We drove the Abarth 124 Spider and the 595 Competizione: the sound, panache and fury of the scorpion…

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Cars with Italian red blood in their veins still exist. Thoroughbred automobiles which emit the most wonderful sound at the slightest blip of the throttle. Cars which seem to move even when they stand still. Cars where you almost would die for just to sit behind the wheel and drive them to the limit. With your right hand at the gearlever and the engine just screaming away. Looking at the beautiful instruments and enjoying the thrust, speed, smell and staccato sound. These cars are made since 1949. They are called Abarths. And they are getting more ravishing than ever, and seem only to grow in their unique magic. We drove the latest, much improved edition of the iconic 595, in the wonderful “Competizione” version, and last but not least, the Abarth 124 Spider, every bit as pure and impressive as its famous predecessor, which was born in 1972.

 Hans Knol ten Bensel

The magic hand of Abarth

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 The new born 124 Abarth has many engineering traits in common with the latest Mazda MX. But there is more than just the engineering. There is the styling language, the flow of lines and contours, both inside and out. That is where the hand of the Latin master(s) come in. They transformed the car. And gave it the character, personality and heart of an Abarth. Brimming with red blooded panache, so beautiful and sporting right down to the smallest details, it fills your heart with joy just to look at it, touch it, and yes, drive it.

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Sliding into the cockpit behind the three spoked wheel one is overwhelmed by the stunningly beautiful instrument cluster, with the centrally placed rev counter facing you, the white needle and numbers contrasting with a deep red dial background.

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Pushing the starting button brings the 1368 cc engine alive. A trusted Fiat unit, which is the heart of all the 595 Abarths and has proven itself on the racing circuits time and again. Here it comes to us in 170 HP version, enough to catapult you in merely 6.9 seconds to 100 kmh, and bring you to a top speed of 232 kmh.

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We drove the Esse Esse Sport Sequential 6 speed automatic version, and its smoothness and alertness makes this acceleration exercise a breeze. Actually it matches beautifully with this engine, which can display all its superb qualities here. Of course there is the beautiful sound, orchestrated this time with a Dual Mode Record Monza exhaust system, giving this thoroughbred four cylinder exactly that personality you dreamt of. And a dream of an engine it is. It runs ever so smoothly, you can rev it up, or just let it growl at low revs, it really does it all, just as you want it.

It is truly amazing to what level of perfection the Fiat engineers have developed this engine, it really is a true gem.

Racing balance

Then there is the overall balance of this Abarth 124 Spider. First of all the seating position is “just right”, the steering wheel and all the commands are just where you want it. Then there is the superb handling. We drove this Abarth unfortunately in torrential rain, and after the photo session our faithful Canon EOS was soaking wet, and needed very urgently a thorough drying session with the chamois we always have at hand.

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It survived it, as did the Abarth. Indeed, even with tons of water on the tarmac, you could hurtle it with precision through the curves, braking, accelerating, doing everything you expect from it. All this is thanks to the ideal weight distribution of this “bolide”, with the engine sitting well behind the front axle very near to the gravity centre.

What a stunning two seater this is, we really look forward to drive it soon for a more extended test.

Driver’s delight: the 595 “Competizione”.

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In the hearts of all enthusiasts, this Abarth has grown into an icon. And deservedly so. The latest version has been perfected even more. Helping a colleague out with delivering and collecting a press car, I was privileged to drive a fiery red manual example quite extensively, with a fair stint of dense Brussels urban traffic thrown in. Well, even in de midst of traffic jams, the Abarth is a dream to drive. Overwhelmed by the smoothness and perfection of the engine and drivetrain – we drove the 5 speed manual version – your ears are literally transported by the exhaust sound the Abarth engineers have given this Competizione. Just blip the trottle the slightest bit and you are welcomed by the most beautiful deep throb a four cylinder has ever delivered. Again we have here the marvelous 1,4 litre unit, delivering with a Garett GT 1446 turbocharger here  a healthy 180 HP and a very solid torque of 250 Nm (in “sport” mode) . 0 to 100 can be reached in 6.7 seconds and top speed is not less than 225 kmh.

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But it is the smoothness and willingness of this engine and drivetrain all which has impressed us even more. This Abarth, despite its very sporting pedigree, is truly a car of our (urban) times and is a delight to use.

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The instrument cluster is now entirely digital, and the needles and dials vary according to the chosen driver’s setting. We drove it almost exclusively in “sport” mode, finding out that it was just as smooth in crawling traffic than the normal setting.

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Of course things start to happen when you are able to push the trottle a bit deeper when the road is opening up. The engine staccato is a delight to your ears, the box and clutch are ever so progressive and smooth, the handling of the car is as if on rails. The weight distribution is excellent, the suspension settings too.

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What’s more, the Fiat and Abarth engineers have succeeded in giving this 695 a comfortable suspension, even in the sporting mode there is true comfort to be enjoyed on frost battered tarmacs. This makes the Abarth 695 a marvelous Gran Turismo machine.

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Needless to say that we are looking forward to a more extensive test drive in this Abarth… Stay tuned in these columns, and in the meantime, enjoy the photos…

 Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

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