Ford Focus VS Abarth 595
- Great chassis
- Surprising engine
- Optional advanced safety
- Better tyres would be nice
- Too many optional colours
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.
But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.
Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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|
Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.
The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.
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.
For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.
The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.
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 Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest.
Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.
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 Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.
Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.
The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.
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.
Engine & trans
Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.
The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.
Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
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.
Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.
With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.
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.
Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to.
Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.
You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating.
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.
The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.
Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.
The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.
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 first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.
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.