The fastest and most powerful of the extended Fiat 500 range comes in the shape of the feisty 695 Biposto.
Revealed at the Geneva motor in 2013, the pumped-up three-door hatchback is being pitched as an entry-level track day car. And with a raft of performance-enhancing developments taken from the Assetto Corse race car, it promises a truly hardcore driving experience.
Created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Abarth 695, the stripped-out two-seat Biposto is available in right-hand-drive guise, with a starting price more than double that of the standard Abarth 500 at an eye-watering £33,055.
Power hails from a heavily reworked version of Fiat’s 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol engine found in the other Abarth 500s. Drawing on developments brought to competition versions of the Abarth 500, such as a new Garrett turbo, larger intercooler and Akrapovic exhaust system.
The Euro 6-compliant unit delivers 187bhp at 5000rpm, endowing the 695 Biposto with 54bhp more than the original remake of the Abarth 500, but only 45bhp more than the facelifted version. It drives the front wheels, with buyers able to choose between a standard six-speed manual, which operates in combination with an electronically controlled differential lock, or an optional race-bred five-speed dog ring gearbox from the Abarth 500 Assetto Corse racer, which is mated to a mechanical limited-slip differential.
Maximum torque varies according to the gearbox; with the standard six-speed manual there is a nominal 184lb ft, while the five-speed dog ring gearbox gets a stronger 199lb ft – both developed at 3000rpm in sport mode.
At just 997kg, the Abarth 695 Biposto is 233kg lighter than the DS 3 Racing. This endows it with a power-to-weight ratio of 188bhp per tonne, giving the Biposto a 25bhp-per-tonne advantage over the most powerful DS 3.
The standard Abarth’s MacPherson strut and torsion beam suspension has been comprehensively reworked to cope with the added reserves. Included are significantly firmer springs, adjustable front dampers and more resilient bushings. As well as being adjustable for ride height within a 20mm window, the suspension also allows the front rebound rates to be altered.
An additional 5mm of offset either side has also brought about a 10mm increase in track width, both front and rear. The 18-inch OZ wheels come shod with 215/35 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres. The brakes have also been revised, with 305mm Brembo discs and four-pot calipers up front and 240mm discs with single-pot calipers at the rear. It is the same set-up used on the Tributo 695 Ferrari.
Abarth’s new performance hero is an aggressive looking machine – more so in the metal. Its appearance builds on the look of the Tributo 695 Ferrari and Maserati with new carbon-fibre inserts for the lower section of the front bumper, side sills and substantial rear diffuser – the latter of which is described as being fully functional at speed rather than just for show.
Further styling changes include body-coloured cladding within the wheel arches, carbon fibre door mirror housings, a prominent spoiler mounted within the upper section of the tailgate and a pair of industrial-grade chrome tailpipes. As part of an extensive range of options, buyers can also specify the 695 Biposto with a unique aluminium bonnet and plexiglass windows.
Step inside and you discover a stark-looking interior that has been pared back in a weight-saving program that has netted a 38kg saving in kerb weight over the standard Abarth 500. Gone are the rear seats, standard door inserts, air conditioning unit, radio system and a good deal of the sound deadening material, and as it is a track-day special expect equipment to be relatively sparse.
As with the exterior, polished carbon fibre abounds throughout. Abarth has also given the 695 Biposto new pedals, tread plates and a sturdy strut brace across the rear of the cabin – all fashioned from titanium. The clear highlight, though, is the aluminium mechanism of the optional dog ring gearbox.
The deep shell-style racing seats offer plenty of lateral support but are mounted rather high due to a decision to provide them with manual longitudinal adjustment instead of mounting them directly to the floor. Tick the right option boxes and you also receive proper four point harnesses, an FIA-approved fire extinguisher and a comprehensive data logger.
A turn of the key and press of the starter button unleashes a rorty blare from the oversized tailpipes. First gear engages with an audible metallic clack as the ratio is engaged. The 695 Biposto pulls off cleanly with impressive flexibility at the lower end of the rev range. However, its engine needs some coaxing with your right foot before it really begins to provide the sort of shove you expect of a car flaunting serious track pretensions.
Once you’ve got it percolating beyond around 3000rpm, there is a clear lift in performance as the turbocharger spools up with full force. Keep it pegged and the Biposto operates with real fervour and conviction, hauling to the 6500rpm redline with great enthusiasm and a wonderfully raspy exhaust note.
More than the engine, though, it is the optional open-gate race gearbox that really moulds the car’s on-track character. Endowed with a tall shift lever perfectly positioned a hand's width away from the steering wheel, it channels the engine's reserves with fabulous speed, making the five-speed unit the clear choice for anyone who intends on using the Abarth for track duties.
The Biposto is claimed to hit 62mph in just 5.9sec, or a full two seconds faster than the standard Abarth 500, in dry conditions. Given the responsive nature of its engine and low kerb weight, this feels about right. However, we do have some reservations about its ability to successfully get the power down and stave off wheelspin away from the line in the wet.
On a smooth surface, the 695 Biposto boasts the sort of handling composure you expect of a car produced with track work in mind, offering reasonably sharp turn-in, impressive body control and fabulous structural solidity. Its racing genes are evident in the determined way it changes direction, resists lean and can be made to attack kerbs around a circuit.
The electro-mechanical steering is weighty and imparts a direct feel in Sport mode, although it sometimes feels artificially springy returning to centre and with all that power going to the front wheels it is often corrupted by a sudden tug of torque steer when you stamp on the throttle at the exit to corners.
At the limit, the 695 Biposto is very sensitive to throttle inputs – at least in the wet. Get on the power too early and understeer builds; lift off suddenly and, without an anticipatory correction of your line, the back end will swing around in no time at all. You need a smooth driving style to extract the best from the chassis, feeding in throttle slowly and then easing off on the entry to corners.
The standard suspension is also very stiff. On public roads you feel every little surface imperfection. This in itself is no criticism. No one expects a car like this to offer real comfort. But on badly pitted roads it can spoil the fun; one brief lapse in concentration and you’re thrown off line with such intensity at speed that it takes a dab hand to ensure you don’t end up in the scenery.
The party-piece gearbox is an £8500 option, and if you add extras like the race harnesses, polycarbonate windows, carbon fibre dash bits and an aluminium bonnet, you're looking at a £50,000 Fiat 500.
Still, as Abarth's sales attest, there are plenty of potential customers willing to stump up substantial sums for the company’s latest products. And, if form holds true, this latest take on the modern-day 500 will be no different for well heeled customers with money to burn.
While there is plenty to recommend the 695 Biposto as a track car, its everyday appeal is rather limited – not least by its firm ride, which spoils its otherwise convincing dynamic ability on public roads. If we were going to spend over £30k on a track toy, there are a stack of Caterhams we'd choose ahead of this.