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New models - Abarth - 695 - Biposto

First drive: Abarth heats up with 695 Biposto

Hang the expense: It may be costly, but the Abarth 695 Biposto is hilarious fun.

It’s loud, expensive and brash, but the Abarth 695 Biposto has irresistible charm

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Abarth logo18 Mar 2015

By TIM ROBSON

TO THINK of this as just an outlandishly expensive Fiat 500 is to disregard the important place that Abarth holds in the history of the Fiat brand.

In 1949, Carlos Abarth – an Austrian by birth, who moved to Italy and changed his name after World War II – founded a company that produced not only sports exhaust parts for various Italian brands, but its own car – the 204A, based on the bankrupted Cisitalia company’s stillborn coupe.

In 1964, Abarth displayed a modified version of Fiat’s 500 at the Geneva Motor Show. Called the 695 (despite having a 699cc two-cylinder engine), it forged a long association between the two companies that culminated in Fiat’s purchase of Abarth in 1971.

Fast-forward to 2015, and the Fiat 500-based Abarth 695 Biposto is perhaps the ultimate expression of a road-going hot hatch. Stripped down and bristling with aftermarket components from the biggest brands in the world, the 695 Biposto is not for everyone – but the madcap hatch will find a small, fiercely loyal audience.

The Abarth shoots straight to the top of Fiat’s price charts, costing $65,000, before on-road costs. Adding its full suite of options (including an alloy bonnet and trim kit at $5000, a carbon dress-up kit at $9000, a track pack at $7000 and a racing gearbox kit at $15,000) brings the tally to $101,000.

Abarth product head Maurizio Consalvo told GoAuto at the international drive event in Turin, Italy earlier this month that Abarth references its heritage when developing its new models.

“Speed, racing, love of motorcars and passion for speed, improved mechanical performance and action – these are key words that can in a certain way express very well the original vision of Abarth,” he said.

“We are linked to our heritage and when we face a new challenge to design a vehicle, we know that our racing DNA is one of the most important starting points.” The 695’s performance comes from two key changes – the addition of power and the subtraction of weight. Fiat’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged T-Jet engine has been retuned to produce 140kW and 250Nm of torque, with the extra power and torque coming via a liberal use of aftermarket ancillaries.

A race-tuned, bimodal valve-equipped exhaust system with titanium outlet tips from MotoGP supplier Akrapovic, a carbon-shrouded air intake from F1 parts maker BMC and a reflashed engine chip combine with an air-to-air intercooler to release the additional power.

Coming in a kerb weight of just 997kg, the 695 is unashamedly biased towards performance, not comfort. No radio, no air-conditioning, no rear seats… never has so little cost so much in the Fiat range.

It’s possible to remove even more mass, too, adding an aluminium bonnet, titanium fuel and water caps and carbon-backed fixed-back race seats. Fixed plexiglass side windows are available for a $7000 option and according to FCA Australia are street legal.

There’s one other option that takes the 695 Biposto up into the rarefied air of genuine supercars a Bacci Romano five-speed, short-ratio manual gearbox can be optioned, complete with dog-ring gears, exposed alloy linkages and shift gate, a race clutch and lightened freewheel. The cost? An additional $15,000.

Our brief test drive of the 695 took place at Fiat’s Bolacco test facility in northern Italy. Its 5.75km-long circuit features corners from the world’s most revered – and feared – Formula 1 test tracks, including Zandvort and Monza, and the Abarth felt right at home.

Settling into the cabin feels little different to a regular 500, save for the extensive use of carbon-fibre and Alcantara fabric. Our tester is equipped with a regular five-speed manual and regular seatbelt, and the sports clutch is stiff yet progressive as we set out after our Alfa Romeo 4C pace car.

There’s some lag down low in the rev range, but once the T-Jet engine piles on some revs, the 695 is seriously fast, with a rock-solid mid-range that allows the Biposto to pile through 200km/h on Balocco’s long back straight.

Monstrous Brembo brakes, sticky Pirelli P-Zero tyres and well-tuned race-spec suspension result in eye-widening stopping ability and huge levels of grip mid-corner.

It’s loud, too, with the Akrapovic exhaust filling the cabin with noise and crackling like a shotgun on throttle overrun. In short, the 695 Biposto is a riot, with involving yet benign handling and a very high threshold of ability.

Yet step off the loud pedal and shift into a higher gear, and the 695 instantly calms down, becoming as placid and as civil as a regular 500. Our too-brief test doesn’t allow us to comment on its ride on real roads, and the current Abarth 595 models aren’t renowned for their cosseting handling. We suspect the 695 will fare better, given its higher-spec suspension components.

Is it civil enough to use as a daily driver? With the regular gearbox, yes. The race box and clutch combo will undoubtedly prove to be a difficult proposition in day-to-day traffic.

Just ten 695s are on their way to Australia, and we suspect that FCA will sell all of them.

There are cheaper ways to get the same kind of performance – a fully optioned 695 Biposto costs $10,000 more than the base-spec Alfa Romeo 4C, for example – but there’s no denying that the 695 Biposto possesses an edge and a flair that will ensnare Abarth aficionados.

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