Fiat 500 2012 sport

Fiat Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari Review

Rating: 6.0
$69,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
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A bargain-priced 'Ferrari' or a highly expensive Fiat? CarAdvice finds out.
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If you only had one word to describe the Fiat Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari, ‘bonkers’ would be it.

The term is equally relevant to the car and its owner.

The Tributo is basically a hotted up Fiat 500, which was developed to separate Ferrari owners from $69,990 of their cash.

That’s right, $69,990 for a micro car.

The funny thing is that 30 or more of them were snapped up in Australia when the order books opened up last year.

When the local distribution of Fiat was handed over from Ateco to Chrysler Australia earlier this year, ten of the Tributo 500s were left over.

We hear dealers who have these cars are not expecting customers to pay the full amount, although we don’t know how much they are prepared to knock off the inflated official price.

The new distributor took one of the remaining Tributos to a special drive event, where CarAdvice was able to test the car on some of Australia’s best roads in Victoria’s alpine region.

While it certainly isn’t worth the official list price, the Tributo is outrageously fun.

It’s pitched as the ultimate second car for a Ferrari driver and does actually wear the badge, which is odd given it’s a Fiat not a Ferrari.

We think it’s probably better to think of it as the kind of car Ferrari would make if it ever did branch out into micro cars.

There is no howling Ferrari V8 sitting under the bonnet, but a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder.

This is largely the same as the unit in the $34,990 Abarth Essesse, but this one has been turned up to 11.

It uses a special fixed-vane Garrett turbocharger and a dual mode variable back-pressure exhaust system which adds some punch above 3000rpm.

These changes mean the Tributo engine produces an extra 14kW for a total of 132kW and 20Nm more torque for a total of 250Nm.

These figures are not all that impressive on their own, but consider that this car weighs about 1000kg (Fiat doesn’t provide a figure but says it is lighter than the 1035kg Essesse model) and the proposition suddenly becomes a lot more attractive.

The sprint time for the Tributo dips just below the 7 second mark, which indicates it is well short of Ferrari performance but handy for a hot hatch of this size. Somewhat remarkably, the official fuel economy is just 6.5L/100km.

The engine is hooked up to a special C510 version of the five-speed Dualogic automated manual, which is controlled by steering wheel mounted paddles. This is a manual with a single automated clutch, which has been tuned to shift faster than the regular version found in the Essesse.

The combination of this transmission and the rorty engine certainly make you feel like the Tributo is going much faster than it really is.

It is a beautiful powerplant it has enough meat down low but also rewards you for revving it out to 6000rpm. There is a delicious mix of induction howl and exhaust bark at the higher end of the rev range too.

In Sport mode (the only mode we bothered with) the transmission bangs the changes like a race car, adding to the thrill of acceleration.

While it gives the impression of going for Imola’s lap record, the Tributo is not actually going outrageously fast. It’s like the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ in that you can have a heap of fun without surpassing the speed limit.

There is no limited slip differential to help get the power down (although there is an electronic system that works with the Electronic Stability Control) but it didn’t appear to need it on our run over the twisty and hilly Tawonga Gap road.

Abarth, which is Fiat’s tuning arm and is actually pronounced ‘abart’, overhauled the suspension for the Tributo It sits lower than the Essesse (although still on 17-inch rims) thanks to shorter springs and also has firmer Koni dampers.

It makes for a grin-inducing run along a ribbon of road with plenty of corners, but is brutally harsh. The stiffness means the Tributo sits super flat in the bends and responds immediately to directions through the steering wheel (Abarth left the steering alone as there was nothing wrong with it). Agility is a major plus and it feels as though the Tributo could dispense some far more potent machines on a suitably twisty road.

It doesn’t bop around as much as the slightly softer and higher riding Essesse, but crashes over the big ruts and bumps and passes on seemingly minor surface imperfections into the cabin.

Few people could live with such a harsh ride every day, although many of these cars will only be used as weekend fun machines.

Diving deep into corners is encouraged, not just by the car’s stability or its light weight, but also the four-piston front Brembo calipers which pull up the Tributo in a hurry when latching onto the 305mm discs.

So, the Tributo delivers a lot of race car excitement, but there is one stand-out issue. The driver sits up high.

Indeed, all the g-forces, sounds and jolts through the suspension make you feel like you’re in a race car, but the high-mounted seat makes you feel like you are sitting in an econobox designed to pick up the shopping.

The fact is that Abarth can’t escape this car’s humble roots and the fact it was built off the same platform as the current Ford Ka.

While it takes away from the experience, it doesn’t wreck it completely.

Although they are fitted high in the car, the seats are things of beauty. These are special Sabelt racing seats made from carbon fibre, with fantastic side support for those fun corners.

As much as you will want to be in the driver’s seat, sitting in the back allows you to take in how well it is made. The rear view is a marvellous expanse of carbon-fibre. There is also a carbon fibre panel across the dashboard, on the transmission selection panel, the B-pillars, the front bumper lip and on the wing mirrors.

The steering wheel is a nice, chunky flat-bottomed unit with a red white and green strip at the top dead centre to help you remember a) where the top of the wheel is and b) that this car has Italian heritage.

The driver selects gears initially by pressing buttons on the carbon fibre selector panel, choosing from first, neutral and reverse as well as selecting automatic or manual mode.

There is also a Sport button that is both for the engine and transmission tune.

Other notable interior elements include a grippy aluminium footplate for the passenger (although there is no accessible grab bar) and a turbo boost gauge, which the driver really shouldn’t watch when driving hard. The instrument cluster was apparently designed by Ferrari. Tributo owners also get a bright red flip key with has the Abarth scorpion and the words Tributo Ferrari, with the latter in traditional Ferrari script. To some people, this will be a big thing, but to others it may appear a bit try-hard. After all, it’s not a real Ferrari is it?

The carbon-fibre and leather seat trim adds some real class, but there is no escaping this car’s cheap heritage. The high-end elements are let down by things like hard plastics and nasty buttons (such as the window winder controls) which don’t belong in a $30,000 car let alone something around the $70,000 mark.

There is a reasonable amount of room in the back for a car of this size, although adults will not last long.

The Tributo gets all the gear you expect including ESC, seven airbags, bi-Xenon headlights, tinted windows, a dual zone climate control system and a premium sound system with Bluetooth phone connectivity.

This car ticks a lot of boxes. It is an absolute hoot to drive on the right roads, has some lovely carbon fibre elements, a fun little engine and engaging gearbox and a Ferrari link but you would have to be more than a little unhinged to suggest the Tributo offers good value for money.

$70,000 buys a lot of extremely fun performance cars. The Nissan 370Z ($68,640), RenaultSport Megane RS 250 ($41,990), Mazda MX-5 ($47,200), Toyota 86 ($29,990) and Subaru BRZ ($37,150) might not have as much character as the 500 Tributo, but they are all superior machines that are also easier to live with.