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.