Abarth 595 VS Audi A1
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
- Character-filled car
- Sporty performance
- City-friendly dimensions
- Fuel use a bit high
- Back seat lacks amenities
Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.
More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Audi A1 2020 range offers something for everyone, and in the case of this particular variant, it’s the one you buy if you want as much grunt and gear as you can get.
It’s the top-of-the-range Audi A1 40 TFSI model, which gets the zestiest engine, the lengthiest equipment list, and offers performance to match some hot-hatches out there. It’s essentially an Audi-ised version of a VW Polo GTI.
This test wasn’t so much about the wow-factor, though. We put it through its paces as an urban runabout to see how it coped as a real-world city car.
Read More: Audi A1 2020 review
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.
The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.
Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.
If you’re eager for a sporty compact hatchback with premium design and luxury car badges, the Audi A1 40 TFSI is a very, very strong contender. It’s fast, fun, and functional for a little hatchback. It’s just very expensive, and for most people the $10K cheaper 35 TFSI model will tick most of the boxes. I’d recommend you drive it before signing on for the top-spec model.
Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.
The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.
The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.
Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.
It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.
I don’t think I’ve seen a better transformation between generations than the current A1. In its previous guise it was bubbly and cute, but now it’s an angular brute.
This version’s S line sports body kit and funky 18-inch alloy wheels certainly help in that regard, but even the standard lighting signatures - LEDs front and rear - make it stand out as anything but a cutie pie city car.
The good news is that it hasn’t grown too much, either. Sure, it is a bit bigger, measuring 4029mm (on a 2563mm wheelbase), 1740mm wide and 1409mm tall. The last one was smaller (3973mm long on a 2469mm wheelbase, 1746mm wide and 1422mm tall), but this one isn’t elephantine in its proportions and so remains simple to park and squeezy enough to be considered a Light Car by industry standards.
And there are some really, really playful colours available. Like this Turbo Blue (which is only for this spec), and Python Yellow. There’s also black, green, red, three different greys, and two whites. The only issue is that flat white (Cortina White) is the only no-cost paint option. The rest will set out back $490 (for Tioman Green or the blue you see here) or $990 (for the rest).
And then you can option the paint with a black roof, for $1380 combined with blue or green, or $1880 in all the other colours. The black exterior styling pack adds black highlights around the grille and on the front and rear bumpers. Those little Audi four-ring stickers on the rear doors are standard on this spec.
But to be honest, it stands out no matter what colour you choose, and that’s enough to get people’s heads turning on the street. And the interior design? Well, it has some good and bad points. See the interior pictures below to make up your own mind.
This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.
The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.
The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.
The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front.
There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.
Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.
The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.
In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.
There are elements of the A1’s cabin design that are tremendous. And other bits that are not so tremendous.
The bad bits include the fact you’re paying about $50,000 on the road for a car that has hard plastic just about everywhere the eye can see.
The good bits are that the textured plastics on the dash are beautiful, and so are the designed elements on the doors. I love the door handles, I love the metallic finish, I love the layout and I love the way it makes you forget that you’re in a luxury-branded car with hard plastic all around you.
The media screen and digital dashboard help, too - it feels technical and premium in the driver’s seat as a result. The graphics are crisp and clear, the menus are mostly easy to navigate, but I had some issues getting Apple CarPlay to work. It has wireless CarPlay, and I had it plugged in, so perhaps that was confusing things.
But the Audi media system also includes Audi Connect in this spec, meaning there are realtime map, traffic and hazard updates, plus a Wi-Fi hotspot, fuel prices, parking, weather and Google maps and services. It’s high-tech, and if that’s what you like, this is definitely going to please you more than a Mini Cooper.
Practicality is good, with bottle holders in all four doors, cup holders between the front seats and a covered centre console and wireless charging bay in front of the shifter. In the back, storage is sparse: aside from the door pockets, there’s nothing - no cup holders, no map pockets.
There is enough space for four adults in the A1, so if you plan to take your mates to brunch or if you’ve got young kids, you should be comfortable enough in here.
I had the driver’s seat set for my own height (182cm) and I was able to slide in to the rear seat without much fuss at all, with adequate knee and toe room, and decent headroom too. Try and fit three across the back and it’ll be uncomfortable, unless those three are very slim.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and three top-tether points, and the seat structure is pretty flat, making fitment of these types of seats simple enough.
The boot capacity is good for a car of this size at 335 litres, which is a solid 20 per cent bigger than before. You won’t find a spare under the boot floor, though, as all A1s have an inflator kit. The back seats fold down to allow 1090L of cargo capacity, but there’s a ledge you have to contend with if you’re trying to load larger items in. Maybe skip the IKEA trips in this one, then.
Price and features
The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs.
A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.
A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.
The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.
Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.
What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.
Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.
The Audi A1 40 TFSI model is far from affordable if you’re looking at city-sized hatchbacks.
The list price for this model is $46,450 plus on-road costs, and for that you don’t even get leather trim! And heated seats? Optional...
You can option the S-line interior package to get a flat-bottomed steering wheel and leather seat trim, but as standard, even on this top-spec variant, you get cloth seats and a boring old round wheel.
As tested our A1 40 TFSI was $49,720 before on-roads (making for a circa-$55K drive-away price as you see it), because it had the optional blue paint ($490) and black roof ($890), plus the black exterior styling package ($790) and 18-inch Audi Sport wheels ($1100).
It already has 18-inch wheels as standard, plus the S-line exterior body styling pack with sportier front and rear bumpers, sill trims and a rear spoiler.
Plus there are LED headlights and tail-lights, dual-zone climate control, a 10.25-inch digital dashboard, a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen with Android Auto, digital radio, built in sat-nav, built-in Wi-Fi and wireless Apple CarPlay.
That’s in addition to push-button start, keyless entry, 2xUSB ports (USB-A and USB-C) ambient lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, wireless phone charging, front and rear parking sensors, semi-autonomous self parking, auto lights and auto wipers, heated and folding mirrors with kerb-side dipping, and a few safety spec items you’ll find in that section below.
Engine & trans
The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.
The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.
This 40 TFSI model is the big humdinger in the range. It has the donk, right?
Yeah, it’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, which is a full litre bigger in capacity than the base model car. And it’s the same engine fitted to the Polo GTI - a proper hot hatch!
It doesn’t quite have double the power and torque of the entry-level 30 TFSI model, but it does have solid outputs of 147kW (at 4400-6000rpm) and 320Nm (from 1500-4400rpm). That’s enough to slingshot this A1 from 0-100km/h in a hot-hatch-rivalling 6.5 seconds, according to Audi.
Unlike the lower grades, it runs a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, which it needs because it has so much torque. The 30 and 35 TFSI variants have a seven-speeder. All of them, including this one, are front-wheel drive.
Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.
The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.
Claimed fuel consumption is rated at 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres. You might see close to that on a highway drive, but if you’re primarily city-dwelling like me, then expect higher.
I saw an average of 10.1L/100km during my urban review of the A1 40 TFSI. That was with stop-start engaged the whole time, and the occasional squeeze of the accelerator to test out the claimed acceleration.
Fuel tank size for the A1 is just 40 litres, so if you’re doing what I did with this grade of A1, you can expect to visit the servo every 400km or so.
Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.
There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.
It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel.
That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.
Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one.
The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.
The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.
You shouldn’t be surprised to know that the A1 40 TFSI feels a lot like a Polo GTI to drive. It’s quick, it’s entertaining, it’s refined… it’s just about 50 per cent more expensive.
That mightn’t matter to you or factor into your considerations. I just want to point out that you can get a car that’s just as good to drive as this one, and still with a premium German brand attached to it, for a lot less.
The A1 does have it’s own spunk, though. It has a more masculine character, more aggressive styling, and more delightful interior design.
But it also has steering that is predictable and easy to judge, helping it feel nimble and grippy. From tight twisty roads to roundabouts, you’re going to be having fun in the A1 if you’re tooling around town.
It feels planted and grippy - aside from some front-wheel spin during take-offs if the tyres are cold - and you might notice the suspension can be a touch noisy as it pitter-patters over inconsistencies in the road surface, but the ride is firm yet controlled, offering enough comfort over potholed city roads and speed humps for this tester. And there are several of each of those obstacles on my daily drive to work.
The engine is a sweetheart, offering brilliant linearity to its power delivery. It pulls hard from low in the rev range, meaning you’ll be able to zip through traffic without much hassle at all. The powertrain is super responsive to inputs at speed, especially if you put it in Dynamic mode, which also allows you to hear some pops and crackles from the exhaust system.
That said, there is some vibration, shuddering and hesitation at low speeds, which is a combination of the stop-start system kicking in and out, a small amount of turbo-lag from the engine and some shuffling behind the scenes from the dual-clutch transmission. You might find the lurchy nature of the first-gear take-offs to be a bit hard to get used to, especially if you spend a lot of time in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
While this is an Urban Guide review focused on city driving, I thoroughly recommend you find a quiet stretch of twisty road outside the city limits. You won't be disappointed.
Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength.
It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.
The Audi A1 range scored a five-star ANCAP crash test rating in 2019, and it comes kitted out with some impressive safety tech.
You don’t get adaptive cruise control as standard, even on this expensive top-spec model. You can option it but you shouldn’t have to.
There’s no blind-spot monitoring or rear-cross traffic alert, which mightn’t seem like a big issue for a little car, but you’d be surprised how handy that tech can be when you’re reversing out of a parking space or trying to merge.
And while the previous A1 never came with a reversing camera, the new one does - it has guidance lines displayed on the screen, and there are front and rear parking sensors, too. Very handy for the urban jungle.
All A1s have six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain).
A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.
Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.
While the VW Polo GTI that this spec of A1 shares plenty with is backed by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, the Audi-badged compact hatch still has a lesser three-year/unlimited kay cover.
The A1 requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000km (just like a Polo), and there’s a pre-pay service pack you can roll into your finance if you so choose.
That service plan covers either three years/45,000km of driving ($1480) or five years/75,000km ($1990). In the case of the five-year plan, Audi is actually better value than the Polo GTI (which costs $2200 for pre-pay).
Where is the Audi A1 built? You might be surprised to learn the answer is Spain.
Concerned about reliability? Got questions over resale, problems, issues, faults, recalls or something else? Check out our Audi A1 problems page.