Thursday 17th May 2012

Driven: Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari

Ferrari is well known for branding up any old bit of merchandise it thinks it can flog to its fans, Abarth 500s included

First seen in 2009, 'gifted' to Ferrari team drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa (don't they look chuffed...) and drawing a tenuous link between Abarth's proud sporting past and the fact Ferrari is part of the Fiat empire, the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari is a curious little beast.

Chin up boys and think of the pay cheque
Chin up boys and think of the pay cheque
Launched to great fanfare in 2010 as a highly exclusive take on the Abarth 500 theme, by August last year Fiat had in fact taken orders for nearly 1,700 examples. So not actually that exclusive. And less so now there's a Maserati branded version too. And somewhat pricey, at over £30K. Hot hatch exotica for the discerning petrolhead or brand prostitution in the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi league? PH got its hands on one to find out.

The predictable truth of the matter is it's more Ferrari inspired than Ferrari built. Not that there's anything wrong with using the Ferrari name to your advantage, but Fiat has asked big money for what is essentially a bog-standard Abarth 500 1.4-litre turbo that's had a bit of a tickle to produce another 20hp for what the spec sheet coyly describes as "over 180hp".

Ferrari badges, but that's where it ends
Ferrari badges, but that's where it ends
Mmm, stripes...
In the metal there is an unmistakable sense this isn't any ordinary 500 after all. Firstly, it's been given a Scuderia Red paint job with a de rigueur dollop of racing stripes, extra venting in the bodywork, carbon door mirrors and a set of 17-inch Corsa Grey alloy wheels. Springs and dampers are 'strengthened' to handle the mighty power and front disc diameter increased to 284mm and gripped by four-pot Brembo calipers to keep it all in check. There's also a variable pressure 'Record Monza' exhaust which, just like a proper Ferrari (OK, not a lot like a proper Ferrari...), increases with volume as the revs rise, in this case beyond 3,000rpm. To further justify the price there are Sabelt leather-clad seats, branded aluminium pedal trimmings and, just behind the steering wheel, shift paddles for the Abarth five-speed semi-automatic Competizione gearbox.

All in all then, it appears to be a serious-looking tool and the smartest Fiat 500 you'll ever likely to sit in.

The only nod for the gearbox is when you shift
The only nod for the gearbox is when you shift
Starting it up, and the 1.4 T-Jet engine wakes-up with a glorious raspy noise. Selecting the gears is either via the manual mode (a la the flappy paddles) or simply leave it in auto and let it do its own thing. And here's the problem. It's hard to like this gearbox. There's an unacceptable time lag between gear changes - more prevalent in auto - and as the Competizione transmission snatches the next cog there's a neck-snapping jolt. In effect, you end up driving around the gearbox, feathering the throttle to avoid having your head ripped off your shoulders. Which ruins any sense of fluidity in the driving experience, which is a shame because once you learn to tame the transmission there lurks a very competent little car.

Designer labels
The engine is torquey enough and readily rasps up to its redline (marked on Jaeger dials, natch), which is good news for acceleration - 0-62mph time is "under" seven seconds - although it does seem to run out of puff beyond 90mph (achieved in a different location from the photos of course - Ed.), which is well below its published top speed of 139mph. The ride is super stiff, which is all well and good if you happen to be ragging a hot lap out of it, but for everyday driving it does become a little irksome. Overall there's feistiness in this car that makes you want to forgive its awful gearbox though.

Proud badges united in ... marketing
Proud badges united in ... marketing
There were only ever 152 right-hand drive models destined for the UK, and most of these have now been sold. With that said, if you do fancy owning one there are still a few unregistered 695s about, but you will need to be act quickly. Alternatively, you could always save yourself a wad of cash and buy a red Abarth, have it chipped and stick a Ferrari badge on the side. Which, after all, is what Fiat did in the first place.



Thanks to Joe Macarifor the loan of the car.

1,368cc turbo 4-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed automated manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 180@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 185@3,000rpm
0-62mph: 7sec
Top speed: 139mph
Weight: 1,070kg
MPG: 43.4mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 155g/km
Price: £29,600

Photos: Max Earey

Author: DannyCobbs

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Last comment was by Gizmoish
on 21st May 2012