The rejuvenated 500 has been one hell of a success story for Fiat, rapidly becoming the Italian brand’s most popular model. Its irresistible style, microscopic dimensions and cheerful attitude have made it the darling of millennials everywhere, but if truth be told, it isn’t all that good a car.
Sure, it’s fine for getting from A to B, in much the same way as the DS 4 is fine for driving to the scrapyard, but even in the sporty S model, there isn’t all that much for the car enthusiasts to get their teeth into.
That’s where Abarth comes in. Fiat’s pet nutcases have a track record of turning mundane cars of the people into fun, if slightly ridiculous, sports cars.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the Abarth 695 Biposto. It’s Abarth’s fastest, craziest version of the little 500, offering nothing but power, fun and a minor smattering of infuriating nonsense.
To create this pocket rocket, Abarth has taken an ordinary Fiat 500, swapped the 103bhp 0.9-litre engine with a 187bhp 1.4-litre unit, beefed up the suspension, fitted a tough-looking bodykit and then taken most of the insides out.
As Italian-speaking readers may already have guessed from the Biposto moniker, the rear seats have been removed, while those in the front perch on carbon-fibre racing seats. The radio has gone, too, and the door handles have been swapped for pieces of string. You don’t even get carpets.
Such barbaric weight-saving measures have their advantages, though. For one, the 500’s pokey boot has been enlarged considerably by the removal of the rear bench, and there’s also the small matter of performance. With the weight gone and all that extra power being fed to its front wheels, the 695 will get from 0-62mph in less than six seconds – faster than a VW Golf GTI.
The reduction in weight, teamed with the firmed-up suspension, means it handles well, too. It changes direction like a bluebottle, buzzing from corner to corner and turning in with the sharpness of a supercar.
Better still – and especially surprising considering the high driving position – there’s also incredibly little in the way of body roll.
The noise is epic, too, with the trick exhaust providing a visceral, rasping soundtrack. It’s almost like a rally car.
There’s a price to pay for all this fun though, because the Abarth’s ride is atrocious. The springs feel as though they’ve been replaced with steel girders and they conspire to transmit every imperfection in the road directly to your pelvis in the form of a vicious jolt.
Speaking of price, therein lies the other major problem with the Abarth. Because of all the weight-shedding, the 695 comes with almost no equipment whatsoever. Forget satellite navigation or heated seats – the most luxurious things on the spec sheet are the electric windows. Yet despite all this, the 695 costs a whopping £33,110.
That is, unquestionably, a huge amount of money – particularly when a more powerful, four-door, five-seat, rear-wheel-drive Jaguar XE costs less. And that car comes with a radio and satellite navigation. It’s also similarly fast and drives equally well.
The Jag is less fun, though, and that’s the whole point of the Abarth. Buy one, and it’ll spend its life driving you around the bend, but when the sun comes out and you start driving it around the bend, you’ll have an enormous smile on your face.