Abarth 595 VS Audi S1
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
- Sensational engine
- Quattro drivetrain
- Great chassis
- The interior is a bit dull
- Stiff ride
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|
Spoilt. That's what we are. If you're in the market for a hot hatch, you can have your pick of German-built and French ones from as little as $27,000. There isn't a dud among them now that the VW Polo GTI has had a bit of an update and you can pick and choose your style. Audi's S1 is aiming to be king of the kids with its stiffly-priced S1.
Set the finances aside and consider for a moment what's on offer. As it turns out, a lot.
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
Cars this small shouldn't be this fast and useable at the same time, but the Audi S1 is. It isn't without its problems - the ride is harder even than the Fiesta ST which might weary some prospective buyers.
It's also a bit difficult to justify the price - in its basic form it's missing a few creature comforts that you'd expect in a $50,000 car - reversing camera, high-res screen, that sort of thing.
However, in the hot hatch world, those things don't matter. It has the bragging rights, the tech and the outright blinding speed to take on the bonkers Focus ST and equally zany Megane RS. And even the Audi S3.
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.
The A1 is so small it starts to strain Audi's design language. When you cram on the S-style bumpers and raccoon-eyed trim on the hatchback, it's starts to look a bit busy.
It isn't quite a shrink-wrapped A3 - Ingolstadt's designers know better than that - but it's full of Audi design cues, such as the strong, light-catching character lines, distinctive LED daytime running lights and fondness for big wheels.
Inside is along the themes of the A3, with what are becoming Audi's trademark; round eyeball air-con vents, the manual fold-down screen familiar to Q3 owners (but smaller) and a good clear dash. The handbrake jars slightly as it feels cheap to hold and wobbles a bit.
The S Sport seats are big and comfortable, and the top half of the backs are capped in plastic, which was colour-coded on our car. The rear passengers will certainly get an eyeful of whatever terrifying hue you've chosen, so choose wisely.
Despite the five doors, the back seats are occasionals, like the Mini the A1 is gunning for, and the boot is very small, but okay for shopping for couples or singles.
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.
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.
Starting at $49,900, Audi S1 is by far the priciest of the small-hatch based hotties, at least until Mini's madcap JCW arrives. This price is just almost double that of VW stablemate's forthcoming 2015 Polo GTI.
Standard on the manual-and-five-door-only S1 is a ten speaker stereo, climate control, ambient lighting, remote central locking, cruise control, satnav, headlight washers, auto headlights with xenon low beams, partial leather seats, leather-bound steering wheel, auto wipers and rear parking sensors.
Our Misano Red ($990 option) came with two extra packs. The Quattro Exterior Package ($3990) adds bi-xenon headlights with red trim, red brake calipers, spoiler, quattro logos on rear doors (ahem!) and five-spoke 18-inch alloys that are part matt black, part polished.
The Quattro Interior Package ($2490) adds S Sport front seats with Nappa leather and red backrest capping with quattro logo (ugh), more nappa around the cabin with contrast stitching, flat bottom steering wheel and red rings on the air vents.
There's an S Performance Package that brings the best of these two packs together for $4990, saving about $1500 and the embarrassment of the quattro logos.
Our test car also had aluminium air vents ($220), black contrasting boot lid ($300) and black roof ($720).
The grand total is a sobering $58,610. There's a couple more options that'll easily pop you over $60,000.
Audi's MMI is dash-mounted in the A1 as there's no room on the narrow centre console. As ever, it works well and doesn't take much getting used to. The satnav is a bit grainy on the smaller screen but is otherwise a competent unit.
Sound is from a ten-speaker stereo and you can stream across Bluetooth or plug in a memory card. The sound was good but the system did take a while to find the phone whenever we came back to the car.
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 is where the action is. The S1's tiny body packs a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder producing 170kW and 370Nm of torque. The S1 will streak to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds thank to the traction aid of quattro all-wheel drive.
Despite a pretty solid hammering during its week with us, including more time than we'd have liked in Sydney traffic, the stop-start function helped deliver a pretty reasonable 10.2L/100km, however that's a long way over claimed 7.1L/100km.
All Audi S1s come with a six-speed manual, so dual-clutch haters can save the whining. The only downside from not having a self-shifter is the ECU can't deliver the boy racer farts, parps and crackles of the other S cars.
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.
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.
If you're buying the S1 as a comfortable urban runabout with a cool badge, you're half right. While the seating for front passengers is certainly supportive, the hard suspension tune will ensure you're well aware of road surface imperfections.
Thankfully, what it missed out on in the ride department it makes up for in every other way - the S1 is a rocket. The 2.0-litre turbo jammed under the bonnet has almost no lag and is paired with a slick six-speed manual that is terrific fun to manhandle through the gears.
The way the S1 picks up speed when it's on boost is addictive and licence-endangering. A flattened accelerator in second or third will obliterate just about anything this side of $100,000 and you'll be having more fun in this than big brother S3 because the chassis is more adjustable and there's a bit more life.
You can hear the turbo sing to accompany the bassy exhaust growl. Hit the massive brakes hard and the car remains stable even over rutted roads. Turning the wheel brings almost-instant turn-in, mashing the throttle again a fun little wriggle. It's superb.
You'll have to be a bit patient with the throttle to get the wriggle, though - give it too much too early and it will want to push wide, the quattro system shuffling power around to try and quell understeer while the electronic diff fiddles with the braking system to do the same thing. It gets there in the end, but you're better off meting out the power with your right foot for maximum rewards.
It's tremendous fun point-to-point on a twisty road - despite being a bit heavy for its size (1415kg), it's as chuckable as the next best thing, the Fiesta ST.
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.
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.