From racers to roadsters: spotlight on Abarth cars

Happy belated New Year! Now that the holidays are well behind us, I, James, car-boy extraordinaire, am getting back to my regular ramblings about all things car. Now, that’s a New Year’s Resolution I can definitely stick to. This week I’m spotlighting the makes, models and marvels produced by Abarth – definitely a brand all car fans should explore.

Where does Abarth fit in the garage of dreams?

All car-lovers have a dream garage in mind, right? Here’s mine:

  • The obligatory hypercar – we’re talking Veyron / Pagani / Koenigsegg territory here – for when 220mph just isn’t quite enough. But I still need time to adjust to the concept of the Porsche 918, the Ferrari LaFerrari, and the McLaren P1, because they’re all hybrids and so technically related to the insipid Prius.
  • A BMW M5 estate so I can do 200mph on the German autobahn while carrying a piano in the boot! (OK, I’m kidding: I do not, and never have, owned a piano.)
  • A gorgeous roadster for open-top cruising – maybe a Jag F-Type, or a Mazda MX-5.
  • And a powerful supermini: a Fiat 500 Abarth to be my friendly, park-anywhere, narrow-street-drivable pocket rocket.

So, I had a somewhat major panic attack when I recently browsed the Fiat website and saw that the Fiat 500 Abarth had disappeared! Thankfully, it just turned out to be a branding sleight of hand, much like Citroen’s splitting off of the DS brand. The Fiat 500 Abarth is alive and well, albeit as the Abarth 595 (and its wackier cousin, the 695).

So, what’s Abarth?

Like Ashower but quicker! OK, jokes aside, Abarth is a brand with a long and successful history in both racing and roadster cars. Originally founded as a racing team by Carlo Abarth in 1949, they made their name in the 60s, competing in various disciplines including hillclimbing and sports car racing. Their contemporaries included such giants as Ferrari and Porsche.
Eventually, as is the way with racing teams, they diversified into road cars, albeit initially just producing tuning kits. This kicked off their long term relationship with Fiat, who took over Abarth in 1971 and used it as their in-house racing department, with particular success in rallying.

Various Fiat Group road cars were developed in the following years which sported the Abarth badge, including a few cheeky Fiats which weren’t actually developed by Abarth. Perhaps the least deserving use of the Abarth name was for a cosmetic upgrade on the 90s Fiat Cinquecento, a vehicle with about the same street cred as Del Boy’s Robin Reliant. There was only one ironically cool Cinquecento ever sold.

In 2007 Abarth was split into a separate company by Fiat Group, finally paving the way for pure Abarth-branded models.

What can I drive today from Abarth?

The Abarth 595 (plus convertible variant Abarth 595C) and Abarth 695 are Fiat 500-derived models which use Abarth’s tuning skills to turn a cute and stylish little cheeky chappie into a more menacing little tornado, ranging from quite fast to stupidly fast, depending upon your budget.

The base 595 model has a plentiful 140hp, propelling it to 60 in under 8 seconds, and onto 127mph should roads and laws permit. It’s also a bit of a bargain at just £14.5k brand new. £18k will get you the 595 Turismo with another 20hp, which cuts the 0-60 time by half a second. Topping out the range is the 595 Competizione with yet another 20hp taking us up to 180hp, and a grin-inducing 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds, yours for £20k.

Now, if you want something *really* special with even more grunt and attitude, and a strong hint of track day car, the 695 Biposto is what you’re looking for. Abarth describe it simply as ‘the smallest supercar’. This aggressively reduces weight (goodbye rear seats) and bumps the power up to 190hp, giving a magical 0-60 time of under 6 seconds. You can have any colour as long as it’s ‘Matt Performance Grey’. The base model doesn’t come cheap at £33k, but then this a halo model, not a regular hot hatch. And if you’re getting a 695, you can do it properly with some seriously hardcore optional extras. These include polycarbonate racing windows (a first in a road car), bucket seats with proper four-point racing harnesses, and even more carbon fibre – you can never have too much.

The ultimate 695 add-on is the dog-ring gearbox, at an ‘enthusiast’ price point of £8,500. James May could fill an entire six-part series with this technology, so I’ll summarise: these racing gearboxes offer extremely fast and aggressive gear changes compared to regular road car syncho-mesh gearboxes.

Bring it on!

I want one. You want one. So whether you’re after the sensible £14.5k base Abarth 595, or you’re going for the maxed out race-spec £50k Abarth 695, head on down to your local Perrys for an ogle and a test drive. And good news: Perrys’ new Aylesbury showroom will be expanding to make room for Abarth in February. See you there!