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Abarth 695 Biposto 2014 Road Test

Fiat’s new Abarth 695 Biposto promises drivers a track car that can be used on the road – but does it deliver? Well, on paper the answer has to be yes. Performance is keen with 0-62mph taking less than 6.0 seconds, while the car tips the scales at less than a tonne.

There’s even a racing-spec dog ring gearbox for hard and fast changes. There is, however, a catch – one of these will set you back at least £32,990. And even more if you want this bonkers hatch to go racing in.

As it costs well over ten grand more than the top-spec Abarth 595 Competizione, what do you get for your money. Well it's more a case of what you don't get. Gone are the fog lights, radio and the air-con, while also missing are the back seats and the interior door handles. Oh, and you can have the 695 Biposto in any colour you like, as long as it’s matt grey.

There are plenty of racing flourishes, but you’ll need to decide whether or not they justify the price. On your way to the office in stop-start traffic, you’ll be snug and secure in the figure-hugging bucket seats and firmly strapped in with the garish red four-point racing harness. Don’t worry about your helmet – that’s stashed securely in the rear cargo net, next to the bread you needed to pick up from the shop. Still, at least you got out of taking the kids to school as you’ve ‘only got two seats.’

Fiat has made sure that this mad Abarth looks the part. The ultra light OZ rims and body kit with wider wheelarches and side skirts set the car off a treat. While the front bumper and rear spoiler have been redesigned to maximise air flow. Inside there’s plenty of carbon fibre, while outside the hole for the aerial is sealed with a milled aluminium cap wearing the 695 logo. Fancy. It even comes with some sporty decals but, er, you have to apply them yourself.

Abarth 695 Biposto (10)

Under the bonnet is where the car really earns its – wait for it – racing stripes. The turbocharged 1.4-litre T-jet engine now delivers 250Nm at 330rpm and – drumroll please – 187bhp at 5500rpm. How? Improved breathing and bolting on a bigger turbo. Simple.

You might expect all this to add up to a Fiat 500 that had been possessed by a manic, feverous, Italian spirit, but in truth the extra horses are all completely useable with the power delivered in such a smooth, progressive fashion you almost forget you're in a racer. You can’t even hear the engine. There’s no shove in the back as you get going and keeping the engine on the boil needs very little work, especially if you keep that ‘sport’ button depressed and opt for the dog ring gearbox.

And it’s this gearbox where the 695 really shows off its racing pedigree, both literally and metaphorically speaking. For the first five minutes I just sat in the car ogling the gator-less turret – it’s either a thing of great beauty or the automotive equivalent of a pair of incredibly tight leather trousers. Probably a bit of both. What does it do? The gearbox basically means you don’t have to use the clutch for upshifts, if you get the shift right.

So the Abarth 695 Biposto is sheer lunacy and a total waste of £33k, right? Well, no. It has been designed as a road car for the race track and can trace its lineage to the Trofeo Abarth series racers. So it’s out here at Italian race circuit Autodromo di Varano where the car starts to make sense, especially with the dog ’box.

It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve got the knack it’s very rewarding. Gun the engine until you’re nearly at the limiter, take a deep breath and with a strong hand bang it into the next forward gear. You mustn’t pause, and you mustn’t hesitate otherwise you’ll spend the rest of the lap recovering and you’ll need a plaster for your ego. It’s brutal, and a bit like driving a hopped up classic Mini with its straight-cut ’box, only without the whine. The dog ’box, though, is optional and costs £8500.

Abarth 695 Biposto (11)

Yep, that’s right - £8500 for the dog ’box. And that’s not the only performance option, either. Have a seat and help yourself to an espresso while I run through the options list. If you want the Lexan polycarbonate door windows, then that’s another £1775. Plus the aluminium bonnet (and a few other bits) for £2990. Oh, and don’t forget the carbon pack: £3770. That’s £17,035 for that little lot, plus £32,990 for the car. A grand total of £50,025.

Out on the track, you’re inspired by rev-happy engine – from its lumpy idle to its monstrous exhaust note at full chat, it’s a hoot all the way from 3000rpm to 6500rpm. The huge Brembo anchors haul the car up, allowing you plenty of time to set the car up and turn in. The electro-mechanical steering feels good, but it’s only when a judder of torque steer that violently shakes the wheel that you realise it might not be quite as good as you first thought.

It’s out on the public road that the 695 reveals its biggest surprise yet. You'd expect it to be spine-rupturing crashy. As nail-bitingly fidgety as a smoker on a jury duty lock down. About as relaxing as watching a Tory MP call a police offer a pleb. In other words, a total pain to live with. But it really isn’t, especially with what Fiat mechanics affectionately call the ‘bitch’ ’box (that’s the normal gearbox to you and me).

It’s quite a pleasant little car with a decent ride, much nicer steering than the rest of the range and enough oomph to get you round a crawling caravan on a B-road. You could happily marry it, settle down and have a few kids. Not quite the 4am, falling out of a nightclub with a page three model, headline-grabbing dalliance I was expecting.

So there you have it. The Abarth 695 Biposto. It’s bonkers, tremendous fun and comes with a stick-on grin as standard. But even with all those racing touches, it’s still a £50k small car. And if you really want a small car for track-day duties and extra-curricular out-of-office entertainment, then I’d suggest spending a quarter of the list price on a classic, rust-free Mini Cooper and a few tasteful improvements.

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