It’s no stretch

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CHECK IT OUT AT IRE­LAND FIAT, MUL­GRAVE RD, CAIRNS.

EN­TRY to a feisty Fiat just got eas­ier and cheaper.

The new Abarth 595 is not as ri­otously ram­bunc­tious as some of the top-end mod­els from Fiat’s per­for­mance arm but is more user-friendly and likely to be more pop­u­lar with buy­ers.

It’s def­i­nitely calm, the ride is more com­pli­ant but the cabin needs big im­prove­ments. it also lacks the sporty ex­haust note of the more hard­core mod­els.

The Abarth 595 is priced from $27,500 — an au­to­matic gear­box adds $2000 and it’s an­other $3000 for a cabrio roof — for a car which still packs a 1.4-litre turbo en­gine

The price is $6000 less than any pre­vi­ous Abarth, pro­vid­ing a bet­ter bridge from ba­sic 500 mod­els. It should be ca­pa­ble of dou­bling sales from the mod­est to­tal of just 120 cars in 2015, as well as keep­ing po­ten­tial own­ers away from ri­vals such as the Re­nault Clio RS and Mini Cooper.

“We know there are peo­ple look­ing for some­thing like this,” says Fiat Chrysler Aus­tralia’s Alan Swan­son.

“It looks like an Abarth but isn’t quite as ex­treme. Pushed to the limit, it can still have real per­for­mance cre­den­tials.”

The 595 is more like a de­tuned 695 Trib­uto than a tweaked 500. The four-cylin­der en­gine (103kW/206Nm) turns five-speed man­ual or auto gear­boxes and the sporty run­ning gear in­cludes Koni front shock ab­sorbers, vented disc brakes and 16-inch al­loy wheels with 45-series tyres.

Fac­ing the driver are a seven-inch dis­play screen, a turbo boost gauge atop the dash and a torque trans­fer se­lec­tor to max­imise grip on a track.

There are some visual tweaks and twin ex­haust tips. There is still no rear-view cam­era — that will come with the next Fiat 500 — and the driv­ing po­si­tion is too high for a sporty car.

ON THE ROAD

I’m cramped at the wheel but on a loop out from Ho­bart into the Tas­ma­nian coun­try­side, I feel con­fi­dent de­spite wet and slip­pery roads.

I’m def­i­nitely hap­pier in the 595 than I would be in a high­per­for­mance 695 Trib­uto or the road-racer Bit­posto I drove last year, thanks to much more com­pli­ance in the sus­pen­sion and more re­spon­sive rub­ber.

The highs are not as high yet the lows are not as low. The boot is not big, some ex­tra pop­bang from the ex­haust would

It sits 15mm lower than a reg­u­lar Fiat 500 and has 16-inch al­loys but the sus­pen­sion is nicely tuned to com­bine a smooth coun­try-road ride with good grip in cor­ners. It’s not fast but it’s still fun.

Only an Abarth en­thu­si­ast will pick the mi­nor changes from the Trib­uto mod­els but it still has the looks to turn heads. be fun but oth­er­wise it’s a com­fort­able pack­age with enough go for the en­thu­si­ast.

“The (out­puts) aren’t huge but the car only weighs ( just over) 1000kg,” says Swan­son.

ON THE TRACK

Baskerville Race­way out­side Ho­bart is cold and sod­den as we ar­rive to stretch the 595. Grip is lim­ited, the cor­ners are greasy and the ESP in­ter­venes to keep me safe.

The 595 is bet­ter than I ex­pect. The softer sus­pen­sion keeps the wheels well planted and there is none of the wild­ness of a Trib­uto at the top end of its turbo rush.

Even when the track dries there is not much grip but that’s just fine.

The car is quick enough to have some fun but not so fast as to be scary.

There is a solid torque shove and the car runs to the red-line at more than 140km/h in fourth gear with ev­ery kilo­watt wrung out of it.

The shift ac­tion is good, the brakes pull the car up evenly and the chas­sis is well­bal­anced, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the short wheel­base brings the po­ten­tial for the rear end to snap side­ways. It’s a lit­tle bit spe­cial and it’s sure to win friends among those in­ter­ested in a 500 — who can now get some­thing with the Abarth badge with­out go­ing into se­ri­ous debt.

PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER

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