Gareth Butterfield takes a wild ride in one of the maddest Abarth creations yet, the 595 Essesse
I’VE always had a soft-spot for anything with an Abarth badge. The basic principle behind the Italian brand is to take a run-of-the-mill Fiat and inject it with an unhealthy dose of bonkers.
Some of its creations have been weird, some have been scary, some have gone a bit too far, and some have hit the sweet spot and become motoring greats. On that note, let me introduce the Abarth 595 Essesse.
Among the more common current Abarth creations are a group of modified Fiat 500s. True to its origins, Abarth has had a field day over the years turning the pint-size shopping chariot into something a lot more interesting.
Turbos are fitted and then wound up. Suspension is stiffened, comfort is sacrificed for sheer driving capability and, in many cases the focus is solely on creating a lairy, raucous machine that would embarrass a few so-called hot hatches on the right road.
To give you a flavour of how accomplished Abarth is at this sort of thing, the name “Essesse” (pronounced ess-essay) means “70”. And this car has been developed to celebrate Abarth’s 70th anniversary.
So, to put it in no uncertain terms, the birthday boys have thrown everything in their toy box at this car. The result, I’m happy to say, is absolutely marvellous.
Let’s start, though, by addressing the elephant in the room. Fiat’s 500 was first launched in 2007 and it hasn’t really changed all that much, so Abarth’s had to do quite a big job in freshening up what’s honestly becoming quite a tired platform.
I guess I can concede that it has aged well, and still looks cute in its standard form. But I’ve genuinely lost track of how often Abarth has had to release a new model based on the 500 that has barely altered from its predecessor. I wouldn’t be suprised if they’re itching to start a-fresh with a completely new car.
That said, while the changes to the Essesse are subtle, they all add up to make a big difference when compared to the last “Abarthed” 500 I drove. Although, I must admit, I’ve forgotten which one that was.
There’s now, for example, a limited-slip differential which sharpens up the already great handling as you near the limit.
Massive Brembo brakes and vented disks have also been added, along with an upgraded BMC air filter to maximise air intake to the engine.
This means the turbo now feels more aggressive than ever as you wring out every last bit of the 180bhp and 250nm.
And all this silliness is all belched out by a frankly terrifying Akrapovic exhaust system. The exhaust is barely subdued in normal mode, but very loud when in sports mode. There’s a deep growl at startup and a characterful, monstrous roar when you push on.
The huge, distinctive carbon-wrapped exhaust tips make it quite clear to anyone following that you really shouldn’t mess.
Sitting on 17″ wheels, tucking into a beautiful carbon fibre seat that’s so big you can’t adjust it without opening the door, and grabbing onto the lovely alcantara steering wheel and alloy gear nob, you’re strapping yourself in for one hell of a ride in the Essesse.
I realise 180bhp doesn’t sound all that much these days, but this thing weighs just over 1,000kg so, mark my words, acceleration is vivid.
Understeer is more controlled in this than just about any 595 I’ve driven and its small wheelbase means you can point and shoot through bends like nothing else on the road. Its steering and tight, nimble body control make it such a hoot to fling around. And all that power and torque helps you to charge out of corners with absolute confidence, while the exhaust barks and snarls away behind you. It is nothing short of joyful to drive hard. Totally addictive.
This being the top of the Abarth family tree, you’ll be treated to extras such as the 7″ infotainment screen, carbon fibre just about everywhere and an array of safety kit.
But the great thing is none of this comes at an eye-watering cost. You can have an Essesse with a solid roof for just over £25,000. And there really aren’t that many ways to go this fast for so little cash.
Of course, there are compromises. A small boot, small back seats made even less practical by the bucket front seats and stiff suspension even out of sports mode.
But a 595 is not the sort of car you buy to take your mother-in-law for her weekly blue rinse in. And that, quite honestly, is one of the reasons I absolutely love it.
Content Editor, Ashbourne News Telegraph
Senior Journalist, News/Motoring/Weather/Travel
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