Abarth 595 India Review
Words: Syed Shiraz
Pictures: Himanshu Sharma
Taking a tight U-turn becomes even tighter during rush hour anywhere in the world, more so in the heart of the Indian capital. But it helps if you are in a car that has an eye-catching form or design, or both. The usually brash folks on the road just stop to grab an eyeful, while you do your thing. But you still have to be quick enough to utilize those precious few seconds before their inner demon realizes that you’ve wasted their whole life in those five to ten seconds. So I didn’t waste time in soaking all the attention and made that turn in a jiffy; the Abarth 595’s diminutive proportions making matters further easier.
And then I heard someone shouting from the road, which I had just left. I saw three young chaps (must be in their early 20s) in a VW Passat, still blocking all traffic and asking, “which one is it bruh?” Before I could reply, the impatient lad blurted, “Alfa Romeo, right?” “Same family, Abarth”, I said. He nodded, albeit with an intrigued look on his face, and started crawling, half-yielding to the honking from all around, but with his gaze still fixed at the Abarth… Save for the conversation, the same thing happened the next day — this time with a guy driving a CH registered Porsche Cayenne S.
That’s both a win and a loss for Fiat… It’s a win because Abarth 595’s eliciting such emotions from an onlooker / potential buyer falls perfectly in line with Fiat’s belief that this car will only be appreciated and bought by passionate folks. But it’s a loss because a) such incidents reiterate that the brand Abarth, or its Scorpion badge, is relatively unidentifiable in the Indian automotive landscape yet, and b) therefore, Fiat’s decision of using only the Abarth insignia on the 595 won’t do any good to the company’s brand building (of both Abarth & Fiat) in a country where the word ‘Fiat’ is still majorly synonymous with the erstwhile 1100Ds.
That aside, there in no denying the fact that this car turns heads. Everywhere! Also, while the earlier 500 that came to our shores could just be called ‘cute’ at best, this one does proper justice to the two-door format. Yes, two doors imply ‘Sport’, but they still got to be complemented with a few finer touches to stay true to the word. Otherwise, like the VW Beetle for example, the only sport imagery your mind will conjure upon seeing a modern iteration of a period car will be that scene of two rich divas playing badminton gleefully in a ’60s Indian flick.
No such thing with the Fiat 500 Abarth 595 Competizione (yes, that’s the complete moniker!). The meek cuteness has given way to a haughty air… The stance is now hunkered down, which gets amplified by a big air-dam, side skirts; fat, low-profile rubber on beautiful 17-inch alloys; rear spoiler and diffuser, while Abarth/595/Scorpion badges all-around tell you that this ain’t a ‘normal’ specimen.
The visible go-faster bits have been added on in just the right measure; most manufacturers might have not been able to exercise this kind of careful restraint, and would have made their car look like a dune buggy with street tires…
Pull the wide-opening door and you’ll immediately notice that the Sport connection is evident on the inside as well — Sabelt race seats, boost gauge, flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminium pedals, and a button that says Sport… There’s subtle use of chrome in the all-black cabin, but the brightest (metaphorically speaking) thing on the inside has to be the 7-inch TFT colour display that comprises the instrument cluster. It gives you quite a lot of information (average speed, fuel consumption, etc.) in addition to the velocity, engine speed, et al. And all that info is always legible, irrespective of changes in ambient lighting.
There’s an electric sunroof, but, shockingly, the ORVMs are not electrically foldable, which is a shame at this price point! They are electrically adjustable though… The music system looks dated but sounds fantastic! I could count six speakers, but won’t be surprised to learn if guys in Fiat’s acoustics department put in a few more somewhere in there! But, since you won’t be listening to it much, it would be better if Fiat can remove it as a part of standard equipment; put it on the options list, and bring the sticker price down. Well, you don’t need a stereo because the music emanated from the standard exhaust system is pure bliss!
It crackles up when you crank the engine, with the decibels high enough to bring a smile on your face but low enough to not wipe it off your neighbour’s… Unlike those aftermarket bazookas on cheap sedans (with even cheaper paint jobs), which compel you to first buy ear plugs and then hearing aids shortly, the Abarth musical instruments won’t tire you off at any speed, for any duration. Listen to them here:
The car’s 1368 cc four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine puts out 160 horses at 5,500 rpm, while torque is rated at 230 Nm at 3,000 rpm (in Sport mode). And it weighs just around a thousand kilograms. Okay, that is not light for a small car when bigger-looking, four-door hatchbacks, like the Swift, i10, etc., are lighter. Oh, but they fail crash tests miserably… A better comparison would be the fast, 103 bhp, VW Polo TSI that’s around 130 kg heavier than the 595, and does not fail the crash tests either (unlike the Indo-Japs and the Indo-Koreans).
Anyway, so Fiat claims a 0-100 km/h time of 7.4 seconds and the best I could manage was a shade over eight seconds (in Sport mode, of course), in less than ideal conditions and with a passenger on board. The top speed claimed by the company is 209 km/h and we touched 200 km/h on the speedo before running out of road. Yes, the car still had some juice left and if you’ll see the picture below we had more than a thousand revs to play with…
But while the claimed figures for acceleration and top-speed do not sound bloated at all, the claimed fuel efficiency figure (15.7 km/l) does. The prospective owner would not mind but I am a poor chap who was finding it very hard to cope up with the 9 km/l figure I was getting under mixed driving conditions. Mixed driving here does not mean the usual city/highway routine, but driving in Normal auto mode fifty per cent of time…The car’s display consistently showed 8.5 km/l but I know better. I paid for it. The 595 drank 10 litres of the unleaded every 90 kilometres like clockwork. Which is fine for what is such an explosive little package, but it did hurt my wallet. A lot.
Now, this car will spend most of its time in the city, which is perhaps one of the reasons why Fiat India didn’t get the manual-gearbox variant to India. Though it’s another matter altogether that I don’t even remember the last time I actually saw a manual on a “sports-oriented” car costing more than 25 lakh. That tells us how big a bunch of pseudo-enthusiasts we really are! Okay, apologies for digressing. Back to the 595’s gearbox now. The five-speed AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) in normal Auto mode is a tad lazy in shifting gears and though it works perfectly fine if you want to trundle along with other road users, you might find it slightly irritating if your brain’s RAM speed is higher than the surrounding flow of traffic… But it’s nothing to fret about as you can manually override the auto mode by using the steering mounted pedals. A pull on the left one gets you instantly away from that illegally-plying commercial three-wheeler getting too close for comfort…
Then there’s the aforementioned Sport button on the dash. Press it, and, except for on a race track, you won’t ever feel the need of using pedal shifts. The 595 really comes alive in Sport mode removing all the earlier hesitant traits from the car’s behaviour, providing you immediate throttle response, tauter steering wheel, quicker gear shifts, and a more vocal soundtrack from the exhaust; what else would you want in life? Ms. Belucci perhaps?
No, you need good roads. Or ground clearance. And let me tell you right away that you ain’t getting the latter with this one. So if you live in a city where good roads are as common as noble politicians, just stop reading any further. Or read about the X1 if you still want a fast machine. But if you live in a city where the density of potholes per square km is less than the density of morons per square inch, you may read on…
Well, the ground clearance is not that much of a problem really, as is the lower lip, which is promiscuous enough to want to caress every hump and bump on its way. Of course, due diligence will certainly help you avoid it, but we all know how even the best of our roads can throw sudden surprises! Still, thankfully, the short wheelbase and firm suspension ensure that you never scrape the underbody even if the front bumper continues to philander around…
The fallout is that the ride is decidedly harsh at low speeds, but it gets better as speeds ride, without compromising the brilliant dynamics of the car, thanks to the shock absorbers (Copaf front and Koni rear) with FSD (Frequency Selective Damping) technology. I won’t bore you with technical stuff on what FSD suspension is, but I consider it imperative for potential owners to know that FSD shocks are again simple, mechanical units (no computer-controlled complicated stuff here) which vary the rate of damping depending upon the frequency of jolts. For the person behind the wheel it means that though the ride will always remain on the firmer side, the varying rate of damping will ensure scintillating body control at all speeds! That is why the car was super stable even near its top speed with, of course, the sticky Pirelli rubber contributing equally in keeping the shiny stuff up.
And you’ve really got to drive this car to understand its sublime ability to change directions! The alacrity of the chassis gets a hi-five from the engine’s promptness, which enables you to dart in and out of gaps in a manner you wouldn’t dare to in any other car, save for the Mini Cooper. Then there’s the Torque Transfer Control (TTC) feature which again helps in faster cornering by braking the inside wheel (that has less grip in a corner), thereby stopping it from spinning, and sending power to the outside wheel (that’s the one with more grip). It is always ON in Sport mode but can be switched on in other modes too. Please do if you want to impress your girlfriend/boyfriend with your driving skills (or the lack of them); they won’t get to know that it’s mostly the car… Excellent Brembo stoppers would also cover up for your stupidity if you do get carried away, while a 5-star NCAP rating should add further peace of mind if you’re truly a cursed soul…
But, at INR 29.85 lakh, should you buy one? There can’t be a simple answer to this one. So I shall try and look at it from all angles possible and share everything that crosses my mind. If I still miss anything which you don’t, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section below.
Well, at the outset, comparing this car to what all you can get for the same amount of money can be as foolish or sensible as comparing an Aventador with a Rolls Royce. Buyer of one would never buy the other. Or, buyer of one would always be rich enough to buy the other. But, thinking aloud, I feel that none of these two arguments would hold water in the price range the 595 plays at. Someone who has, say, a Civic and an i20 at home, would most probably buy something like a Fortuner as their third car, and not this Fiat or the Mini Cooper or the VW Beetle.
Frankly, Fiat does not give two hoots about that kind of buyer profile. And rightfully so, to be honest. Because, first of all, this is not a volume product for them; they have brought it for branding purposes. Secondly, they know it very well that only the most passionate, classiest folks would buy it, and they sure do come in sprinkles. So why not get the completely bonkers Abarth 695 Biposto then, Fiat?
Still, for what it’s worth, let me just add that I did make our 5’11, 102 kg photographer sit at the back for more than 50 km and he, surprisingly, was comfortable back there! He even told me that getting in at the back and out was not a troublesome affair for him and, yes, I could see that he was not being sarcastic.
So when people tell you that the rear seat of this Fiat (or even the Mini’s for that matter) is only suitable for two kids or some light luggage, tell them that they are WRONG. What if you don’t want to have kids? What if you are a kid yourself, despite your driver’s license telling a different story? Why can’t we consider it a three-seater? What’s wrong in taking both your girlfriend and her cute friend along for a drive? You would love to watch them giggle with joy when you take those tunnels at full thrust, won’t you?
Heck, the 595 even has a decent amount (185 L) of boot space as well! To put things into perspective, let me tell you that the Alto 800’s comes with a 177 L capacity.
But, in all probability, the 595 would be bought by someone who goes to board meetings in an S-Class, and wouldn’t want to be caught dead driving a Swift or a Polo to the posh health club. That said, I vaguely remember a news piece, from more than a decade ago I guess, about a simpleton in flip-flops buying an exquisite fountain pen, that he had his heart on, months after seeing the price tag on it for the first time… That’s no great shakes; I just shared it to bust the myth that one can only follow the heart if their bank account is smiling at them…
Which here means that if YOU feel the 595 can be your only car, then please do not let any of us auto-journos tell you otherwise. Because all we guys can tell you is, what this car can or cannot DO; what it can BE for you is something that only you can decide. So decide and let us know. Oh, by the way, it’s cheaper than the Cooper S by around 1.65 lakh…