained from working through the last few hundred revs. Even though the numbers we returned say that’s the quickest way, it’s just more pleasing to chuck the Abarth back into the meat of the torque range and feel it build. Peak power is all done by 5500rpm anyway while peak torque comes at 3000rpm, and between those two points is where it feels gutsiest.
Setting the Competizione apart from lesser Abarths and cars like the Clio RS, too, is its Record Monza exhaust, which braps noisily on start-up and always retains an enthusiastic edge. Wearing? It could be, but frankly the road noise and ride become tiresome way before the exhaust does.