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Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari 2011 Review

It's a serious go machine and that's where a lot of the price money goes.

SEVENTY thousand dollars is a fearsome amount of money to pay for a car the size of a Hyundai Getz. Yet there are 40 Australians who have done just that, and as many as 100 could eventually put their money down for the fastest car in the Fiat 500 family.

But don't call it a 500. Officially the $70,000 Fiat is called the Abarth 695 'Tributo Ferrari' and everyone involved in the project - from Ferrari and Abarth to Australia's Fiat importer -wants you to know that this is a serious speed machine.

I get the picture the second I walk behind the little chrome yellow beastie and spot the four-pipe exhaust system. It looks like it should be hung from the back of a Ferrari, or on the wall in an art gallery, and is clearly designed to free plenty of turbocharged horsepower from somewhere in the front end of the tweaked-and-tizzied 500.

The exact number is 132 kiloWatts and that translates into a 225km/h top speed and a 0-100km/h sprint in less than seven seconds. So this is not your average Fiat Bambino.

VALUE

There is no logical reason to pay $69,990, plus the inevitable on-road costs that really put the 695 Tributo into the $75,000 range. This car is all about passion and pose value. It's a city toy for people who have a real Ferrari in the garage, but don't want to risk it in the bump-and-grind of weekday working traffic.

Aston Martin is doing a similar thing with the Cygnet - a Toyota iQ minicar that's been through a Dr Doolittle-style transition into the upper classes - but at least the Fiat is more than just a show car.

It's a serious go machine and that's where a lot of the money goes in transforming a car that could have started life as a 500 1.4 at $28,990 in Australia. The engine won't even fit in a regular 500. But there is also big spending on things like Sparco racing seats, real carbon fibre trim, big wheels and tyres, and nice leather.

TECHNOLOGY

The key to the Abarth-Ferrari transformation is the 1.3-litre T-Jet turbo, which is tweaked in all sorts of ways, from extra boost to the exhaust. It is bolted to a single-clutch robotised manual gearbox, well behind the latest twin-clutch systems but still with five gears to shift with a touch on the paddles behind the wheel.

There is a sport button that puts an extra 20 Newton-metres of torque into the mix, up from 230 basic, and there is a type of launch system built into the traction control. Inevitably there is sports suspension, upgraded Brembo brakes and 17 inch alloys.

DESIGN

There is giant Abarth badge on the nose and a 695 Tributo Ferrari badge on the side, as well as that exhaust, to lift the visual impact  up and beyond any other Fiat 500. It's not as dramatic as you might expect - even though the headlamps are also changed and there are dozens of detail tweaks - unless you park it alongside a lesser Fiat.

The other work went in the cabin, so people who have paid so much car see the leather, carbon trim, great seats, special pedals and even the lever-less shift system they bought. The 695 Tributo also comes with a special set of fitted leather luggage and a fitted car cover, all by design and not any sort of accident.

SAFETY

The basic Fiat 500 is a five-star car and that should be the same rating for the 695 Tributo. In fact, it is better because the driving dynamics are better and that means more chance of avoiding a potential mishap. As you would expect, there are seven airbags, ABS brakes and ESP stability control.

DRIVING

The first few kilometres are in sombre Sydney traffic and I wonder about the thump-thump harshness of the ride, the slow robotised gearshifts, the exhaust drone and the contrast between the gorgeous carbon fibre add-ons and the basic black plastic trim on the doors.

But then the road clears and goes twisty, I tickle the Sport button and go manual on the changes, and the Bambino goes ballistic. Suddenly I discover the first - whisper it - Fiat 500 that I genuinely enjoy driving, and enjoy even more than the RenaultSport models in the Megane lineup. It's a car that really goes, really feels wrapped around you, and really shows its Abarth heritage and links to Ferrari that amount to just a badge.

It has plenty of punch, tenacious cornering grip, and great brakes. It's a balanced package and, despite a bit of turbo lag, it's a car that wants you to play. And the sound. There hasn't been this much pop, bang, crackle and fizz since the early-model Subaru STI, and that makes it even more fun. 

That's the point, I guess. If you own a Ferrari you'd be locked away for a long time if you used the car to play the way you can in the Bambino, because it would be going over-the-top fast. But this car is fun in a usable way, and the package is well   engineered, very well finished, and reflects the talents of the people who put it together. Now, if only it was $25,000 cheaper . . .

VERDICT

This is definitely not just another Fiat 500. It's a genuine pocket rocket that delivers delicious driving enjoyment. Is it worth $70,000? Not to me. But I don't have a Ferrari 458 Italia in the garage.

Pricing guides

$19,640
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$16,400
Highest Price
$22,880

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Tributo Ferrari 1.4L, PULP, 5 SP AUTOMATED MAN $16,400 – 22,880 2011 Abarth 695 2011 Tributo Ferrari Pricing and Specs