First Drive: Abarth’s 595 Esseesse is a flawed but fun hot hatch

Another day, another Abarth 595 variant. It only takes a quick glance through the firm’s site to see there’s many of them, including the Pista, Turismo, Competizione, 70th Anniversary and now this — the Esseesse.

Those with some Abarth knowledge will know this trim level is far from new to the firm. Roll back to 1964 and you’ll find the nameplate’s first use on the original Fiat 500 while, more recently in 2009, it saw usage on a special variant of the Abarth 500 which brought some additional performance goodies.

Now it’s back for another run out in a similar fashion to the car that came just over a decade before. How does it affect the formula, though? We get behind the wheel to find out.

What’s new?

Think of Esseesse (pronounced more ‘essay essay’ than ‘SS’) like an option pack, and you’re on the right path. Setting it apart is a set of white 17-inch ‘Supersport’ alloy wheels, an Akrapovic exhaust, a new Brembo braking system and a mechanical limited-slip differential to help manage power at the front axle.

Hop inside and Sabelt seats embroidered with ‘Abarth 70’ to mark the firm’s 70th anniversary sit up front, while model-specific badging is dotted around the exterior of the car.

What’s under the bonnet?

Powering the 595 Esseesse is the most potent version of Abarth’s 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine it currently offers. It sends 178bhp and 250Nm of torque to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox, with the 0-60mph sprint covered in 6.5 seconds and a 140mph top speed possible.

In terms of efficiency, Abarth claims the Esseesse will return 41.5mpg on the combined cycle while emitting 155g/km of CO2.

In a word, the unit can only be described as peaky. Its low-end grunt feels almost non-existent (despite the raucous exhaust note having you believing otherwise) though once the turbo spools up, all of its 178bhp is delivered in a brutish manner. It’s properly old-school turbo lag, which can be a laugh but does mean it’s a bit of a handful when pushing on.

What’s it like to drive?

Take a ham-fisted approach to driving the 595 Esseesse and it’s not exactly the most engaging or clinical thing to drive, but it does offer a magnitude of character.

It’s playful and joyous in a sort of rubbish way. It doesn’t offer the confidence of a Fiesta ST when flung around tight B road corners, mainly as a result of its slightly vague steering, but levels of grip are impressive and its Koni dampers add an extra element of stability to the package.

Those dampers do make this an incredibly harsh-riding car at lower speeds though, and really takes the 595 away from the Fiat 500 hiding underneath the tracksuit-like bodywork.

Abarth 595 Esseesse
Included in the Esseesse package is a set of white 17-inch alloys, a limited-slip differential and an Akrapovic exhaust. (Abarth/PA)

How does it look?

Little has ultimately changed about the Abarth 595’s appearance with the Esseesse package, with the model still retaining a look akin to a sports trainer. It’s one we’re big fans of ultimately, and it perfectly suits the yobbish nature of the hatch.

Throw in the red calipers, 17-inch white alloy wheels and various exterior badging that comes with the Essesse and you have a car that properly looks the part. The addition of Akrapovic carbon-effect exhaust tips is a nice touch, too.

What’s it like inside?

Such is the nature of its Fiat 500 underpinnings, the Abarth 595 is incredibly cramped and outdated inside.

Its driving position is set awkwardly high for a car that’s designed with performance in mind, its pedals are offset slightly and, though the Sabelt seats are a nice touch visually, it becomes a rather uncomfortable place to sit after a while. Its truck-like, high-set gearstick doesn’t help its case either.

Space up front is miserable for two average-sized adults, and there’s just 185 litres of capacity in the boot. For comparison, a (cheaper) Ford Fiesta ST offers 292 litres. It’s quite frankly embarrassing for the 595 inside, though we will forgive the addition of red seatbelts and a dash-mounted analogue boost gauge.

What’s the spec like?

We’re going to start this with the price — a whopping £25,760. That’s already almost £2,000 more than a range-topping Fiesta ST-3, and that’s before we come to the lack of kit on the car.

Though you do get the go-faster Esseesse bits, there’s not really enough equipment to justify the cost. To its credit, there is a seven-inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay linked up to a Beats audio system, a pretty slick digital instrument cluster and automatic air conditioning, but that’s about all.

You’ll have to make do with halogen headlights, no cruise control, manually adjustable seats and rear parking sensors with no reversing camera in sight. The latter-most we can almost forgive considering how dinky the car is, though.

Abarth 595 Esseesse
If we’re brutally honest, the cabin of the Abarth 595 Esseesse is very much below par. (Abarth/PA)

Verdict

As something to simply give you a bit of a laugh behind the wheel of, the Abarth 595 Esseesse may be a compelling option.

Its raucous exhaust note and brutal engine are particular highlights, and it has the head-turning looks that makes it so popular with Instagram influencers if that’s your thing.

If we’re honest though, it’s a bit rubbish as a serious hot hatch. We mention the Ford Fiesta ST a lot because that’s simply the benchmark, and this falls a long way from that despite costing more, even with all of the juicy Esseesse bits tacked on.

  • Model: Abarth 595 Esseesse
  • Price: £25,760
  • Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Power (bhp): 178
  • Torque (Nm): 250
  • Max speed (mph): 140
  • 0-60mph: 6.5 seconds
  • MPG: 41.5
  • Emissions (g/km): 155
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