Abarth 695 Biposto 2014-2018 review

Born in the back streets of Bologna in 1949, Abarth celebrates its 70th anniversary next year. Its story began when racing team owner Carlo Abarth bought five unsold Cistalia sports cars.

These were modified, then rebadged as the Abarth 204 A – thus initiating a tradition of tuning that endures to this day.

Abarth’s first Fiat-based car was the radical 1500 Biposto (Italian for ‘two seats’) of 1952, but it was the 1957 Fiat 500 that introduced the scorpion badge to a wider audience. The Abarth 595 and 695 had more power and sportier styling, and were Italy’s answer to the Mini Cooper. Abarth became Fiat’s official racing department in 1971 and its name has appeared on hot hatchbacks ever since.

Today, Abarth remains best known for go-faster versions of the 500 – albeit the current retro remake, launched in 2007. Numerous special editions include the racy XSR Yamaha and exotic Tributo Ferrari, but one model in particular, the 695 Biposto of 2014, stands out as the most extreme Cinquecento to date. Described by its maker as ‘the world’s smallest supercar’, it was a road-legal version of Abarth’s Assetto Corse racer. And I’d be living with one for a week.

You might assume that a thinly disguised racing car is noisy, bumpy and sorely lacking in creature comforts. You’d be right: the Abarth is all of those things. Its meaty Akrapovic exhausts gurgle and growl. Its adjustable suspension and 18in OZ alloys feel firm and unyielding. And its stripped-out interior has hard-shell bucket seats (just the two, obviously), no air-con and no radio. Driving around the potholed streets of south London felt, well, mildly masochistic at best.

Wait, though, there’s more. ‘My’ Biposto has the dog-ring manual gearbox from the racing car: an £8,500 option (yes, really) when new. It allows super-fast clutchless changes, but you have to be brutal. Keep the revs up, snatch the long lever – positioned inches from the steering wheel – and bang it home. There’s still a clutch to prevent stalling when you stop, otherwise it’s best to ignore it. Most attempts to drive smoothly result in a painful crunching of cogs.

The Abarth, then, doesn’t enjoy going slowly – and neither will you. But escape the city and suddenly this obstreperous little car starts to make sense. Its 1.4-litre turbocharged engine begins boosting at 3,000rpm and pulls strongly to a 6,500rpm redline.

With 190hp and a kerb weight of just 997kg (38kg less than the standard car), acceleration is on par with hardcore hatches from the class above. And while no manual can shift as swiftly as a modern dual-clutch auto, the dog-ring surely comes closest. Park your mechanical sympathy at the door and it’s ruthlessly rapid. Nothing with three pedals comes close.

You scarcely have to slow down for corners either. Just aim at the apex and let the mechanical limited-slip diff work its magic, hauling you inward then hurling you onward. Its steering is direct and its strut-braced chassis feels taut and tied-down, backed up by beefier Brembo brakes, sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres and a functional rear diffuser.

In short, it’s a car of contrasts: a riot on the right roads, a PITA elsewhere. But in those fleeting moments, the 695 Biposto really does feel supercar-special.

However, there’s a sting in this scorpion’s, um, tale. Back in 2014, the 695 Biposto cost from £33,055: ‘Volkswagen Golf R money’, in other words. This car – the former flagship of Abarth UK’s heritage fleet – has that gearbox, an aluminium bonnet (£3,000), carbon fibre interior trim (£3,700), plus Sabelt seats and a digital lap timer (£3,700). That makes a total bill of (are you sitting down?)… £51,945.

Everything about this car, it seems, is certifiably barmy. Yet it’s hard not to love it for that.

Price (as tested, when new): £51,945

0-62mph: 5.9sec

Top speed: 143mph

CO2 G/KM: 145

MPG combined: 45.9

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario review: double espresso to go

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario

“There’s a certain satisfaction in humiliating bigger and more expensive cars with a modest hatchback.” So said Carlo Abarth (1928-1979), the larger-than-life motorcycle racer and pioneer of bolt-on car tuning kits, who spent his life doing just that. Today, the highly modified Fiats that bear his name – and scorpion star sign – still squeeze feisty performance into a pint-sized package.

Abarth was always obsessed with speed. Aged 11, he wrapped leather belts around the wooden wheels of his scooter to win races against local children. He was European motorcycle champion five times, and also beat the Orient Express train on two wheels, racing 850 miles from Vienna to Ostend. In 1949, he set up his own company, preparing cars for competition and selling parts. If you owned a Fiat but dreamed of a Ferrari, Carlo ‘The Magician’ Abarth was your man.

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The new 695 70th Annniversario celebrates 70 years since Carlo nailed his name above the door. In true Abarth tradition, it’s loaded with go-faster goodies: 17-inch OZ alloys, Sabelt seats, Koni shock absorbers, Brembo brakes and a quad-tailpipe Record Monza exhaust. There’s also a manually adjustable rear spoiler that delivers real downforce, plus the option of ‘Monza 1958’ green paint (seen here) – a tribute to the first Fiat 500 Abarth. A total of 1,949 will be made, marking the firm’s founding year.

Abarth Days 2019

Before I drive the Anniversario, however, there’s more celebrating to be done. More than 5,000 Abarth fans and 3,000 cars – most of them modified – have descended on Milan for ‘the largest official Abarth meeting in history’. They have come from all corners of Europe, including the Czech Republic, Portugal and the UK. And they have come to party.

The pounding Euro-techno starts at 9am and doesn’t stop for the rest of the day. Thankfully, the cacophony of revving engines, hissing dump valves and popping exhausts mostly drowns it out. There’s boundless creativity on show, including Abarths with rust-look wraps, bouncing air suspension and upwards-opening ‘Lamborghini doors’. One crowd-pulling 595 has a 370hp Alfa Romeo 4C engine, ultra-wide wheels and four-wheel drive. I suspect Carlo would approve.

Launched at the event (in a blizzard of dry ice and even louder techno), the 70th Annniversario also turns plenty of heads. On the inside, it’s still unmistakably a Fiat 500 – a car first launched in 2007 – but the hip-hugging seats, alloy gearlever and Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel all feel suitably special. The 180hp 1.4-litre engine ignites with a throaty gargle and I swiftly leave Milan behind, heading south towards Modena and Italian supercar country.

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario

Not much happens until 3,000rpm, then the 695 abruptly necks a double espresso and races to the redline. This waaaait-for-it turbo lag seems oddly old-school, but ramps up the intensity and sensation of speed. For the record, 0-62mph takes 6.7 seconds and VMax is 139mph. The manual gearbox is slick and snappy, although it only has five ratios where most rivals offer six. It’s vastly preferable to the clunky auto ’box, however.

On rural roads, the Abarth is like an eager puppy: bouncy, boisterous and brimful of Italian brio. Turn-in is immediate, the brakes are tenacious and its mechanical limited-slip differential bites into corners. Switching to Sport mode sharpens throttle response, too. It’s a shame the light steering doesn’t offer more feedback; there isn’t the sense of connection you feel in a Ford Fiesta ST.

The Fiesta has another notable advantage: even the top-spec ST-3 is around £7,000 cheaper. And Abarth’s own 595 Esseesse, which has the same engine, costs £4,000 less. So spending £29,695 on the 695 70th Anniversario doesn’t really make sense. But as a surefire future classic that will impress the Abarthisti – and humiliate some bigger and (even) more expensive cars into the bargain – it has its place.

Price: £29,695

0-62mph: 6.7sec

Top speed: 139mph

CO2 G/KM: 155

MPG combined: 36.7

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario: in pictures

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