LIKE the scorpion, a creature emblematic of Abarth and the man behind it, the tiny 2022 595 Competizione packs some venom. Pint-sized potency has always been the essence of the Abarth 500, but this year’s rendition doubles down on its racing pedigree.
In the 1960’s, the term ‘Turismo Competizione’ was attached to the 850 TC, referencing the express aim of Abarth’s relationship with Fiat to take unassuming road cars and give them racing credentials, and the fact that’s exactly what the 850 was – a souped-up Fiat 600D.
The motif lived on when Abarth resurfaced 18 years ago, then with a tuned Fiat 500. When the Turismo Competizione terminology returned in 2016, the labels were used separately, referring to individual 595 variants.
The Turismo was for style, and the Competizione brought racing to the public road. For 2022, two things have happened. Firstly, the latter is the only variant available in Australia (as a hard top or retractable soft top).
The car Abarth have sent also leans that bit further towards weekend track car, keeping the roads hottest hatchette crude and simple, yet markedly more performance oriented, while actively flaunting the brand’s motorsport legacy.
It’s a car as compact as they come, just 1,045kg on the scales. With a Garrett GT 1446 turbo strapped to the 1.4-litre 4-cylinder engine, it produces 132kW and 250Nm. These figures yield a power to weight ratio of 123.6kW/tonne.
For those wondering, that’s firmly in Golf GTI and WRX territory. Sweetening the deal is a proper 5-speed manual gearbox.
To harness the Competizione’s engine performance, Abarth have used their own mechanical limited slip differential, frequency selective damping shock absorbers from Koni, and big Brembo callipers with perforated and ventilated rotors.
Calling upon Abarth’s racing history is the gorgeous ‘Rally Blue’ matte paintwork, which pays tribute to the old Abarth 131 Rally.
The Record Monza exhaust, a dual mode system, is designed to sing an ode to Carlo Abarth and his pioneering Monoposto da Record endurance racer from the 1960’s.
New design Monte Carlo wheels also give a nod to the Lancia Delta Integrale, an eight time WRC champion. Along with the body kit and flared guards, the rally-inspired theme makes the Competizione look as menacing as something so small could.
Unleashing this hungry and history laden little car on the road is preposterously fun, with theatrics beginning the moment you turn on the ignition.
At idle and low revs, particularly with the valves wide open in ‘Scorpion’ mode, the gruff burble of a car with three-times the presence rolls out of the quad pipes.
As you wind it up, the timeless blend of deep exhaust growl and turbo whine sets in, cueing you to hit it. Flat out, the burble turns to a higher pitched, gravelly wail, often climaxing with a burp or backfire as you let off the throttle.
You cannot grow bored of the variety of sounds spit from the exhaust system. The Competizione should be left in Scorpion mode, not just for the better sound, but because there’s no point to having lighter steering, less throttle response and less boost in this car.
On a public road, the Competizione feels more like a tuner car harbouring illegal modifications, and it should be enjoyed as such. This car then, if not purchased for weekend track days, is made for midnight runs through the hills.
Alternatively, it’s good for an afternoon thrash along country backroads. In these environments many things happen. And quickly. The Competizione is very lively. In the manual 0-100km/h is sorted in 6.7 seconds.
That’s quite achievable with the user-friendly gearbox. Changes feel cushioned enough to methodically slot each one in, but somehow clunky enough, with short throws, to make snapping gears feel easy and appropriate.
Punching down a straight, you’re not exactly thrust back into your seat like a supercar, but you’re on boost so early that the eager acceleration always comes as a shock and a thrill.
It’s super torquey and with minimal lag, it’s the twists, bends and crests that make for the most fun driving.
The Competizione has the quality of allowing you to hit corners at truly reckless speeds, but still ensures your survival with a tremendous amount of grip and a completely flat stance.
Be warned, however, because if you continue in this daredevil fashion, you will encounter some landmines. You see, there isn’t any variation in suspension damping, or if there is, it’s impossible to notice. It’s permanently rock hard.
While this keeps you flat and in control at high speed through a sweeping corner, it’ll respond to any bumps and bobs by skipping quite erratically, especially in the back end. Pushing the 595 is a lot like driving a mouse trap as a result.
All is well if undisturbed, until the slightest touch sends it snapping into the air. Linking adjoining bends in a chicane can be tricky at first because of a certain laziness about the steering, as well.
The delay can ruin the line you might have taken in your mind. Blasting out of a hairpin will also result in lots of torque steer, and only you can wrestle out of it. If you wish to avoid all the hassle you can back out at the eleventh hour by stamping on the Brembo brakes.
But you’d be more foolish in doing so. The fact that the Competizione goes from predictable to skittish in an instant isn’t a bad thing. Outstanding ability mixed with wild behaviour in a car makes for the most exciting driving experience possible.
It’d be more of a worry if the Competizione didn’t have cement shocks or make you work hard for good execution. With this in mind, you don’t go looking for practicality inside the 595 either.
It has racing seats, a boost gauge big enough to be a radio telescope, and Alcantara spread across the dash and race wheel. There’s also a brushed silver dome gear knob, and a 7.0-inch circular instrument cluster that glows a deep red in Scorpion mode.
Oh, and there’s no console. It’s clear the emphasis is on driving rather than transporting. If you absolutely insist on practicality, the boot is big enough to fit a travel bag or two.
Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto feature, as does the 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen seen in previous models. The air conditioning is excellent, and the sound system is reasonable.
Beyond that, the Competizione is practical in the way the original Fiat 500 was designed to be – so small that a few blokes could pick it up to change a wheel, and a single arm span is enough to reach things in the back.
Current drive away pricing for the 595 Competizione is $39,812. That’s quite fair really, especially when you consider that some people spend more than $30,000 on a new jet ski. The 595 is simply the land-based alternative.
You might sum up the Competizione like this; it’s a seditious little thing, constantly encouraging you to knock it back a gear, and assuring you it’s clear up ahead. You can be lured into a workout, but a thrilling one.
It’s impractical as could be, as delightful to look at as gemstone, and delivers one of the purest drives money can buy. You can find out more on the Abarth (Fiat) website.
Our test vehicle was supplied by Fiat Abarth Australia. To find out more about the 2022 Abarth 595 Competizione, contact your local Abarth dealer.