Abarth 595 | PH Used Buying Guide

Hot hatches like the fizzy, feisty Abarth won't happen again – time to see what the fuss is about

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, 11 September 2022 / Loading comments

Key considerations

• Available for £7,000
• 1.4-litre inline four petrol turbo, front-wheel drive
• Buzzy, bouncy and kinda brilliant
• Generally pretty tough
• Driving position can be a compromise
• Not perfect, but that’s a big part of its character

Abarth is an evocative name. Those of a certain age will remember the Italian firm’s take on tuning in the 1960s. It could only be described as rude. Basically, they would take a Fiat 500 and nail whatever they could onto the engine in order to increase the horsepower, even if that meant most of the engine ended up hanging out of the back of the car. Imagine doing that now!

Those early Abarth 500s might have looked like the automotive equivalent of a prolapse but they were really successful on European racetracks. Abarth was bought by Fiat in 1971, the idea being to turn it into Fiat’s official race team, but although the wins did continue to pile up, racing success wasn’t being converted into road car sales.

In 1984 the brand was phased out, lying dormant until 2007 when some of the smarter people at Fiat realised that they might have a good asset on their hands. Abarth was reborn in 2008 as an independent road car marque with the launch of the Punto Abarth and the Abarth 500, the first ‘modern’ Abarth if you like, with 135hp and 160hp versions of the turbocharged 1.4 T-jet engine. The limited edition 180hp 695 Tributo Ferrari of 2009 was a foretaste of rortier mass-production models to come, a vision that was made real in 2012 with the arrival of the 595.

In this buying guide, we’ll concentrate on the facelifted 2015-on 595. These facelifts butched up the 595’s bodykit and hoisted power to 145hp in the standard £15,090 Abarth T-Jet model and the new 250-off Trofeo, both of which used IHI turbos. Keeping track of the various 595 trims, models and special editions is a bit like cracking the Da Vinci Code but we’ll have a go.

All 595s ran the same 1.4 engine, power differentiations being achieved not just via different ECUs but also through intake and exhaust mods and even different turbochargers. All had a 5-speed gearbox with the option of a robotised sequential box with shift paddles. All trim levels could be had in 595C powered cabrio form, adding £2,650 to the new hatch price.

The base 595 had air-con, TFT instrumentation, high-backed fabric sports seats, a Uconnect entertainment system working through a small five-inch touchscreen, and on the 595C convertible a more or less essential set of parking sensors. In 2017 a new Trofeo arrived based largely on the 160hp 595 Pista that had been unveiled at that year’s Geneva show. Pistas were racy looking in bespoke matt grey with green highlights, sports suspension at the back, a sports exhaust and a seven-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, DAB radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. You also got a leather steering wheel and air-conditioning. The Trofeo came in red, white, black and two shades of grey, with a Record Monza exhaust, 17-inch matt black alloy wheels and Abarth telemetry of top European race circuits in the Uconnect system.

Also with 165hp was the Garrett-turboed Turismo with leather seats, aluminium pedals, climate control, bespoke alloys, rear privacy glass and the seven-inch screen. The Garrettised Competizione model had 180hp, Brembo brakes, Sabelt carbon-backed racing seats, a leather/Alcantara steering wheel, a valved Record Monza exhaust, a 0-62 time of 6.7sec, dark 17-inch alloys, bigger brakes and the option of a mechanical limited-slip differential in the Performance Pack. Koni FSDs (Frequency Selective Dampers) were standard front and rear on the Competizione, and standard on the front of the Turismo. Sport mode changed the 595’s steering, throttle pedal and torque characteristics and raced-up the TFT instrument panel display.

Many special editions have been put out including the 300-off 595 tricolore of 2016. A manufacturing hiatus in 2018 held up Abarth deliveries and the Trofeo was dropped from the range, but sales continued to boom with 23,500 cars sold in Europe that year, an increase of 36.5 per cent on 2017.

A 70th Anniversary badge model was launched in 2019, including a Competizione-based EsseEsse featuring an Akrapovic exhaust, white alloys wheels, special body graphics, plus plenty of carbon fibre and Alcantara on the inside. There was a Rivale version with a carbon dash (which really suits the 595) plus some extra bits and bobs and different paint. This was described by some as a Comp without the Sabelts – handy if you wanted to put out a slightly less frantic image.

A further update in 2022 repositioned the Turismo in a more style-centric role with 16in wheels, twin chrome exhaust, stainless steel pedals, flat-bottomed steering wheel and Koni suspension at £21,295. A sportier F595 featuring 17in wheels, auto climate control and a titanium Monza Sovrapposto exhaust with vertically-stacked quad pipes (sovrapposto being the Italian word traditionally used to describe an ‘over and under’ shotgun) came in at £22,295. There are almost certainly more that we’ve missed.

595s won’t appeal to everyone. They’re noisy, bouncy and fidgety and almost certainly unsuitable if your motoring involves regular long (or even long-ish) trips, but they’re also ebullient, cheeky and pretty much guaranteed to bring a grin to your chops on the dreariest day. And they’re affordable. You’ll see hard-used track day T-Jets from under £7,000 and multiple-owner cars with middling mileages (55k or thereabouts) at not much over £7,000. Your choices expand once you get over the £8k mark. We saw a decent-looking 165hp Turismo with 69k miles and a full history at £8,350. Tempting prices, but does the ownership experience back up the temptation? Let’s take a look. 

SPECIFICATION | ABARTH 595 (2015-on)

Engine: 1,368cc inline four 16v turbo
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000rpm
0-62mph (secs): 7.8 (7.3 Turismo, 6.7 Competizione)
Top speed (mph): 130
Weight (kg): 1,120
MPG (official combined): 42.2
CO2 (g/km): 154
Wheels (in): 16
Tyres: 195/45
On sale: 2015 – 2021
Price new: £15,090 (2015 facelift)
Price now: from £7,000

Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive. 


ENGINE & GEARBOX

The engine wasn’t a high revver, 6,000 being the effective max, but you rarely felt like you needed more power or torque, particularly in the 180hp models. The impression given by 595 owner reports online is that the vast majority of them have enjoyed a largely trouble-free experience, but there have been examples of power loss which in at least one case has led to complete engine replacement. In that specific case, the replacement engine developed a major oil leak, all within the first 12,000 miles of the car’s life.

Lesser problems have included coolant weeping from the water pump outlet pipe and the retaining bolt for the air inlet pipe coming off, both easily remedied. ‘Check engine’ lights coming on could be the result of poor remapping or an air leak ahead of the O2 sensor. Engine cut-outs were sometimes traced back to dodgy gearbox earthing.

Gearboxes and clutches have failed on a few cars, forewarned by gearbox ‘chatter’ on cold start-ups. Some if not most of these problems were attributed to a bad batch of third/fourth gear synchros. At least one owner successfully rejected his Competizione on this basis, but only after a big struggle with the UK dealer. It was a shame that a twin-clutch transmission in a car at this end of the market was never going to be an economic possibility, but the shift quality of the five-speed manual (when healthy) was more than decent. The absence of a sixth gear was less of a hassle than you might think as long as you kept the cruising speed below 80mph. Above that you would begin to notice the noise. The robotised MTA trans wasn’t really worth having as it didn’t downshift smoothly, and it added 0.2sec to the T-Jet’s 0-62 time.

It was possible to hit 50mpg in gentle use, which was useful given the sub-eight-gallon petrol tank, but far more important of course was the ability to shoot flames out of the pipe on enthusiastic downshifts, and you could do that with the 595. Off the motorway the sound was great too, especially if you had the Monza exhaust, although they could get rattly, the mid-section exhaust mounts could fail, and the valves did acquire a reputation for sticking. You could usually fix that with some freeing-up fluid and some bits of wire to keep the valves in the open position. Some 595 owners reckoned there was an amusing increase in the popping and banging once the 20,000-mile mark had been passed. 

The owner’s manual says that under no circumstances should oil change intervals exceed 10,000 miles, or 12 months, whichever comes first. The figure you normally see put around for the oil and filter change is 9,300 miles. Outside of that the notional service interval is 18k/two years. Allow up to £300 for one of those. The 36k service with new brake fluid and pollen/air filters should come in at under £350. We’ve seen a six-year/120,000km (75,000 miles) replacement schedule mentioned for the timing belt, but we’ve also seen four years rather than six.

Although 595s are already ‘tuned’ cars from the factory, if that makes sense, but that didn’t stop owners wanting to go further, so you will want to pay close attention to the paperwork attached to any car you’re thinking of buying to ensure as far as you can that work has been done properly by recognised people.

CHASSIS

If you were asked to list cars with a comfy ride it’s doubtful that a 595 would figure anywhere in it, especially one with the bigger 17-inch wheels fitted. 595s did have a tendency to tramline quite badly on the OE Pirelli P Zeros and the steering wasn’t massively talkative. Approach it with the right mindset though and you’d probably come to the conclusion that all the jiggling, bouncing and corner-skip simply add to the vibrancy of the drive by making you feel like you were going faster than you actually were. The ride quality wasn’t terrible: a Cooper S on run-flats would be worse. On the upside, the handling and grip on smooth roads was top notch.

Drive in the approved manner and you’d go through front tyres at quite a rate. Michelin Pilot Sport 4s transformed the car but weren’t originally available in the right size (205/40) for the 17-inch wheels. That changed in 2018. Before that, there was plenty of praise for the PS3s. Premium tyres for 16-inch wheeled cars will be around £100 a corner but you’ll be able to get Yokohamas, Kumhos or Toyos at nearer £65 each.

The rear shocks (and the top bushes) won’t last forever. One well-rated upgrade is to fit Koni Special Active dampers, basically second-generation FSDs with a new valve design. Early 500s had a reputation for rust in the top strut mount area. Although you wouldn’t expect to see that in facelift 595s that have only been around for seven years max, it’s something worth keeping an eye on as the mounts do wear (especially if you have to negotiate a lot of speed bumps). The cost of sorting that will be around £200 a side. Drop links and rear wheel bearings aren’t everlasting either.

The 595’s turning circle was poor, no better in fact than that of a BMW 5 Series. A sense of front-end wobbliness at 40mph or more could be down to worn driveshafts or (if you’re lucky) a damaged or unbalanced wheel. There was a recall to remedy reduced brake performance on 595s.

BODYWORK

Bodywork on these doesn’t get as bashed about as you might think as many of them are bought by older enthusiasts and/or as second cars. As such they are a bit better looked after. If you’re buying a 2016 car, make sure it’s the facelifted one you’re getting with the new front bumper/splitter assembly with the more ‘tear-droppy’ driving lights and the extra lights in the rear bumper. Yellow Abarths look great, but they don’t half attract the bugs in summertime.

Hatches outnumbered the fabric-roofed C cabrios by about nine to one and this is markedly reflected in the prices of the open-top cars which in facelift form start at around £12k. Even pre-facelift Cs aren’t much cheaper, starting at £11k. Some say that the regular electric glass sunroof suits the car better than the full cabrio, although it does chop into your headroom.

Underneath all the Abarthery these are Fiat 500s so generic 500 issues like loose door handles and blown screenwash motors are par for the course. The cabling running into the tailgate could crack and break at the rubber hose especially if you were motoring in a cold climate. Door mirrors weren’t especially sturdy either. Xenon headlights were a very sensible extra as the standard candles were bang average at best. The headlight washers actually cleaned most of the front of the car.

INTERIOR

Without wishing to reinforce any stereotypes, the 595 is a small Italian car with firm suspension, so don’t be expecting a rattle-free cabin. Materials quality was more Fiat 500 than semi-premium brand but the upside of plastickyness was good resistance to wear.

All 595s had the Uconnect system that came with posher-spec 500s, with a worth-having seven-inch screen option over the standard five-inch one. Surprisingly you had to pay extra for CarPlay or Android Auto. A 480w Beats audio system had the same number of speakers as the standard setup (eight) but they were higher-spec ones and there was a subwoofer thrown in. The Bluetooth in pre-595 Abarth 500s didn’t always get on with some Apple items but 595 owners shouldn’t have a problem with that.

The standard 595 driving position is quite high and out of kilter with the sportiness of the proposition. That’s the inevitable limitation of starting off with a budget car that was designed to provide decent visibility in the city. The carbon-backed Sabelt seats in the Competizione improved both body support and the driving position (especially with the lowering bracketry that used to be available from outfits like TMC Motorsport for about £150, or from Italy for less), but the trade-off with the Sabelts was minging access to the back seats – the backs of which weren’t very good at disguising marks from flying boot cargo. Not that you would be getting much of that in there as the boot only held 185 litres. That grew to a still not great 550 litres when the back seats were down – an action you couldn’t carry out in the soft-top 595C. You could fit a bike in there though if you took the front wheel off.

There was no reach adjustment on the steering wheel. That could make it difficult to find a good relationship between your legs and your arms, but even without the lowering brackets in place tall drivers (6ft 3in) reported no major headroom issues with the Sabelts. The foam ‘settled in’ over the first couple of thousand miles, adding comfort. Shame they put the backrest adjusters on the outsides of the Sabelts where you couldn’t access them when the doors were shut unless you were supple enough to reach round behind the seat and attack it from that angle. The adjusters on the regular sports seats were on the ‘right’ side, i.e., the inside. Sabelt seat back release levers have been known to break.

On some cars, but strangely not all, the throttle pedal was much lower than it was in others, making heel-and-toeing difficult stroke impossible. There have been reports of heater fans squeaking on the lowest ‘1’ setting.

Abarth’s failure to provide cruise control even as an option was an annoyance that baffled many owners, especially as it was offered on some versions of the non-Abarth Fiat 500s. That led to the fitment of quite a few aftermarket systems. One owner reported paying a total of £700 for this, but in his case that price included an extension to the steering wheel to get around the absence of reach adjustment. That latter mod wasn’t a perfect solution as it left the stalks in their original positions, so some fabricated their own indicator extension arms. Others had aftermarket heating elements put into their sports seats. Resourceful types, Abarth owners.

PH VERDICT

The Abarth brand has managed to keep its head above water despite being less than brilliantly handled over the years. The badly misjudged Abarth 124 Spider disappeared from the range in 2019 but at prices starting from £7,000 and with overall reliability being on the right side of average, the 595 looks like a good used purchase. Far from perfect it might be, but it’s the model’s imperfection that makes them fun. 

If you’re coldly judging a 595 against other feisty littl’uns like the Mini Cooper S Works, or cars like the Fiesta ST which deliver both a great driving experience and better practicality, it’s hard to justify the 595. It’s just one of those cars that you’ll either want or won’t want. There’s no middle ground to speak of. You won’t find much room inside, the driving position is average to say the least, and you need to be fairly committed to run one as a daily. But there’s no shortage of character and well, it’s an Abarth innit? When you’re in the zone in a Competizione on a mountain pass all the design shortcomings seem to fade into insignificance.

Quite a few 595 owners have converted their PCP deals into outright ownership by doing the balloon payment at the end, which tells you something about how these cars can ‘grab’ you and also how generally reliable their cars have been. Yes, there have been instances of disinterested Abarth dealer service in the UK, but there has also been great praise for individual dealerships going the extra mile for customers, including but not restricted to Westover Abarth in Poole.

The most affordable 595 facelift on PH Classifieds at the time of writing was this 2016 T-Jet in grey with just under 80,000 miles and two owners at £7,795. For a bit more poke here’s a 2017 Turismo also in grey with 61,000 miles at £10,650. If it’s a Competizione or nothing, the cheapest one on PH was this 2017 example with 61,000 miles at £12,250. At the other end of the price spectrum expect to pay around £21k for a late low-mileage Competizione or EsseEsse.


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