The Abarth 500 launched in the UK just over four years ago, and in that time it’s enjoyed respectable sales success and attracted an enthusiastic following.

With many of the first 500s now reaching an age where their owners begin to consider their replacement, Abarth have cleverly launched a new model that not only provides an appealing path to walk existing owners up the brand’s range, but also takes a leaf out of the company’s rich history.

Carlo Abarth’s 1958 Fiat 500 Abarth proved that small runabouts could make fast and reliable racing cars.  However, he knew yet more was possible, and in 1963 he created the Abarth 595.  It had more power than its 500 brother and that, of course, meant more speed.

Today’s Abarth 595 is no different. Available in two models – Turismo and Competizione – each with their own character and focus, both are powered by a revised version of the 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine used in the Abarth 500.

Changes to the ECU mapping increase power output from 135 bhp to 160 bhp, while torque jumps from 206 Nm to 230 Nm at 3,000 rpm.  As a result, the 0-62 mph dash is now completed in 7.4 seconds (down from 7.9), while the top speed increases to 130 mph.

To help keep the increased performance in check, both models feature lowered suspension with Koni dampers, as well as cross-drilled and ventilated brake discs front and rear.

Equipment levels on both models also receive a boost, with rear privacy glass, 17-inch alloy wheels, Xenon headlights, climate control, auto-dipping rear view mirror, and rear parking sensors now standard.

To differentiate the 595 from the 500, there are a number of subtle styling tweaks: the grilles in the front and rear bumpers are now grey, brake calipers are painted red, and there’s subtle 595 badging on the tailgate and the rear flanks.

Open the bonnet and you’ll find a machined aluminium oil cap, with a matching fuel filler cap hiding behind the filler door.

Inside, there are bespoke door sill kick plates, pedals and floor mats, but from this point on, the two models begin to diverge.

The Turismo, the more comfort- and touring-oriented of the two, has leather upholstery as standard, while the more sporting Competizione adds figure-hugging Sabelt seats, quad tail-pipe Record Monza exhaust system, and a crackle-effect to the dashboard trim.

Of course, all these niceties are for nought if the modern day Abarth 595 amounts to nothing more than a badge-engineering exercise.

Luckily, that’s not the case.

While the figures might not suggest much has changed under the bonnet, driving the new 595 on the road quickly shows otherwise.  Abarth won’t say exactly what they’ve changed, but they’ve clearly imbued both the Turismo and Competizione with more aggressive mapping to the ECU.  Power delivery is cleaner and more urgent.  Even in comparison to the Abarth 500 esseesse which, at least on paper, has an identical 160bhp, the 595 offers the sensation of having more power everywhere.  Overtaking becomes a precision manoeuvre, and when powering out of corners the 595 seems to have power ready and on-tap no matter where the needle is on the rev counter.

The occasionally unsettled handling of the Abarth 500 is gone, largely thanks to those Koni FSD dampers, and the 595 is happy to power through mid-corner bumps without skipping about like a petulant child.

The Competizione’s Record Monza exhaust adds a fun new game – build up a wodge of boost before short-changing into third and you’ll be rewarded with a snap, crackle and pop soundtrack that’s lifted straight from a 1960’s Ferrari.

Those wishing to make the most of the aural experience can opt for one of the convertible models for an additional £1,900.  Also available are a robotised manual gearbox option (£1,300), three different styles of alloy wheel, various sunroof options, seat and coloured leather upgrades and, of course, the ubiquitous array of vinyl decals.  There are ten paint colours to choose from, including three two-tone ‘bi-colour’ options.

Prices for the Abarth 595 Turismo start at £17,905, with the Competizione – the more compelling of the two both in terms of character and value for money – pegged at £18,905.  Both versions retain the 43.4 mpg economy and 155 g/km CO2 emissions ratings of the Abarth 500.

All those years ago, the original Abarth 500 inspired the phrase “small, but wicked.”  And the Abarth 595?  Equally small.  Even more wicked.