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Road Test: Abarth 695C 1.4 T-Jet Biposto 3dr (2014-2017)

£32,855 when new

Car specifications

Budget
£32,855
Brake horsepower
190bhp
Fuel consumption
45.9mpg
0–62 mph
5.90s
CO2
145g/km
Max speed
143Mph
Insurance Group
37U

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BiPosto means two-seater in Italian. That probably tells you most of what you need to know but, just in case, this is a road car that does a passable impression of the Abarth 595 Asseto Corse that Fiat runs a one-make race series for on the continent. And, yes, those are genuine carbon-fibre bumpers. Subtly flared arches cover a wider track, and the car sits on 18-inch Oz Racing wheels shod in bespoke Goodyear Eagle tyres. On proud display behind the anthracite spokes are drilled, ventilated Brembo brakes with glossy red calipers. Yes, the basic 500 Abarth is a tall, topsy bubble, so the tearaway 695 still struggles to look truly planted, but there’s now some menace. It’s cute, but evil too.

The 1.4-litre engine has been wrung out from 157bhp to 187bhp, and drives the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. Which gearbox depends entirely on you, and so we enter the fabulously expensive world of BiPosto options…

The standard 695 - shorn of its radio, aircon and rear seats to drop the kerbweight to 997kg when bone dry - costs £32,990… £2,840 pricier than TG’s favourite hot hatch, the VW Golf R. You could have his ‘n’ hers Ford Fiesta STs and change for fuel. And that really is the base price.

Polycarbonate windows with a Ferrari F40-spec sliding shutter are an extra £1,775. An aluminium bonnet and other ally bits cost £2,990. The race pack, which adds Sabelt four-point harnesses, an Abarth crash helmet and a race-data display atop the bare centre console, is £3,700. Want said dash in gloss carbon fibre, and door cards to match? That’s £3,700 again. And then there’s the exquisitely machined dog ring gearbox, dominating the cabin with its exposed gate and anodised joints. The sense of occasion is palpable; the racetrack credibility undeniable. The price? Almost laughable. It’s £8,500, and remember we’re not talking about some dual-clutcher here that’ll shift itself when you’re not in the mood. You shell out the price of a basic 500 1.2 just for the pleasure of crashing those gears through an H-pattern yourself.

Altogether, you’re talking £53,760 for the car we tested with every box ticked, and on any rational level, you’d shout “Oh, grow up, Abarth” over your shoulder as you stalked off to buy a Porsche Cayman GTS. But is this a rational range-topper? No. It’s for the sort of chap who has a GT3 RS, 458 Speciale and Ariel Atom in his climate-controlled garage, and fancies something a little wieldier for his next Sunday drive.

Such a discerning customer will doubtless be expecting RenaultSport levels of handling dexterity. If you’re smooth, it’s great, but idiot-proof the BiPosto ain’t. Up front is a mechanical locking differential, but at low speeds at least, it’s too heavy-handed in portioning the power going to each wheel. Through the damp second-gear hairpin at one end of the Autodromo Ricardo Paletti where we drove the 695, the hooked-up front axle pulled the car wide as the power arrived, dragging the stiffly sprung short wheelbase straight over a section of kerbing at the exit that’s more earthquake aftermath than rumble strip.

Everywhere else it was much better, although the turbocharged engine presents issues of its own - you have to juggle rapidly arriving boost against corner angle and diff behaviour. It’s challenging and fun, and when you get a corner right you slingshot off into the distance, but even then you’re aware the steering is too light and twirly for a track car, refusing to weight up even during the most enthusiastic of corrective saves to catch the hilariously lively tail.

Meanwhile, the turbo-heavy soundtrack is a slight disappointment - where the Abarth 595 crackles and cackles, the 695 whooshes and roars hoarsely.

But you won’t have time to concentrate on any of this unless you’re in the regular five-speed manual car. Switch into the dog ‘box-equipped machine, and 90 per cent of your mental capacity is immediately consumed by thwacking the exposed linkage across its miniature gate. Clutchless shifts aren’t allowed (too costly to develop, Abarth says, forgetting the already outrageous price), but if you nail a perfect quickstep across the pedals, the gears bang home with a delicious jolt.

Down the circuit’s back straight, the dog ‘box car is noticeably quicker, simply as you spend so much less time changing gear.

Could you use it on the road? Legally, yes, but the long-term livability would require an almost kinky dedication to the Abarth’s compromises. Funnily enough, the ride quality isn’t as shoddy as expected, but the 695 is admittedly flattered by the skateboard behaviour of its lesser brethren.

For 50 grand, you’d have to say the fact the BiPosto isn’t a truly sorted track car is a frustration, but we can’t help swelling with throat-lumped admiration for Fiat having the courage to sign it off in the first place.

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