GOLF GTI VS. RE­NAULT CLIO R.S. TRO­PHY

Both pack a punch, but who wins the tale of the tape?

Driven - - Contents - Re­port by BERNIE HELLBERG | Im­ages © FIAT CHRYSLER

WHEN IT COMES TO DE­SIGN, THE ABARTH IS A WON­DER­FUL EX­PE­RI­ENCE WHERE CUTE MEETS SPORTY. AND WE MEAN, RE­ALLY SPORTY. BERNIE HELLBERG STRAPPED ON THE BABY BOOMER AND TOOK IT FOR A RUN IN THE COUN­TRY.

“Cute yet sporty”, when did that be­come a thing? Back in the day when men were men and every­thing else was ir­rel­e­vant, sports cars were big brutes that breathed fire and farted flames. If it ain’t got a V8, it ain’t got noth­ing!

Have we fallen so far down the rab­bit hole that sports cars now have to be tiny, tinny, and in some cases, ter­ri­ble?

The un­likely hero that has come to save us all from mo­tor­ing bore­dom, is a lit­tle-known cre­ation from Fiat-de­rived Abarth, the cute yet sporty Abarth 595 Com­pe­tizione. A yel­low one, no less.

DE­SIGNED TO IM­PRESS

It’s a strange para­dox, but the Abarth is de­signed in a way that is unique, and it cer­tainly doesn’t look like any­thing you’ve seen on South African roads be­fore. Ex­cept, of course, the Fiat 500 on which it is based.

Not much smaller than a Kia Pi­canto, but sig­nif­i­cantly wider and lower, of course, the Com­pe­tizione is cur­va­ceous and en­tic­ing. And in its racy yel­low garb, the 595 draws crowds of on­look­ers wher­ever you go. It’s mas­sive 18” al­loy wheels, which can only be de­scribed with one word that starts with an “s” and ends with “exy”, are one of the key fac­tors that sell me on the over­all look of the car.

The Fiat 500 is also al­ready a cute de­sign, but the added mus­cle that the 595 Com­pe­tizione car­ries – in terms of its flared wheel arches and mas­sive al­loys lends it an en­dear­ing qual­ity that would likely see both Starsky and Hutch swoon (okay, per­haps just a lit­tle grin) over its pur­pose­ful de­sign.

BUTCH ON THE ROAD

The 595 is as good-look­ing in­side as it is out­side. The retro feel of every­thing from the ra­dio con­trols to the pop-up sport indi­ca­tor re­minds of the Fiat 500’s her­itage. With added zest, of course, as this is a sports car after all.

Two in­te­rior touches im­pressed me specif­i­cally: the flat-bot­tom steer­ing wheel and the firm yet sup­port­ive sporty bucket seats.

Per­fectly-sized for added grip (the suede/leather combo cov­er­ing the wheel also helps) when chuck­ing the lit­tle Ital­ian through cor­ners, the steer­ing wheel also houses con­trols for the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and on-board com­puter.

As men­tioned, the 595’s seats are pretty firm, but they do well to con­tain their oc­cu­pants when spir­ited driv­ing is called for. One gripe though, the seats are not height ad­justable, and if you are any­thing taller than 1.8 m you might find the roof lin­ing (and the door arch) just a lit­tle too close to your nog­gin for com­fort.

Per­for­mance is brisk, if not mind blow­ing. Power comes from a tur­bocharged 1.4-litre 16-valve en­gine, which thanks to a larger turbo and a high-per­for­mance en­gine con­trol unit, makes 107 KW of power, all sent to the front wheels.

While that may not sound like too many horses are un­leashed in the steroidal Cin­que­cento, the car weighs a mere 1,035 kg, mak­ing the power-to-weight ra­tio a re­spectable 103 Watts per kilo­gramme. That’s al­most as much as a Volk­swa­gen Polo GTI. Fiat claims that the 595 will do the zero to 100 km/h run in 7.8 sec­onds, not too shabby, and com­bined with the an­i­mated sound­track from the Abarth’s race-tuned ex­haust and the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence is rather thrilling.

LAST WORD

The Abarth 595 Com­pe­tizione is some­what of an ac­quired taste, es­pe­cially if you’re used to the roomi­ness of most other (four-door) hot hatches in this seg­ment. But there’s some­thing spe­cial about it that can­not be ig­nored. It will leave you grin­ning from ear to ear with ev­ery press of the start but­ton, and be­yond.

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