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What’s this merry looking thing? This is the Abarth 695 Biposto Record. It’s a limited-run, Fiat 500 hot hatch that costs £36,610. Of the 133 being made, 39 come to the UK. Of all of the numbers spewing forth from the Biposto Record’s spec sheet, that price is the most important, for it immediately sets this car’s stall. The stall of something exceedingly specialist, one that you won’t buy by accident having being won over by the dealer’s sweet-talking. You don’t blooming say. £37k?!
Yep, it’s around three times as much as the 500 upon which it’s essentially based. But then it’s also around three times as powerful. That’s because it uses the most potent 1.4-litre turbo in the Fiat locker, the 187bhp tune you’ll also find in the ‘regular’ Abarth Biposto. (Whose nerdy dog-ring transmission, incidentally, is not optional here). Weighing a claimed 997kg, there are some sharp performance numbers. The Biposto Record’s 0-62mph sprint sits below the six-second mark, at 5.9secs, while its top speed is 143mph. It would likely be higher were it not for the 695’s exceedingly tall shape. Minis look svelte beside this. Does it have three times as much equipment? Erm, no. Quite the opposite. To secure that sub-tonne weight – a rarity in cars of all shapes and sizes nowadays – much has been scalloped out of the interior. No rear seats, no air conditioning, no stereo of any kind… there’s not even any carpets, door trim or proper handles. The Record’s spec is fixed, so none of it can be optioned back in. The ‘less for more’ approach ought to be familiar, though, with everything from Megane and Golfs to 911 GT3 RSs and 458 Speciales offering such an approach. Given how easily an overnight bag or simply excessive clothing would cancel out some of the weight savings, it’s fair to say ditching apparent essentials is as much for pit lane kudos as genuine lap-time losses. Fabric door pulls just scream commitment to the cause. So does it require commitment to drive? By heck it does. Driving it on a particularly balmy British weekend with no air con was illuminating. And clammy. But the wee Biposto asks a lot of its driver in other areas, too; its motorsport-sourced suspension makes the already spacehopper ride of Abarth hatches even more hard work when roads are anything but pristine. It struggles with urban environments to the same degree a regular Fiat 500 relishes them, while on a tight, bumpy British B-road – the absolute heartland of a good hot hatchback – you really need to be alert and on top of things. Use full throttle and its mechanical front differential will tug you in whatever direction the road’s bumps and cambers dictate. It’s an eye-widening experience, and immediately deprives this Abarth of the point-to-point pace small performance cars are meant to excel with. Sounds pretty flawed. Put too much effort into critically analysing the Biposto’s dynamics and it can quickly turn into an onslaught of US TV comedy roast proportions. But Abarth’s take on the 500 has always been like that; a car that amuses because of its imperfections, not in spite of them. This is not a car with the natural agility of a Ford Fiesta ST, but nor would you ever be comparing the two. This is a trinket with an unexpectedly mean edge, and it oozes cult appeal because of that. And there’s something to celebrate in just how much attention it asks of its driver. Climb in most modern hot hatches, and getting places fast is a doddle; a lackadaisical attitude in this will get you into trouble immediately. As such, it’s an enthralling, all-consuming thing to drive quickly.
I’ve still not forgotten the price. Yeah, it’s hard to. Especially when the new Abarth 124 Spider sits under the £30,000 mark. But while Abarth has taken quite a lot out compared to its saner priced 500s (which start at £15k), it’s also put some excellent equipment in. It all wears the car world’s equivalent of designer labels, too: the brakes are from Brembo, the wheels OZ, the tyres are bespoke Goodyears, and the leather, Alcantara and carbon seats from Sabelt. Most immediately obvious of all is the Akrapovic exhaust. Like many of the Slovenian company’s systems (such as in the new Renault Clio RS16) it is not the source of tuneful, sonorous sound. It is guttural and raw; plain angry at idle and low revs, before ferociously rasping as you approach the red-line. It’s even louder for those outside the car. There’s no getting anywhere subtly in this thing, particularly as all 133 Biposto Records are painted bright Modena Yellow, too. What does the ‘Record’ bit refer to? Has it been round the ‘Ring? Nope. We imagine that would be a very intense experience. The name instead marks the 133 speed records held by Abarth, the car initially announced on the 50th anniversary of one of Carlo Abarth’s own from Monza. An acceleration record he set after shedding 30kg of his own weight in preparation for, in fact. If only he was gunning for those honours now: a couple of days in a Biposto in high 20s British summertime would have removed almost that much in sweat. Eww. Move on. Final thoughts on this? If you want a specialised, handling-focused hot hatch, this is not it. Instead seek out a Renault Megane Trophy R or VW Golf GTI Clubsport S for similar outlay. Rather, this is another in a quite long line of plumply priced Abarth special editions which, by all objective measures, make very little sense indeed. But the fact they’re still being produced is testament to the appetite of their target audience. As is the fact that after eight years on sale, the Abarth-honed 500 has changed so little. Mk5, 6 and 7 generations of Golf GTI have all been on sale since its original, 2008 introduction, while two Focus RSs have been introduced and three Renault Sport Meganes have laid down Nürburgring records. If that’s not a sign of enduring appeal, we don’t know what is. Pictures: Adam Shorrock