Go­ing Posto

Fiat’s pocket rocket is mad­ness on four wheels — which is why it’s so ap­peal­ing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

BONKERS is the word that works for the Abarth 695 Bi­posto.

It’s a bonkers lit­tle car, so stripped out, pared down and tightly fo­cused that it has only the two seats that pro­vide its Ital­ian name.

The Bi­posto is the ul­ti­mate Fiat 500 and the bonkers crazi­ness in­cludes non-syn­chro rac­ing gear­box, per­spex side win­dows, matt grey body­work, lash­ings of car­bon-fi­bre in the cabin and gi­ant (rel­a­tively) brakes and wheels.

Even what’s miss­ing adds to its ap­peal — air­con, rear seat and even door han­dles are ab­sent. Air vents are fixed, to cut the weight of ad­justers.

It’s hard to imag­ine why any­one would want a Bi­posto, es­pe­cially at a min­i­mum of $65,000 with the po­ten­tial to spend well in ex­cess of $80,000. Un­til you drive it.

It’s the anti-Camry, so wildly alive that it forces you to drive it. Ev­ery gear change in the “crash” box is a ven­ture into the un­known, the turbo power comes on hard and fast, and the cabin quickly be­comes a hi-tech sweat­box even with on a 22de­gree Mel­bourne day.

“The peo­ple who have bought the Bi­posto love it,” says Fiat Chrysler Aus­tralia mar­ket­ing man Zac Loo.

So far, there are 13 Bi­posto lovers and more still who have seen the car and want one. The sup­ply from Italy is ex­hausted al­ready.

The most bonkers item is the “dog ring” gear­box, a five-speed man­ual with no syn­chro­mesh to ease the changes. It’s the sort of thing you usu­ally only find in full-on race cars, or a gi­ant old­school truck.

It’s beau­ti­fully an­odised and chromed, its shift mech­a­nism a gen­uine work of art, just as the rest of the car is gor­geously trimmed in car­bon-fi­bre that’s unique to the car.

And that’s say­ing a lot, when Abarth has al­ready worked up Maserati and Fer­rari “trib­uto” mod­els.

At the heart of the Bi­posto is the same tweaked 1.4-litre turbo four as those cars — mak­ing 140kW/250Nm and driv­ing the front wheels — and the sort of body bits you ex­pect on a race replica road car.

“It’s the true essence of the Abarth brand,” says Loo. “It’s a crys­tallised ver­sion of the brand, in its her­itage and rac­ing.”

Abarth fans re­call the hot rod ver­sions of the orig­i­nal 500 back in the ’60s, which were eas­ily iden­ti­fied by boots propped open for en­gine cool­ing. Fiat Chrysler Aus­tralia also raced to a class win with an Abarth at the Bathurst 12-hour in 2014.

ON THE ROAD

The scant time I have with the Bi­posto is more than enough. I’d been a co-driver at Bathurst.

I set­tle into the race-tight bucket seat and have a ten­ta­tive try of the dog-ring gear­box.

This car is much bet­ter fin­ished than the Abarth at Bathurst but it’s still a full-on speed ma­chine.

Abarth says it will rip up to 100km/h in 5.9 sec­onds and it feels that way as I give it full throt­tle and dash through the gears. The trick is to change hard and fast on the up­shifts, then be su­per-care­ful to match the revs to the lower gear on down­shifts.

Get it right and the lever goes snick-snick be­tween gears, but there are times when it goes graunch­ingly wrong. A lov­ing owner will ad­just rel­a­tively quickly but I’d want to be mates with a rac­ing gear­box spe­cial­ist for long-term peace of mind.

The car at­tracts plenty of at­ten­tion in traf­fic and in the ab­sence of au­dio there’s plenty of time to think and play.

So I blast up and down the gears, hun­ker through cor­ners — where it grips in­cred­i­bly well — and gen­er­ally be­have like a six-year-old with a new BMX.

The Bi­posto is not quite as raw and noisy as the Bathurst racer, nor is it an ev­ery­day com­muter. And own­ers will re­ally need to get track time to dis­cover what it can do.

I park the Bi­posto and re­turn to re­al­ity, in the form of a Camry hy­brid taxi for the grind back to the air­port.

I don’t have the dol­lars or garage space for a Bi­posto, the sort of car ev­ery­one should drive once in their life. I don’t just like the bonkers lit­tle crit­ter, I love it.

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