Kyle Fortune 26 November 2013

First drive: Abarth 595 50th Anniversary

Fiat calls its £30k hot hatch a ‘small supercar’. But is this a special edition too far for the 500?

What's this, then?

According to Fiat, it's a ‘small supercar'. Back in the real world, it's a yet-hotter 500 Abarth cooked up to celebrate 50 years since the launch of the original 595 Abarth.

The 50th Anniversary Abarth gets a smidge more power than the 500 Abarth, the 1.4-litre T-Jet engine gaining 20bhp under its tiny, scorpioned bonnet to deliver a 178bhp maximum at 5,500rpm. It'll do 0-62mph in just under seven seconds and 140 flat-out.

This being a hot Fiat, there's plenty of trinketry too. The 50th Anniversary differentiates itself from standard 595s with some hand-finished badges, more leather inside and flat white paint outside, as well as Brembo brakes and the obligatory plaque telling you which of the 299 made you own. Oh, and that scorpion on bonnet, is, like David Dimbleby's recent body art, a tattoo rather than a sticker.

 

It's not going to be cheap, is it?

No. The price, like the tattoo and its subject matter, will sting. A lot. Abarth UK has only just finalised the cost, and it's £29,850. Yes, really. 

Ouch.

Indeed. Especially considering, for all the talk of the 595 50th Anniversary being unique, it's technically identical to the company's 695 Tributo Ferrari and the still-available Abarth 695 Edizione Maserati. Thing is, this time Abarth doesn't have its Fiat group stable mates to add some glamour - and help justify the ridiculously inflated price.

That's one expensive Fiat then.

Terrifyingly so, especially as delivery-mile 695 Tributo Ferraris can still be picked up for less than the 595 50th Anniversary will cost you from new. Abarth say its fans will buy it, but rather sensibly it's keeping the build number low.

How does it drive?

That 20bhp increase does make some difference to the Abarth's performance. It'll reach 62mph in a steering-wheel squirming and head-nodding 6.9 seconds, that sprint accompanied by an amusing note from its ‘Record Monza' four-tipped exhaust. The nodding is down to the slovenly, robotised manual paddle gearshift rather than any physical appreciation of either the performance or noise that accompanies it.

Not fun then?

On five or so laps around Fiat's test track it's fun, but less so if you've just driven a standard manual 158bhp 595. That might lack the outright pace of its 595 50th Anniversary relation, but makes up for it with a satisfying gear shift and whopping £10,000 saving. In the Anniversary there's decent grip and those Brembos don't have to work too hard, but the steering in is both light and very vague. Usefully, given the amount of twirling involved, with the 595 50th Anniversary there's an Italian flag aping stitched top marker on the steering. Though on the one we drove it wasn't top dead centre.

So it's one for the serious collector?

You'd have to be an absolute Abarth obsessive to be able to spot this among its many pouting, stickered Abarth relations - and to drive it's no more special. Any JCW Mini is preferable and the similarly silly-priced, special edition GP2 murders the Italian. Nice as some of the detailing is, it's not worth the thumping premium.

1,368cc fwd, 178bhp, 184lb ft, 52.3mpg, 151g/km CO2, 0-62mph 6.9secs, 140mph, 1090kg, £29,850

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