► Abarth 695 Biposto Record tested
► £37k for track-focused Fiat 500
► Weighs 997kg; 0-62mph in 5.9sec
Stripped-out performance versions of otherwise humdrum cars often transpire to be the most memorable models. Ask those around you and they’ll likely recall the likes of the plastic-windowed Renault Megane R26R, the spritely Ford Racing Puma or – more recently – the 'Ring-bashing VW Golf GTI Clubsport S.
Well, here we’ve got the keys to Fiat’s version. It’s based on the best-selling Fiat 500 and called the 695 Biposto Record – but it’s more exclusive than all of the above. Just 133 are being offered worldwide, and each one will set you back an hilarious £36,610.
You’re telling me this is a £37k Fiat 500? That can’t be right!
We’re not pulling your leg – yes, this Abarth does cost more than an M235i. Not necessarily unjustly so, however; it celebrates 133 records held by the tuning wing of Fiat and represents the best Abarth has got until the hotly anticipated MX-5-based 124 Spider is made available later this year.
You don’t get any more power than the ‘regular’ 188bhp two-seater Biposto, but you do get more premium go-faster bits including Brembo brakes, remote-reservoir Extreme Shox dampers, lightweight OZ alloys and an exhaust from en-vogue aftermarket builders Akrapovic.
The Abarth also comes with a carbonfibre-shelled pair of race seats from Sabelt and four-point belts to keep you hemmed in when you’re on it, plus a cargo net to hang over the titanium scaffolding where the rear bench usually is. There's no race-inspired dog 'box, because while Abarth will offer it as an option, this is a road car first and synchromesh-equipped gearboxes are far easier day-to-day; if a little less theatrical.
Does the 695 Biposto Record ride like a race car?
We thought we’d take the Abarth to a track day at Silverstone to see what all the fuss is about, which also involved driving the car across country to get it there. Turns out those seats are a masterpiece of compromise between comfort and support, which is fortuitous because as we found on our way through rural Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, the Record’s ride quality is unashamedly solid. Hit an unexpected pothole and there’s every chance you’ll need a lie down to recover from the shock.
The drive to Silverstone dodging road imperfections also gave us a chance to test out Sport mode, which is the key to making the most of that new set of tailpipes. Push the simple button (located conveniently near where the stereo should be) and it awakens an angry little mutt of a motor, which responds quickly and delivers raucous bark that resonates through the empty rear of the car.
It also sorts out the steering, which is somewhat hyperactive thanks to a mechanical LSD and over-assistance, tugging left and right and generating a little reluctance to use the throttle for fear of careening off the road. Sport adds lots more weight, which in turn dramatically improves the way the 695 handles.
There's nothing done to tweak the odd position of the steering wheel, however. Because it adjusts for height and not rake, you find yourself hunched over it to get a comfortable grip. It's a bit like a vintage racer, but that doesn't make it comfortable.
How does it perform on the track, then?
Pulling into the paddock at Silverstone for our day on the GP circuit, it was clear there were some serious cars with which to do battle: a LaFerrari sat silent and menacing next to the same owner’s Porsche 918 Spyder, while there were numerous high-level race cars dotted around – including Radicals, Ginettas, Lotuses and Aston Martins.
After the briefing it was time to hit the circuit, and presumably, I thought, get overtaken by every man and his dog. The reality couldn’t have been more different, though. The little Fiat, with its short wheelbase, light kerb weight and buzzy engine, held its head high among its rivals. There’s something highly endearing about driving quickly and not being outclassed in a car that’s appreciably smaller than almost everything else out there.
How much better is this than the regular Abarth 595?
The diff is the key to the Abarth’s impressive on-track performance. It takes a bit of getting used to, but learn when to roll off the beautifully responsive brakes and feed in the power and you’ll soon be addicted to the dramatically improved traction it affords. We tried an Abarth 595 without one for a few laps, and while it still handled well for a small, front-driven hatchback, the difference in outright cornering speeds was remarkable.
Trying the regular Abarth road car also highlighted the difference removing the rear seats makes to the 500. The lighter tail and overall lower kerb weight, coupled with the short distance between axles, results in a more playful chassis – one that’s always willing to move around to adjust a cornering trajectory if you simply lift off the throttle.
Two other surprises became obvious on track: you can’t completely switch off the traction control, and you don’t need to. It’s one of the best-judged systems on any car of this size, and only really intervenes when it has to. That includes allowing some big slides through the terrifying blind-apex Copse Corner, which we were taking at speeds over 100mph. That’s quick for any road car, and with the little 695 visibly catching cars twice its cost, all of a sudden that price tag doesn’t seem quite as outrageous.
Here’s the thing with the Biposto Record: it’s very expensive for a car of its size, it’s impractical, noisy and uncomfortable – but I genuinely get it. It’s for folk used to those things.
You wouldn’t buy one as a daily driver, for starters. It’s for the person who’s already bought a brace of sports cars. It’s a collectors’ item – a car that’ll hold its value as it sits in your heated garage for 99% of the year, only escaping to attend that enthusiasts’ meeting. On arrival, among all the Porsches, Ferraris, AMGs and M-cars, you’ll still be driving something special, something different. And luckily, for the 133 prospective owners, if you do want to drive it quickly, it’ll do that admirably too.
Mere mortals will be pleased to hear that LSD is coming to the more accessible fourth-gen Abarth 595 Competizione models as well, as part of a Performance Pack that also adds those carbon-shelled seats and other detailing for £2950. In total, a car specified like that would set you back £23k, which seems a better and more easily justified idea.
In either instance, the Abarth is certainly far more characterful than the Ford Fiesta ST everyone wants to benchmark in this sector – although it’ll still admittedly cost you more.
Read more Abarth reviews