Ciao bella

It’s oh so chIc. But Is It any good?

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Motoring -

When you first clap eyes on an Abarth 695 Ri­vale con­vert­ible, you’ll think: “Well, I’ve cer­tainly got to have one of those.” It doesn’t mat­ter whether you earn a liv­ing de­liv­er­ing rock­ets to the launch­pad in Kaza­khstan or soil to gar­den cen­tres in north Wales, you will be so con­sumed by its looks, you’ll spend all night con­vinc­ing your­self that it’s just the job.

At three in the morn­ing you’ll sneak down­stairs to see how much it costs, and you’ll be on the phone to a dealer by eight. I get all that. When my test car was de­liv­ered, I hadn’t even climbed in­side be­fore I was think­ing of why I needed a small Ital­ian runaround in my life.

Painted in a nau­ti­cal mix of dark blue and metal­lic grey, the 695 Ri­vale is sup­posed to pay homage to the Riva boats we all covet so much. That’s why the in­te­rior has the op­tion of a ma­hogany pack, to give you a sense that you’re fer­ry­ing Clau­dia Car­di­nale from Le Club 55 in St Tropez to her yacht on an Aquarama. All very clever, but if you’re go­ing to cre­ate a homage to a Riva, why call it a Ri­vale? That’s en­gIne: aBarth 695c rI­Vale

1.4-litre turbo-petrol four-cylin­der (132kW/250Nm) Av­er­age fuel 6.3 litres per 100km


Five-speed au­to­matic, front-wheel drive like As­ton Martin do­ing a spe­cial edi­tion called a Sun­seekle. More un­der­stand­able is the scor­pion badge. Abarth is to Fiat, its owner, what AMG is to Mercedes. It’s the skunkworks that adds the chill­ies. So this car looks like a Riva and goes like a scalded cock.

But you won’t be think­ing about any of that be­cause you’ll have no­ticed that, at the touch of a but­ton, the whole roof and the back win­dow folds away to cre­ate what is nearly a proper con­vert­ible. That’ll be the clincher. You’ll buy one.

And it’ll be a ter­ri­ble mis­take, be­cause, ooh, this is a hor­ri­ble car. The first prob­lem is that it’s ac­tu­ally a Fiat 500. That was quite cute when it was in­tro­duced to Ed­ward VII. But the cute­ness has been some­what un­der­mined by the knowl­edge that its un­der­pin­nings were also used to make the Lan­cia Yp­silon, the Ford Ka and the Fiat Panda.

You prob­a­bly think I’m be­ing ob­tuse and that noth­ing can de­tract from the buzzy charm of the lit­tle 500 and es­pe­cially its titchy and charis­matic two-cylin­der en­gine. Well, sorry to re­lieve my­self all over your retro bon­fire, but that twocylin­der en­gine was dropped a while ago be­cause it didn’t re­ally work. The prob­lem was that it had been billed as a bril­liant way of sav­ing fuel, but it didn’t. Not re­ally. It didn’t mat­ter where you drove it, or how slowly: it al­ways re­turned 7.2 litres per 100km, which in a lit­tle car such as the 500 wasn’t good enough.

To­day the 500 uses a four-cylin­der en­gine, and the 695, which is also a 500, ob­vi­ously, is no ex­cep­tion. It’s a 1.4-litre T-jet Abarth unit, which pro­duces a fab­u­lous noise from its car­bon-tipped ex­haust sys­tem and 132kW. That’s quite a lot. It means you’ll get from 0 to 100km/h in less than seven sec­onds and that flat-out you’ll be do­ing about 120km/h.

Abarth says it will do 225km/h, but I’d like to meet the man who achieved this, be­cause he must have tes­ti­cles like so­lar sys­tems. Yes, the car is fit­ted with big-name Koni sus­pen­sion, but I found the whole thing so bouncy and fright­en­ing that I didn’t dare break the mo­tor­way speed limit at all.

There’s an­other prob­lem. Be­cause the metal roof is gone, there’s only a strip of can­vas hold­ing the body to­gether, and it’s not enough. In the olden days con­vert­ible cars such as the Saab 900 and the Ford Es­cort XR3i had what’s known as scut­tle shake, but modern tech­nol­ogy means it’s no longer an is­sue. Ex­cept in the Abarth, where it is. It gen­uinely feels as if the car’s not con­nected up.

None of this will be ap­par­ent in town, so if that’s what you want the car for, fine. How­ever, there’s one prob­lem. The seat­ing. The seats look lovely and are richly up­hol­stered in fine leather. How­ever, they of­fer the sup­port and com­fort of milk­ing stools. I know that Ital­ians do not suf­fer from obe­sity but even a size-zero clothes horse in Mi­lan would strug­gle to get both her but­tocks onto the squab at the same time. If you’re fat, it would be like sit­ting on a wash­ing line.

To re­cap, the 695 con­vert­ible is wob­bly at speed, and bouncy and hard to drive un­less you’re used to wear­ing a thong. Also, when I went out one night with a male friend, we had to get the roof down and play George Michael loud on the stereo, be­cause why fight it? It’s what ev­ery­one as­sumes any­way.

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