THE SCORPION KING. Fresh on the market, the Abarth 595 Competizione is the new boy toy on the automotive block. Renaldi Hutasoit investigates this “Scorpio” breed.
The Abarth brand, founded by Austrian racer Karl Abarth, made a name for making high performance exhausts and tuning kits in the ‘50s, mainly for Fiat cars. In 1963, Karl introduced the original Abarth 595 based on the Fiat 500, which turned out to be an iconic car owing to its powerful engine. In 1971, Fiat bought Abarth and positioned it as the company’s motorsport arm. In 2008, a year after the launch of the new Fiat 500, the Abarth 500 was unveiled at the 78th “Geneva Motor Show” Geneva Motor Show. This time around Abarth surged to the surface as a totally separate brand and company from Fiat. The Abarth scorpion crest (Scorpio is Karl Abarth’s zodiac sign) also replaced the Fiat emblem. More differences could be found in the engines. Today’s range of Abarth cars start at the entry level with the 500, 500C (convertible), 595 Turismo, 595C Turismo, 595 Competizione and the 595C Competizione. There are many special versions of Abarths, like the 695 Tributo Ferrari, 50th Anniversary, etc. One of the most hard-core wheels from the line is the 595 Competizione, which comes to the Indonesian market with the Abarth Competizione Gearbox, a five-speed automated manual transmissions actuated by shift paddles behind the steering wheel.
“The first few hours driving the Abarth, I was not impressed. [But] the more I get to know the car, the more I like it”
Let me start with the automated manual gearbox. Automatic transmission is a necessity for congested, stop-and-go traffics, such as in Jakarta with average travel speeds ranging from 15 to 20kph. This is, however, not the smoothest automated manual gearbox in the market. There is a discernible delay between shifts whether I leave it in the automatic or manual mode, so much so that my upper torso would often lean forward anticipating the acceleration whenever I change gears, yet the car quickly loses the engine drive to the wheels. Although my wife in the passenger seat did not feel this shift delay, a driver’s expectation has its merits. Secondly, one would expect more features for a subcompact hatchback at Rp.666 million off the road price. In the Abarth 595 Competizione, the occupants have to be content with a basic sound system and no multimedia display. It does have an excellent Microsoft Blue & Me Bluetooth connection, though. Call quality is very good, but the human interface leaves a lot of room for improvement. As far as real complaints, that is about it, really. Some people make comments on the inside space, but then again the Abarth is based on the diminutive Fiat 500. Most, if not all, buyers of the Abarth would find its small stature very appealing instead. Thus, the targeted buyers of the car will not find this to be a problem at all. To give more clues, the trunk is larger than expected. I could put in a medium-sized suitcase easily. The rear seats fit two 170cm adults conveniently and are equipped with pop-up headrest for safety. For the front passenger, the very supportive Sabelt sport seats were
surprisingly very ergonomic and comfortable. True, the seats are not soft and cushy like a leather couch, but it is ergonomic that you feel no pressure points when sitting. For drivers, the instrument panel with only a few features is easy to understand. Indeed, driving is the focus of the 595 Competizione. Everything about the car is very surprisingly cohesive to the act of driving that going fast is natural. You sit quite high in the Abarth, but, once you get going, it feels normal. Body roll is well controlled by lowered springs and Koni shocks with clever FSD (Frequency Selective Damping) valve. This setup offers firmness for sporty driving on even road surfaces and, at the same time, smoothness for a comfortable ride on uneven road surfaces.
Two other features that will enhance your driving enjoyment are the Sport mode and the TTC (Torque Transfer Control). The Sport mode sharpens throttle response and weights up the electrically assisted steering. The TTC is more sophisticated, acting almost like a limited slip differential. During cornering, the TTC uses the brakes to prevent the inside wheel from spinning, while allowing power to be directed to the outside wheel. The Italians are known to do everything with heart, so you have to approach most of their products with your heart first. At the asking price, the 595 Competizione does not make much sense. But, just like with any Italian supercar, you don’t buy an Abarth because it makes sense, but because you like it. The first few hours driving the Abarth, I was not impressed. Over the three days I had the car, the more I get to know the car and its “character,” the more I like it. Yes, the 595 Competizione is not perfect, but the sum of its imperfections is minute compared to the whole driving enjoyment of the car. Would I recommend it to a friend? Wholeheartedly.
SPECS: ABARTH 595 COMPETIZIONE
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged T-Jet, 4 cylinders
Power: 160 hp at 5500 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed MTA (Manual Transmission Automated)
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