Abarth 595 2014 Review
Craig Duff road tests and reviews the 2014 Abarth 595, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
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Talk about a car that polarises the neighbourhood!
The Mini is a bit kitsch, says square-edged trendies who like crisp German-influenced design. But those with a bit more of an arty bent, a desire to be left-of-centre and prepared to noisily declare that to anyone listening, loves the whole Planet Mini thing.
It's all about the style, the cabin materials, the lift-up hatch (for shopping) and the distinctive shape. Not one person – of a few dozen who offered their opinion – who loved the car discussed its performance, its fuel economy or even remarked on the obvious brevity of the boot.
But the audience adverse to the Mini's concept barked about the tiny boot, lack of rear seat room and the fussy dashboard. So this is one car which is clearly a subjective buy. You know the shape, so what's it like to drive?
Forget any romantic link to the 1960s and 1970s Mini. Compared with today's Mini, they only share a name, front-wheel drive and a small back seat. The newbie is comfortable, especially in this third generation which shows remarkable ride compliance that embarrasses some larger prestige sedans.
The steering wheel is compact, sits above a contemporary speedo and tacho (previous models placed these in the centre console) and the central dash is dominated by a multi-coloured dial for sat-nav, audio and car management tasks.
But the windscreen is a long way from the driver's fingertips, so there's an impression of being in a bus and too distant from the outside world.
The starter is a toggle switch in the centre console, the exhaust noise is purposeful though appreciatively muted at idle, and there's familiarity in the simple automatic transmission lever and traditional hand brake.
Mini's come in more colours than a Tour de France peleton and there's a diverse trim list, drivetrain choice and body shape. Today, it's the $39,300 Mini Cooper S automatic – a 2-litre turbocharged engine and six-speed transmission and an emphasis on sporty thanks to the optional $350 bonnet stripes, $250 of colour lines in the cabin and the $800 of metallic paint.
Mini's are designed to be customised, drawing from a huge list of options inspired by its equally as magnanimous parent, BMW. Think chrome mirror caps ($150), heated front seats ($490), reverse camera ($470), piano black dash trim ($250) and head-up display ($700).
You need the head-up display, which projects vehicle speed onto a small plastic screen ahead of the driver, because the actual speedo is too small to be accurately read. The reverse camera should be standard in any car over $35,000 but the chequered-look dash trim is attractive enough without spending extra coin.
People will look at you – rather, they will look at the car - and inwardly remark about the bonnet stripes, the giant chrome fuel filler cap and the seemingly oversized 17-inch wheels.
From the inside looking out, the Mini feels low, taut and very much a confident road holder. The steering is sharp and there's no lag in the electric-assistance. The brakes are also knife-edged, so there's a feeling that minor movements by the driver translate immediately into action.
The three-mode driving switch is best in the 'mid' location, though excites the engine and sharpens up the transmission when flicked to 'sport'. There's a 'green' mode for economical driving which has applications when cruising but dulls the Mini's spirit.
You notice, while driving, what an utter discord of switches thrives in various locations on the dash, centre console and between the seats. It requires familiarisation and in some cases – the radio is one example – there's nothing intuitive about most of its functions, including manually finding a radio station.
Beneath the dinner-plate dial on the console is a dual row of buttons – some engaged by press and others via a toggle switch – that need some examination. There's more overhead, near the mirror, for cabin lights. At least the window switches are now, this year, located on the doors.
Cabin space is good for the front occupants, very poor for those behind. Mini this year will launch a five-door model which compared to this two-door test car, should make more sense for a family.
As is stands, the rear seats are almost useless. The boot is tiny but can be expanded by removing the false floor, while the split-fold facility is perfect for carrying extra cargo. There's a lot of things wrong about the Mini. It's not particularly spacious or user friendly, but it drives very well and ride comfort is surprisingly good for a small(ish) car.
The engine performance is delightfully tractable, making it perfect for inner-city dawdling, excellent at highway cruising and very exciting when the road turns quiet, winding and undulating. Few cars will delight like the Mini when the road starts to twist.
It's even reasonably economical to refuel, with Mini claiming 5.5L/100km (7.1L/100km on test) which isn't bad for a 2-litre turbocharged automatic.
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