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Few vehicles could be more frivolous, even if you have the requisite deep pockets, than either the Abarth 695 Maserati Edition or Abarth 695 Ferrari Tributo. But we’ve just tested one that could deserve such a title — the 2015 Abarth 695 Biposto.
We’ve driven both the Abarth special editions extensively, as well as the more 'mundane' Abarth 595. None of this trio fits that word in isolation, but they certainly do once you’ve driven the Biposto. It's just the latest in a line of ridiculous (in a good way) modified Fiat 500s that you buy because you can, not because you need to.
Abarth has a long history of fettling traditionally utilitarian Fiats and turning them into pocket-sized weapons. Even Abarth’s stylised scorpion emblem signifies a sting in the tail, a small beast capable of inflicting damage far beyond it’s diminutive size.
The company’s motto focuses on engine performance, power to weight ratios, agility and road holding, and a sports-worthy exhaust note. All these factors are evident in the Abarth 695 Biposto. In this instance though, Abarth has also focused on testing the sanity of potential buyers with the price.
Don’t worry though, the starting price of a scarcely believable $65,000 plus on-road costs isn’t the end of the silliness. You can even option a hardcore dog-ring gearbox if you like, for the paltry sum of $15,000.
Abarth claims the previously race-only dog box is the first of its type in a road-going car. It means you can enjoy rapid, clutch-free gearshifts if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, it might sound like you’re destroying your gearbox every time you try to shift gears.
You can even go for full insanity with track-ready options packages that include proper race buckets, unpainted carbonfibre interior trim, harnesses and optional polycarbonate windows with sliding panels. In fact, tick all the options boxes as you’d be tempted to do, and the price is going to be close to six figures.
Did we mention there’s no audio or air conditioning either…
So, the 695 Biposto is expensive even without the exotic gearbox, but let's find out a little more about what Abarth refers to as ‘the smallest supercar’.
First things first. Biposto is Italian for ‘two-seater’, and it’s a smart move on the part of Abarth to toss the back seat. Let’s be honest, the second row seat was almost completely useless in either of the two aforementioned Abarth models and the ride (on Australian roads at least) so harsh that you’d be unlikely to subject anyone to the back seat even if you had one.
So, the back seat has gone the way of the dodo, and in its place there’s, well, not much. You see, the Abarth 695 Biposto is strongly focused on weight reduction. According to Abarth, the dry weight of the Biposto is 997 kilograms.
Even if you don’t put much credence in dry weight figures (that is the weight of the vehicle without coolant, oil, fuel and brake fluid, not to mention flabby motoring journalists) there’s something to be said for engineering a car down to such a low weight at a time where modern inclusions inevitably add weight hand over fist.
At a sub-1000kg fighting weight, then, the Biposto joins a very exclusive road-going club of sporty cars weighing in under four figures. The membership list is short, and it includes other models such as the Alfa Romeo 4C and the Lotus Elise. You can see a recurring theme there too, being stated track ability.
Many high-power modern vehicles are quite heavy by comparison, and that tends to dull the experience somewhat no matter how much power they generate.
Lashings of carbonfibre, titanium, lightweight alloy and polycarbonate all contribute to the final figure and as far as road-going track cars go, few match the 695 Biposto for appearance and a sense of theatre.
There’s a sense of adventure when you get behind the wheel of such a genuine lightweight, too. It’s so light on its feet, so nimble, it has the immediate feel of being a proper track car. Everything feels so urgent. Every gearshift, every steering input is enhanced by its lack of unnecessary mass.
We were only permitted a few short laps behind the wheel of the Biposto at Fiat’s test track in Balocco and we didn’t get to test the dog-ring gearbox either, unfortunately. Fiat engineers brought a dog-ring ‘box equipped example out for us to look at and the exposed shift linkage mechanism raises the interior cool rating by a factor of 1000. The mechanism and beautifully crafted shift lever and shift knob are almost worth the price of admission alone.
The exposed shift linkage might not be worth 15 grand no matter how crazy you are, but damn it looks good. So does the optional data logger. In fact, I think I’d be the idiot ticking all the options boxes and spending nearly 100 grand if I had the readies. The fully fettled model we looked at would be hard to resist. Raw carbon fibre, polished alloy, polycarbonate sliding windows, race buckets and harnesses all scream 'track car' too much to simply overlook.
On track though, we had to make do with the conventional five-speed manual ‘box. Press the starter button and the engine bursts into life with a maniacal gargle you’ll recognise if you’ve sampled either of the previous 695 models. It settles quickly into a raucous idle that blats away through the tailpipe.
The accelerator is incredibly responsive and each prod is met with a burst of noise from the tuned exhaust as the revs rise. You’ll find yourself blipping the throttle regularly, wearing the requisite stupid grin.
Abarth has tuned the life out of the 1.4-litre T-JET four-cylinder engine. Under the 695’s stubby bonnet, it develops 140kW at 5500rpm and 250Nm at 3000rpm. Top speed is 230km/h and fuel usage, if you care, is a claimed 6.5 litres/100km on the combined cycle.
There’s the same high-seated driving position we’ve experienced in any current Abarth, although the more focused sports seats in this model do lower you into the cabin more. Visibility is excellent and the Abarth is so tiny that positioning it where you want it, either on track or doddling around the pits, couldn’t be any easier.
Select first gear and ease off the throttle to get a feel for the Abarth’s manners. It’s certainly not tedious to drive at low speed, which is a bit of a surprise. Once you work out the best launch technique, the Biposto will thrash from 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds. Acceleration continues its relentless surge right up to the indicated 205km/h we saw before we ran out of straight. The Abarth feels like it will easily get up to its top speed, we just didn’t have enough road to test it out.
Stand on the brakes, the exceptional Goodyear tyres bite violently into the tarmac and it washes off speed rapidly. The little two-door feels remarkably stable even under heavy braking and steering feel is bordering on perfect. Certainly for this type of vehicle, the feedback through the wheel itself and the precision of the system is bang on the money.
So composed is the Abarth on track it encourages both driving precision and stupidity in equal measure. If you want to find the fastest way through a set of corners you can, and you’ll be rewarded. If you want to be a bit of a wally and mess around you can too, and you’ll be left grinning like a cheshire cat. The balance is what surprises the most given the compromised design that Abarth has to start with. A Fiat 500 looks top heavy but it never feels that way on the track.
Abarth tells us it wanted to embody the theory of ‘Sunday at the track, Monday at the office’ with this, the most hardcore road-going version of the Fiat 500. The company might have succeeded in its aim, but your run to the office would ideally traverse the very best roads Australia can conjure. The ride, even over something as simple as ripple strips on track, borders on so stiff as to be uncomfortable. The road-holding and balance on offer, though, is a revelation, and that’s the flip side.
That said, you’d need to make frequent visits to club track days to be able to justify ownership of the Abarth 695 Biposto.
The sticky rubber refuses to emit a sound even when you push as hard as you dare into and out of tight corners. There’s almost no body roll to upset the balance, and the Biposto simply rockets from one corner to the next. For the second track dash, we followed a driver in an Alfa Romeo 4C wrestling the lightweight coupe with all the traction aides disabled. Sure, he was a little hesitant, but we were pestering the rear bumper of the 4C like a fly hovering around guests at an Aussie BBQ. The Abarth 695 Biposto promises to be mightily fast in the hands of a more accomplished pilot than I.
Is the Biposto, at a starting price of $65,000, too expensive? Absolutely. Even more so when you factor in the cost of the options that you’d surely need if you were considering the racer for the road. Would I buy one if I had the money? Without even giving it a second thought. I’d even cough up the extra $15,000 for the dog ‘box simply to brag to my mates that I had an exposed shift gate and no synchros.
Ride comfort? Who needs it in something this focused. Keep in mind we've only tested the 695 Biposto on track and we haven't yet sampled the exotic gearbox either. It might be awful on road, but if you can get to a track every weekend, you won't care.
Don’t criticise the Abarth 695 Biposto for its inadequacies, what it doesn’t have or it’s foolishness. Rejoice in the fact it exists. Without companies like Abarth, willing to think outside the square and turn a city runaround into something that is genuinely track capable, the motoring world would be as boring as a recent F1 race.
Foolishness is quite often appealing, but rarely is it this much fun after the fact. The 2015 Abarth 695 Biposto is complete folly, whichever way you look at it, but it will put a bigger smile on your face than just about anything you can drive for under 150 grand in the right situation.