At first glance, the Abarth 695 looks much like any other Fiat 500 – a little sportier, perhaps, but the chic city car’s DNA is there for all to see.
But this is not a Fiat 500. The statistics – 187bhp, 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds and a 143mph top speed – put paid to any illusions of Italian urban mobility. The 695 is actually a stripped-out pocket rocket with an infectious appetite for speed.
The Fiat 500 is a popular car, but it’s never exactly been sporty. The 695 changes all that, though. The 500’s cutesy image has been ripped away by an intensive course of automotive steroids, resulting in bulging bumpers and carbon-fibre strakes, fins and splitters pushing their way to the outside of the car in a desperate bid to be taken seriously.
At the back, there’s a deep carbon-fibre diffuser housing two enormous exhaust pipes with howitzer-esque bores. It’s the stuff of supercars, but when you take a step back it’s very definitely still a 500. The juxtaposition sounds odd – and it is – but it works somehow.
It gets even stranger inside, where you find almost nothing. The radio, air conditioning, and seats have all been removed in a bid to reduce weight. Even the door cards have been ripped out and replaced with sheets of cheap, thin and lightweight plastic.
The weight saving is so severe that the interior door handles are little more than crude ropes screwed to the door and the carpets have been ripped out, leaving a metal floor.
This car is outrageously flawed, but it’s such good fun that you yearn for excuses to drive it
The upside of losing the rear seats is that the 500’s pitiful boot space has been greatly improved, but don’t mistake the added space for practicality.
You can fit more in there – of that there can be no doubt – but small items will wriggle through the netting that separates the boot from the cabin to fester underneath the shell seats.
Those seats aren’t especially comfortable, either. They don’t adjust anything like enough, and the steering column’s limited range of movement means the driving position is the typically Italian short-leg, long-arm pose we’ve become accustomed to from the nation’s fast but flawed sports cars.
Even in the cramped cabin, with your head perilously close to the roof and your knees wedged under the steering wheel, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the 695. Yes, the suspension is stiff, the seats will cripple you on any journey longer than 45 minutes and quenching its hideous thirst will bankrupt you within weeks, but the performance is absolutely addictive. This is a car that does not want to be driven in anything other than the ear-shattering Sport mode.
There’s turbo lag, and lots of it, but once that’s gone there’s just oodles of torque that pulls you past the speed limit before you can blink. It feels as though the 0-60mph time is all about how fast you can change gear, not how fast the car is.
It torque-steers like an absolute pig, too, and the wheels will happily spin at 40 or 50mph. There’s a button that’s supposed to keep all that in control, but it’s about as effective as Don Quixote’s attempts to joust with windmills.
The steering isn’t perfect, either, because although it’s weighty and the wheel feels chunky and substantial in your hands, there’s very little feedback. The car handles well, though, changing direction like a flea and feeling remarkably reluctant to understeer.
The 695 Biposto is expensive and if you pause a second to think, you would spend the same amount of money on a more spacious, larger and better-equipped car. But the 695 rises above such logic.
This car is outrageously flawed, but it’s such good fun that you yearn for excuses to drive it. The fact that you’ll be sick of it within a month and it’ll be worth tuppence ha’penny when you come to sell it just doesn’t matter. It’s brilliant.
At a glance
Abarth 695 Biposto Record Edition
1.4-litre turbocharged petrol,
187bhp and 250Nm torque
0-60mph in 5.7 seconds,
143mph top speed
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