Abarth's firecracker

hot hatch

Abarth 695 Rivale, front
Abarth 695 Rivale, front
Abarth 695 Rivale, front
Abarth 695 Rivale, front
Abarth 695 Rivale, rear
Abarth 695 Rivale, rear
Abarth 695 Rivale, interior
Abarth 695 Rivale, seat detail
Abarth 695 Rivale, rear seats

THE young man in what he thought was a fast Ford Fiesta had been sitting about six feet off my rear bumper for a couple of miles.

He was oblivious to the danger, looking all around and smoking cigarettes with one hand on the wheel, so I had to drive extra safely for both of us - to make sure he didn't thrutch into the back of me if I had to brake suddenly.

Then, as so often happens, the road ahead cleared. I was ready with a quick down change and the little hooligan of an Abarth 695 Rivale roared away and left him wondering where I'd gone.

I turned off a little while later, but I didn't see him again - even in my mirrors.

The 695 is at the top end of a series of cars from Abarth based on the diminutive Fiat 500 city car but with added attitude.

The 500 looks neat and sweet, while the Abarth looks pumped up as if it's been working out with steroids.

In the early days of the 500, back in about 2012 I think, it was available with a 1.4-litre engine.

Now though, while the biggest engine in the standard cars is the 1.3 diesel, the 1.4, with added turbo, is reserved for the Abarths.

To refine this cracking little car further, the Rivale is a special edition of the 180bhp, 595 Competizione and just 350 are to be built, inspired by boat builder to the stars Riva, which is celebrating its 175 anniversary.

As well as the amazing powerpack under the bonnet, lucky buyers get two tone grey and sea blue paintwork plus satin chrome door handles and detailing.

They also get a delightfully rorty and addictive exhaust system with massive twin tailpipes, excellent Brembo brakes like a Ferrari and suspension tuned by top damper makers Koni.

Moving inside, there are touches of carbon fibre everywhere and blue leather sports seats that are not made for the larger posterior.

In a car weighing a few kilogrammes over a thousand, the 180bhp firecracker under the bonnet fairly reels in the horizon.

Floor the accelerator from rest and 62 miles an hour comes up in just 6.7 seconds, after some scrabbling for grip by the not insignificant sprayed on tyres.

The power keeps coming as you change up the gears, and although the continued urge doesn't diminish, it feels quite linear after the initial kick in the back.

The result is genuine enjoyment, with tremendous verve and brilliant response.

This is backed up by tremendous Brembo brakes to keep everything in check, and by crisp, nimble handling and excellent grip.

The steering is sharp and while it doesn't feel quite as focused as the Peugeot 208 GTi , it's not far behind.

The Rivale gets a clever electronic aid called Torque Transfer Control that automatically brakes the inside front wheel when accelerating through a corner.

This tightens the car's line and allows higher speeds through bends. However, I found the wheels occasionally still scrabbled for grip when accelerating out of a corner.

Standard equipment is very upper crust - as you would expect - with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto operating through Fiat's U-connect entertainment and information system, sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth, aux in and USBs.

It also has plenty of airbags, stability control, big alloys, climate and rear parking sensors.

It is not perfect. Taller drivers will struggle to find a comfortable driving position, and the sporting suspension combined with big wheels and ultra low profile tyres makes for a pretty hard ride


Price: £23,745

Mechanical: 180bhp, 1,368cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 140mph

0-62mph: 6.7 seconds

Combined MPG: 40.9

Insurance Group: 34

C02 emissions: 158g/km

Bik rating: 35%

Warranty: 3yrs/100,000 miles


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