Proof positive that downsizing is a serious trend: even sports car manufacturers are building superminis. Fiat’s Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari is soon to be joined by the Aston Martin Cygnet and – perhaps – the Lotus supermini, not to mention numerous expensively tweaked John Cooper Works versions of BMW’s Mini. Small cars have never been posher, faster or pricier.
We’re here to review the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari, one of the most intriguing small cars to grace these pages. It’s a simple proposition: take one boggo Abarth 500 – itself a tweaked-up Fiat 500 1.4 turbo – and pack it off to the Mirafiori factory for even more tweaks. There’s an extra 20bhp over the regular Essesse models, a tougher body kit, a smattering of carbon and engineering tweaks aplenty to make the 695 go, steer and stop like no other Abarth.
The cost of all this trickery? The UK’s 20 Abarth dealers will charge you £37,500 for a 695 Tributo Ferrari. Yep, it’s one of the most gob-smacking superminis we’ve ever seen! Just goes to show the power of a Ferrari badge…
Thirty seven big ones for an Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari! Are they having a laugh?
It’s a funky looking thing, all squat and road-hugging like a bright red roller-skate that’s been squashed into the ground. The multi-slatted chin spoiler, those 17in Corsa Grey alloy wheels modelled on Ferrari rims, the very cool Scuderia-influenced body stripes, the rear diffuser – it’s a puggish, purposeful supermini that’ll swivel heads aplenty. In our day with the car, we had three onlookers come and ask us all about it (tellingly, two of them were Alfa owners).
Climb over the 695 Tributo Ferrari kickplates and you’re clasped by some very serious-looking carbonfibre Sabelt bucket seats exquisitely upholstered in leather (they’re each 10kg lighter than the regular pews). The steering wheel is brilliant, chunky, well formed and with a delicious Italian tricolor stitched in at 12 o’clock. Shame it adjusts only for rake not reach, but it’s great to hold.
Twist the 500’s key and the 1.4 turbo wakes up. Lower the window, blip the aluminium throttle and there’s a purposeful rasp from the dual-mode sports exhaust which wakes up above 3000rpm. This car sounds encouragingly naughty. Could it really be a baby Ferrari, tuned up by the Abarth whizzkids? Or is it in fact just a cynical marketing exercise? CAR’s first drive review is about to find out…
Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari: the road test bit
There’s no gearlever at all, merely a Ferrari-esque panel of buttons. Select first and we pull away, only to jolt into second with a head-snapping lunge. Fiat’s automated five-speed manual transmission still leaves plenty to be desired, lurching in automatic mode like a kangarooing Smart Fortwo. You basically have to stick the Competizione transmission in manual mode, snicking the paddleshifts even around town. It’s still a tad jumpy on upshifts, so you learn to feather the throttle; it’s much better on downshifts, matching the revs and shifting more instantly.
The steering is well weighted and quick, without quite the darty responses or heft you’d find in a Mini. At the first straight, we prod the accelerator and the Abarth leaps forwards with a fruity buzz from the 1.4. In Sport mode, which weights up the steering and sharpens the throttle response, you get an extra 15lb ft of twist. We keep it in Sport from then on.
Is the 695 fast then?
Oh yes. A decade ago, we’d have looked at a humble 1.4 developing the best part of 180 horses in awe. Now it’s a sign of the downsizing times. The Tributo weighs a scant 1070kg, so positively zips along. Abarth quotes a ‘sub-7.0sec’ time to the benchmark 62mph, although we wouldn’t say it’s much below seven seconds. That small engine accounts for a promising 151g/km CO2 figure and 44mpg combined economy. Not bad for such an overtly sporting hot hatch.
It’s all building up rather well. The car feels special inside, with those seats pinning you in place and lashings of carbonfibre smeared across the dashboard reminding you you’re in something special. Shame some of the other plastics feel shiny and cheap; at that cost you might have hoped for a fully leather-lined dashboard to raise the ambience as Aston plans for its even more controversial Cygnet.
But then we turn off the A-road and seek out some twisty roads tailormade for a hot hatch… Time to see what the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari can really do.
I sense a big but coming – and it’s not an Italian mama…
We’ve already found the regular Abarth 500 models to be bouncy affairs, especially in stiffer Essesse trim. Sadly, this pogo effect remains in the Tributo Ferrari – photographer Alex and I are nearly joggled through the roof on the bumpier B-roads of our test route. The short wheelbase, fat 205/40 ZR17 Michelins and stiff springs conspire against smooth progress across many British back roads.
Return to more major roads and motorways and the Tributo recovers its poise. It’s quite at home on a motorway cruise, woofling along at 3000rpm at 70mph and the brakes are very strong, as they should be with large, 284mm uprated Brembo discs and callipers. Superfluous on such a light hatchback, but impressive anchors to boot.
Is the character of the Fiat 500 intact?
There’s no mistaking this for anything other than a manned-up version of Fiat’s bubble car. The boot remains tiny at 185 litres, but in UK cars comes completely full of Tributo Ferrari specials: a tailored car cover, tyre pressure caps, two beautiful leather bags, a car cleaning kit, alloy fuel filler cap, an iPod holder and even a Ferrari-badged warning triangle. It’s branding overload.
You can flip the split-fold rear seat down to make more space, but we suspect most owners will have something bigger to do sensible family duties. Oh, and just watch out for the 10,000km – 6000-mile – service intervals.
It’s easy to dismiss the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari as one of the most breathtaking acts of daylight robbery seen in modern times. This car doesn’t really feel worth the thick end of 40 grand, but then it’s more likely to be bought by a Ferrari owner to whom such an amount is a drop in the ocean. We borrowed this test car from Abarth dealer Rockingham Cars and they’re selling Tributos to wealthy customers who’re downsizing to minimise their consumption. Park a 695 outside the office instead of a Scuderia, and it’s a more modest statement. Ironically, it’ll probably be even more exclusive.
Enthusiast hot hatch buyers wanting agile handling and sharp dynamics will be better served by a humbler Renaultsport Clio or somesuch. But the few who do pick a Tributo Ferrari will own a fun-sized pocket rocket with a different take on GTI-kind. Its ride quality and transmission are the main dynamic letdowns but elsewhere it feels special, sounds great, has sparkling performance and there’s no arguing with the character on offer. Bonkers, but in some ways brilliant.
>> With thanks to Rockingham Cars, one of the UK's main Abarth franchised dealers