In the same week that I drove the Abarth 595 esseesse, I also drove the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio.
That the 179bhp front-drive hot hatch left as big a grin on my face as the 503bhp rear-drive super saloon says either a lot about me or about what a great job Abarth’s tuners have done.
The Fiat 500 on which the Abarth is based is a perfectly reasonable city car but nothing about it screams “rag me stupid around the countryside”.
But by taking the humble 500 and throwing a tonne of engineering expertise, some uprated components and a turbocharger at it, Abarth has created something that positively begs to be driven hard absolutely everywhere.
Abarth 595 esseesse
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Top speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
CO2 emissions: 155g/km
The new esseesse (pronounced SS) is the second modern Abarth to carry the name and is part of Abarth’s 70th anniversary celebrations. It’s the top-dog in the Abarth family and gets specific Koni frequency selective dampers, a mechanical limited-slip differential, ventilated Brembo brakes and a custom-designed Akrapovik exhaust.
It also gets the same uprated version of the 1.4 T-Jet engine as the 595 Competizione, producing 179bhp and 184lb/ft.
In the training shoe-sized 595 that means 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 140mph. It feels every bit that fast as you dart away from the line or scoosh out of a corner with the LSD working its magic.
The promises of meaty performance made by the massive body kit, 17-inch alloys and decals are delivered upon on the road with hilarious effect in something that feels like a rocket-propelled roller skate.
The short wheelbase and incredibly direct steering means it darts around like a hyperactive puppy while the Akrapovik exhaust is hilariously rorty and snorty. Catch it at the right revs in the right gear and it sounds like a World War Two fighter plane.
The whole experience is theatrical and raw, and that rawness does translate into some less desirable characteristics.
Being set up to offer excellent body control means the ride is really, really hard. It’s unforgiving in the extreme and makes for some interesting behaviour on badly undulating roads.
The cabin, with its carbon fibre-backed, figure-hugging bucket seats and Abarth detailing, is also pretty noisy. It’s a fun kind of noisy but you’d have to be pretty dedicated or deaf to relish it as a daily driver.
It’s not for everyone, then, but for fans of edgy old-school hot hatches there’s lots to love.
It doesn’t feel as mature or easy to live with as something like a Ford Fiesta ST but it is rawer and almost unique.
This tiny car’s biggest problem is that at just over £25,000 it’s up against the top-spec Fiesta ST, which is a better all-round car. It’s more spacious, more refined, more powerful and very slightly quicker.
However, some people don’t want a grown-up all-rounder, they want ragged and raw and a bit silly and the 595 esseesse is all that and more.
If you can accept its flaws in terms of refinement, ride and space, it’s a truly engaging and involving little toy.