Friday 06 January 2017
The Abarth 695 is, at first glance, just another Fiat 500. Okay, maybe it has a little more sporting intent, but the heritage is immediately evident.
Don’t confuse this pocket rocket with the city car that spawned it, though. It may be small, and it may only have a 1.4-litre engine, but all the numbers suggest this is an out-and-out sports car. The sprint from 0-60mph, for example, takes 5.7 seconds – more than half a second faster than a VW Golf GTI – and if you push it, it will reach speeds in excess of 140mph.
Imagine a Fiat 500 that’s been on a heavy course of whatever the automotive equivalent of anabolic steroids might be. Where once there was a cutesy face with doe eyes, there’s now a lantern-jawed body builder with carbon fibre ripping from the tatters of its butter-wouldn’t-melt skin.
The rear is a classic example of this, with the normal 500 lights and boot standing above a diffuser-and-exhaust-pipes combo that wouldn’t embarrass a supercar.
It gets even weirder inside, where the 500’s cabin has been stripped down to its bare minimum. The carpets, radio and the rear seats have all been jettisoned to save weight – even the interior door handles have been replaced by what are, in essence, short pieces of rope.
Sacrificing the rear seats has made the 695 more practical than its 500-badged cousins, but it still isn’t what you’d call practical.
Yes, the boot is more capacious, but small items worm their way through the cargo net and lodge themselves under the hideously uncomfortable shell seats.
The seats’ discomfort is exacerbated by the steering column’s lack of adjustment, which leaves you in a rather upright and typically Italian short-leg, long-arm driving position.
The 695 may be cramped, uncomfortable and Spartan, but it has a knack of stealing your heart.
The addictive noise and performance ensure you really don’t care that the suspension feels as though it was made from girders or that the fuel consumption is steadily draining your bank account.
It’s unbelievably punchy once the turbo lag has passed. With bucket loads of power and no weight to hold you back, the car accelerates faster than the digital readouts can change. It’s so powerful that the torque tugs at the steering wheel and the wheels will gladly spin at 40 or 50mph – particularly when it’s wet.
The steering is heavy and feels pleasantly chunky, but there’s little in the way of genuine feedback. It still handles impressively, though, changing direction with an almost gleeful sharpness.
And then there’s the noise. Pop it into sport mode – the only mode worth using – and it goes ballistic, with a rasping, rally-esque exhaust note following you everywhere you go.
Let’s not beat about the bush; the 695 is ridiculously expensive. Prices start at £33,055, which is one hell of a lot for a car without a radio or a rear windscreen wiper. At least the outrageous price tag dwarves the equally ludicrous options, so you won’t feel too guilty about forking out for a £8,500 ‘Dog Ring’ transmission or a £3,700 Track Kit.
Anyone who thinks they can justify buying a £30,000 go-faster Fiat 500 has to be a little bit unhinged, but in a really good way. It’s one of the great heart-over-head cars and a lesson in how a car doesn’t have to be any good to be absolutely fabulous.
Model: Abarth 695 Biposto Record Monza Edition
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol (187bhp, 250Nm)
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Performance: 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds, 143mph top speed
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