Abarth 595 Competizione, £18,315 Engine:1.4-litre unit producing 158bhp and 170lb/ft of torque Transmission: Five-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels Performance: Top speed 130mph, 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds Economy: 43.5mpg combined Emissions: 155g/km of CO2

FIAT’S evergreen 500 has been turned into a fire-breathing hot hatch before by legendary firm Abarth, but the latest version is now a permanent addition to the range.

Available in semi-sensible Turismo or 100 per cent barmy Competizione guise tested here, the Abarth 595 is not for the faint of heart.

There’s a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol unit up front that offers a healthy 158bhp but more significantly 170lb.ft of torque. The exterior wears a seriously tough bodykit and gorgeous alloy wheel options, while there’s stiffer suspension and uprated brakes too.

There’s some interesting touches inside too, such as the attractive metal-topped gear lever.

It’s hard not to love the Abarth 595’s looks, even though from some angles it is almost comically pumped up. From a rational point of view it has the proportions of a roller-skate, with a short wheelbase, big wheels and minimal ride height, but it just makes you want to get in and drive it, but, don’t forget that the Abarth is still a city car, however much its transformation has rendered it better suited to the open road. Up front there is a respectable amount of space for adults but the driving position is better suited to those under six feet in height. This particular 595 had the optional leather bucket seats, which are terrifically supportive and look superb. In fact it’s very easy to get carried away with the options list, especially when the end result is so much fun.

Drive the 595 in the manner it deserves and you’ll revel in the gloriously torquey engine, the hilariously raucous exhaust note and the way in which it dives into bends with limitless enthusiasm. It’s a car that works best when you chuck it about rather than use a delicate hand. Do so and it’s a complete riot, as well as remarkably quick.

Turn down the wick and it’s a little more like hard work. The great handling comes from the stiff suspension which means bumps are felt rather than heard, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off.

There’s actually quite a bit of competition at this price, and on the one hand the 595 Competitzione is far from cheap. However, it does come with a lot of kit too. Items like Xenon headlights and the glorious exhaust system are all standard. Go mad with the options list and you can break the £20k mark.

If you can live with the ride quality then the urban girl about town who wants a 500 more stylish than anyone else would be very happy with the Abarth 595 – although they might prefer the Turismo model. The other ideal buyer for the 595 is anyone who wants a small weekend toy to blast away the cobwebs but also a car that can be used in normal circumstances, at least some of the time, will be more than happy with the exciting Abarth 595.This car summed up in a single word: Unhinged If this car was a…: cocktail it would be banned immediately for being way too addictiveAny notion that the standard 500 is a car ‘just for girls’ is dismissed in a flash when it’s turned into an Abarth. Those in the know recognise the badge and those that don’t are intrigued.

Space and practicality In the rear it’s kids or adults who are willing rather than pure luxury.

Behind the wheel