The craziest Abarth 500 yet is one for the true hot hatch connoisseur. Jonathan Crouch reports.
With a power to weight ratio akin to an Audi S4 or a BMW M3, the 190PS Abarth 695 biposto delivers a serious slug of performance. With an interior that's finished in carbon fibre, no space for folk at the back, a titanium roll bar and carbon-shelled sports seats, it makes other hot hatches seem about as focused as Hubble Space Telescope v1.0.
Mainstream car manufacturers tend to be a conservative bunch. It's not too often that something wonderfully unhinged gets past the endless committee stages and vanilla customer clinics. And it's rarer still that such products make any money. Renault has tried again and again with cars that make you wonder if something periodically seeps into the water supply and Alfa Romeo can occasionally go way off-page with some of their wares. Add Abarth to that list. Okay, it's already got a reputation for building small cars with big personalities but the company has excelled itself with the crazy 695 biposto. A two-seat hot hatch based on the Fiat 500, this one packs a 190PS punch and weighs less than a tonne. It's a piece of work.
The Abarth 695 biposto rewards a certain degree of context. Taken in isolation, 190PS isn't a great deal in a modern hot hatch. A Kia Pro_cee'd GT, which could best be described as tepid, cranks out 200PS. Factor in a kerb weight of under a tonne, however and you start to form a picture of a very potent performer. Suddenly you're in the same power to weight bracket as cars like the Renaultsport Megane 265, the BMW E36 M3, the Audi S4 and the Mercedes-Benz E500 - and if you know anything about cars you'll appreciate the tastiness of that little list. The 695 biposto drives through the front wheels, yet still puts its power down cleanly enough to get to 62mph in 5.9 seconds and onto a top speed of 143mph. The transmission is interesting, as with a tick of an options box you can own the only street-legal production car fitted with a quick-shifting 'dog-ring' sequential manual gearbox, which will bring a certain level of ferocity to full-bore upshifts. Massive Brembo brakes look agreeably over-specified for such a tiny car.
The Fiat 500 just seems to lend itself to the creation of great-looking hot versions and this 695 biposto takes the ball and knocks it into the next postcode. Dubbed "the most Abarth of all Abarths" this one is finished in a custom "Grey Performance" paint, gets front, rear and roof spoilers, and can be specified with options such as a lightweight aluminium bonnet, carbon fibre detailing and 4-point racing seatbelts. Inside, the 696 biposto features the latest instrument panel with a 7-inch TFT display. The backlit, multi-purpose screen has two modes: 'normal' for information such as fuel consumption and headlight alignment, and 'sport' which shows performance data such as longitudinal/lateral acceleration (G-meter). There's a rear titanium roll-bar, carbon shell seats, fabrics and finish reminiscent of the colour and texture of asphalt. As for potential rear seat passengers, well, they'll need to get a bus.
You might need to be sitting down with a warm drink to hand when we get to the price. It's around £33,000. You might either view that as a hilarious amount to be asking for a hotted-up Fiat 500 or alternatively, not a bad deal for a machine that can keep some really serious sports cars honest. We're leaning to the latter view. The 695 biposto will be huge fun on a track day and besides, when you start fitting lightweight seats, harnesses, big brakes and other lightweight parts to a cheaper hot hatch, the sums soon mount up. Here it's all done for you. All you have to do is foot the initial bill and then you're good to go. After all, what is comparable? A Renault Megane 265 would be the closest thing in terms of focus, but the 695 biposto is perhaps closer to that car's predecessor, the aggressive Megane R26.R replete with rollcage and plastic windows. Right at the moment, there's nothing that dares to square up to the 695 biposto.
One advantage of running a lightweight car powered by a 1.4-litre engine is that fuel bills aren't going to be ruinous. Fiat quotes a figure of 43.5mpg on the combined cycle, which means emissions are pegged at just 155g/km, which is excellent for a petrol-engined vehicle that can nip to 62mph in under six seconds. Being a lightweight, the Abarth is going to work its tyres, brakes and suspension components less heavily than a hulking great barge and you'll get decent range out of a tankful when you're at the track. More laps means more fun. Of course, some of those savings are going to be offset by repayments on that hefty £33,000 asking price but if there's one thing we've learned to date, it's that Abarths tend to be one of the most bombproof new car buys as far as depreciation is concerned. In other words, once you've stumped up the asking price, this isn't going to be an expensive car to run.
The 695 biposto is the car many of us had hoped Abarth would make but wondered if it had the courage of its own convictions. It has, and then some. In fact, this model is probably more extreme than any of Abarth's biggest advocates could have wished for. It's about the closest thing to a single-make tin-top racer that you can buy with vaguely sensible money and for those that have been put off by the big bills associated with wielding some serious brake horsepower at track days, here's a fun alternative that you'll be able to lap in all day without complaint and which won't present you with a brake and tyre bill that'll have you on a diet of ramen noodles and ketchup for a month. This one might well sell better than the hefty £33,000 asking price might suggest. Strong residual values will mean that the 695 biposto won't cost a lot to run and there's a certain kudos in owning a car with this much charisma and which will easily embarrass some fairly serious tackle around a twisty circuit. Sometimes great things come from crazy ideas and this shot of distilled Abarth looks touched with greatness.