ITALIAN sports car brand Abarth is marking its 70th anniversary with a line up of special models that bring some pep to the Fiat range.
Wholly owned by the Italian auto giant since 1971, Abarth is releasing a special edition of the 595 esseesse tuned to perform and decked out to the nines.
It harks back to the first Abarth 595 esseesse of 1964 but unlike the original this one develops 180 horsepower from its 1.4-litre turbo engine - a way ahead of the 31hp in the car of 55 years ago.
The original came with an SS monogram on the bonnet and boot and with esseesse - it stands for super sports - in full on the dashboard. It became an immediate hit with Italian sports car fans and has been used on Abarth cars ever since.
The new model will become the flagship of the current Abarth range when it arrives in the next few weeks and is likely to be priced from around £25,000.
That's someway up on the £16,495 it costs for the entry level Abarth 595 - but then that one doesn't have quite the same firepower.
The esseesse is a cracker of a small hot hatch and comes with Koni rear suspension, Brembo brakes and an Akrapovic exhaust system for added thrills on the soundtrack front.
There's also Sabelt sports seats which are backed with a carbon rear shell and specially embroidered with the number 70 - one of several anniversary reminders which include special badges on the side of the car.
But it's the way the esseesse drives that makes it a fitting stablemate to the Competizione and 695 Rivale models which also use the same five speed manual powertrain.
They may have their roots in the Fiat 500 alongside which they are built at Fiat's factory in Poland but the Abarth finish with its famous Scorpion badge sets them apart on all fronts.
Acceleration is a brisk 6.7 seconds 0 to 60 with a maximum of 140mph. Flick the car into sports mode and it comes alive with extra throttle response, firmer suspension and tighter steering.
The ride is uncompromising, stiff and precise. On good roads it's just what the doctor ordered but on poor surfaces it can become a handful.
Choose a route carefully and there is fun to be had in spades and fuel return will be close to the official 36.7 to the gallon. Emissions are rated at 155g/km and on our runs in all three versions of the 180hp 595 we saw a return in the mid-30s.
Like other models in the range the esseesse is fitted with a TFT instrument panel which changes its colour to red in sports mode and a touchscreen display for its connected services.
Full smartphone compatibility is part of the package on all but the basic 595 and the esseesse also comes with a carbon finish on the dash and sits on 17-inch wheels finished in white.
The anniversary package is completed with white Abarth side stripes, white cappings on the door mirrors and in the front and rear air dams.
Commemorative badges will feature on all of Abarth’s cars from April
and the company in the UK has also decked out a 124 roadster not only
for the 70th birthday of the brand but also the car’s success on the rally circuit last year.
one-off 124 Retro Rally is mechanically no different to the Abarth 124
Spider but is finished in the company’s red and yellow paint job.
car we sampled cost £34,956 which included a £4,356 carbon fibre hard
top and was also the pick of the bunch when it came to ride.
Abarth was founded on March 31, 1949 in Bologna by Carlo Abarth and racing driver Guido Scagliarini.
The Scorpion badge comes from Abarth's birth sign and over the years its cars have notched up 10 world records, 133 international speed records and has scored more than 10,000 victories on the track.
Abarth, who died in 1979 at the age of 71, first began working with Fiat in the 1950s and his name has been associated with the 500 model since its creation back in 1957.