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Road test: Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.

Road test: Abarth 695 Biposto Record
Bonkers expensive Abarth 695 special edition is flawed, but deeply likeable.

   



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Abarth 695 Biposto Record

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: attitude, rarity, focus on performance

Not so good: crippling expense, more compromises

Key Facts

Model tested: Abarth 695 Biposto Record
Price: Abarth 695 Biposto from 33,055; Record from 36,610 as tested
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual with mechanical limited-slip differential
Body style: three-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 145g/km (Band A, 0 VED)
Combined economy: 45.9mpg
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Power: 190hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 3,000rpm

Our view:

The World's Smallest Supercar. That's the concept that you have to roll around your head if you're going to make any sense whatsoever out of a Fiat 500 that costs - at least - 36,610. No, that price is not a typographical. OK, something about our statement isn't strictly true, as this isn't a Fiat 500: more correctly, it's an Abarth 695 Biposto. And, in the same way the romantically lyrical word 'Quattroporte' translates from Italian into the prosaic English phrase of 'four-door', the intriguing 'Biposto' simply means 'two seats'.

'What?!', we hear you cry indignantly, 'The best part of 37 grand for a two-seat Fiat 500?' Oh yes. Perhaps, to try and put things into perspective, we should outline the ladder of Abarth ownership. There are four models in the hot 500 family, all toting the same 1.4-litre T-Jet turbocharged petrol engine in varying states of tune/insanity. Scorpion badges kick off at a (relatively) modest 15,090 for the 145hp 595, while stepping up to the 165hp 595 Turismo sees the windscreen sticker swell to 18,290. That's not the ultimate 595, though; that signal honour instead falling on the 20,290 Competizione with 180hp.

Now, surely a 180hp Fiat 500 is more than enough performance for most people, especially as the Competizione looks superb and still packs a full complement of seats. Yet Fiat has decided to pay homage to the most outrageous Nuova 500 of all, the 695. During the 1960s Carlo Abarth's tuning house built the extreme 695, which featured an engine so potent and oversized in the Bambino's body that the rear bonnet had to be permanently jammed open on its struts, just to keep everything cool. And that applies to both meanings of the word 'cool'.

Perhaps rear-mounting the 1.4 T-Jet in the modern-day 695 Biposto would have made that astronomical list price rather more logical, but the engine sits precisely where you'd expect it to be: in the Abarth's snub nose, driving the front wheels. Getting rid of the largely hopeless rear seats and tiny boot of the 500 for a strut brace and cargo net in the back of the Biposto might not be the worst idea in the world, given junking this architecture keeps the 695's kerb weight down to a slender 997kg, but that's not why you're paying 36,610 for this eye-catching Italian.

The 'basic' Biposto, loosely related to the Assetto Corse full-on racing version, starts at 33,055 and comes in gunship grey only. To this car, you can add all manner of ludicrous, track-focused bits of kit, like full Sabelt harnesses, polycarbonate side windows and an 8,500 - again, you're not reading this number incorrectly - dog-ring five-speed gearbox with exposed linkages of exquisite beauty, meaning a (gulp) 50 grand 695 is not out of the question. However, you can't have failed to have noticed this particular Abarth is a searing bright yellow and that's because it is a limited edition of 133 units called the 695 Biposto Record, of which just 39 will come to the UK. This one is number 118 of the entire run, created to celebrate 133 speed records held by Abarth.

With a fixed specification, the Record doesn't have the same extortionate options list of the regular Biposto, but it does feature a mechanical limited-slip differential, Extreme Shox adjustable (but not from within the car) dampers, four-piston Brembo brakes with 305mm front and 240mm rear discs and lightened OZ 18-inch alloys wrapped in sticky Goodyear 215/35 rubber. There's a carbon fibre lower front bumper and rear diffuser, while inside is a pair of beautiful carbon-backed, '695 Bispoto'-branded bucket seats, a Scorpion-bearing steering wheel and... a simple five-speed manual gearbox, which robs the Abarth of some of the drama of the dog-ring-laden car. Drama that's not lacking when you fire the little supercar up, because it is fitted with a scandalously aggressive Akrapovic exhaust system that booms and burbles when the Record is merely sitting at idle.

So, aside from an interior that is further stripped of ballast like air conditioning, a sound system, carpets and even door pulls (look, you get little loops of red fabric instead) its singular spec sets out the Biposto Record's stall. Therefore, let's begin with the negatives because, by crikey, there are plenty of them.

You can't have failed to have noticed that for all its magnificent, bulging wheel arches and pugnacious stance, despite wearing '16' plates this is not the latest 500 body. It has the old light clusters and within, the sparse dashboard is the dated, superseded architecture. Cosmetic issues, maybe, but as being 'a la mode' is part of the whole reason people buy Fiat 500s, it's a shame the range's absolute flagship is now the only Fiat or Abarth version that's not wearing the latest Italian suit.

Trotting out that hoary old chestnut of a simile, that steering wheel is a nice, chunky item but in terms of its colossal diameter it feels like it has been lifted from a Routemaster bus. It's also only adjustable for rake, not reach, so getting a good driving position isn't easy - but the wheel isn't the chief culprit here, it's those glorious seats. Infuriatingly, they're mounted about four inches too high, so it constantly feels like you're piloting an SUV when you're driving the Abarth, rather than a hunkered-down track refugee.

Then we have the shiny metallic floor mats, which allow the heels of your shoes to slide about during lateral acceleration. Precisely when you don't need such nonsense. On the move, the incessant buzz of the fuel pump is always audible, especially during deceleration, and that steering wheel doesn't stop disappointing, as now you're aware of a chronic amount of self-centring. Even at moderate speeds, it's like you're fighting the car in the turns, rather than working with it. Part of the problem is the super-angry diff, which pulls the car every which way but loose on uneven surfaces. Yes, uneven surfaces; i.e., every single sodding back road in Britain, precisely the territory where a hot hatch should rule the roost. This front-axle mania is exacerbated by damping of the unapologetically firm variety, which - in a short-wheelbase, lightweight car - makes for an extremely intense, bouncy demeanour at pace. And you need to be well aware of which of your handful of five gears you're in at all times, because despite 250Nm and a sub-tonne kerb weight, bog the 695 down below 2,000rpm and you'll wonder where all those 190 horses have got to.

Flawless, then, this car is not. And yet it is massively appealing nonetheless. With its frenetic nature, it's very hard to neatly string together a number of corners at pace, but that makes it more of a challenge to whip along a deserted country lane in search of handling nirvana. Get focused, get switched on and you can reap the immense rewards of the Biposto Record's uncompromising set-up. When you do eventually marshal the braking, turn-in point and reapplication of the throttle all together for a bend, it's a euphoric feeling as the Biposto fires out of the exit of the curve in a fury of monster pace. The Akrapovic exhaust makes a terrific racket as the car winds up to 5,500rpm; it's not perhaps the most symphonic in the world, but it is exciting nonetheless and there's no doubting that to go with all the noise, the Record's 5.9-second 0-62mph time feels entirely credible. In essence, the 695 is not a car that easily yields up its pearls of dynamic ability - which means extracting them is like a treasure hunt, at times annoyingly bereft of treats but then every so often replete with glittering promise.

It's hard to fathom who on Earth would buy the Record, save for obscenely rich car collectors who have every other desirable machine in history already in their possession. Either that, or massive, massive Italian car fans who have recently won the Lotto and feel the need to splash out on something that will be far rarer than a Ferrari 488 GTB. And it's very easy to focus on the fact that, should you sink the best part of 40 grand into this Modena Yellow 695, you'll be left with a car that often barely functions on the vast majority of British roads, even if we accept it should be astonishingly good on a smooth-finish circuit.

But what charisma. What a thrilling ride. What a unique proposition it is in a B-segment hot hatch market that's otherwise quite safe; only the MINI John Cooper Works Challenge is remotely comparable to the unhinged Biposto at the moment. Whatever you think of a two-seat Fiat that costs considerably more than a decent-spec Volkswagen Golf R or Ford Focus RS, there's no doubting that every mile behind its wheel does feel like a unique and precious occasion.

Yep, we really did give a 37,000 Fiat 500 four stars, because in Abarth 695 Biposto Record guise, it's a stupidly fabulous and special little thing. The World's Smallest Supercar? Well, it's grotesquely impractical and farcically expensive and dreadfully compromised in so many ways... and yet all you want to do is get into this silly, pumped-up little city car and drive the doors off it on your favourite road, just to see if you can get anything in excess of 60 per cent of the corners right. We'll go with Fiat's brave supercar assertion, then, because driving the Record is utterly unlike driving any other three-door hatchback. We're delighted this demented little machine exists.

Alternatives:

Ford Fiesta M-Sport: more powerful, but heavier than the Biposto, the limited-edition M-Sport is also cheaper, starting from 21,600. It, like the Abarth, has genuine motorsport cred.

MINI John Cooper Works Challenge: like the Record, the Challenge is a super-focused, limited-run MINI based on an already-expensive JCW - so expect to pay 32,000+ for the British machine.

Peugeot 208 GTi 30th Anniversary Edition: to get anything like as limited and bizarre as the Biposto, you'll need this Pug in 'coupe franche' colours. Now discontinued, so good luck with that...


Matt Robinson - 22 Feb 2017



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2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.

2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.2016 Abarth 695 Biposto Record. Image by Matt Robinson.








 

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