Fire-breathing new Abarth 695C Rivale is a hardcore hot hatchback
Abarth's latest Fiat 500-based hot hatchback is one of the most special yet. Tom Wiltshire takes it for a spin...
What is it?
This is the Abarth 695C Rivale, a tiny hot hatchback made up of an eclectic set of ingredients. The base is, of course, a Fiat 500, but it's been not so much breathed upon but fired out in a fit of sparks out by specialist tuner Abarth.
It's now a hardcore hot hatchback with a rock-solid ride and impressive performance... so of course, what it needs now is a makeover inspired by luxury powerboats, a retractable soft-top roof and a Nappa leather interior.
Performance and racing-specialist Abarth is owned by Fiat's parent company, and mostly specialises in hot Fiats. Its logo features a stylised scorpion on a red and yellow background with the three colours of the Italian tricolour sitting discretely between the scorpion and the company name.
There's a serious aesthetic makeover here. There's a two-tone paint finish with grey underneath and deep blue above, separated by a bright blue pinstripe.
Inside sees blue leather upholstery, and a choice of a carbon dash or a seriously eye-catching wooden finish.
There's also a remarkably loud Akrapovic exhaust system, so you'll never be able to leave a gathering discreetly ever again.
What's under the bonnet?
Under the tiny bonnet lies a tiny engine - a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which produces an impressive 178bhp. Put to the ground through a five-speed manual, it's capable of 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 140mph. Those are remarkable figures for something no bigger than a standard city car.
The engine's not exactly a refined performer. Take-off is fairly rapid, but keep your foot planted and you'll be met by turbo-lag followed by a squirming steering wheel as the power kicks in and the front wheels struggle to put it down to the road. The five-speed gearbox is ideally situated high up on the dash.
Of particular note is the Akrapovic exhaust system. It's loud enough in standard mode, but flick it into Sport and you won't believe the racket that comes from this tiny car.
It's made even better in our 695C cabriolet version - you can put the roof down and enjoy the blare.
Again, it's far from refined, but it's a really fun touch and makes revving the tiny engine out rather intoxicating.
What's it like to drive?
Big wheels, a tiny wheelbase and rock-solid suspension mean the Rivale isn't what you'd call comfortable. It tends to skip across bumps in the road rather than absorbing them, though the excellent front seats with their long squabs help alleviate the ride and make long journeys more bearable.
Of course, this car isn't intended as a cruiser, but on a back road, it's an absolute hoot. The steering, engine and tendency to get out of shape in faster corners mean it's nothing like as civilised as a Ford Fiesta ST, though one could argue it's almost as fun.
Keen drivers will swing one of two ways - they'll either find it rather dynamically lacking or they'll forgive its foibles for the sake of excitement.
How does it look?
The Fiat 500's dinky proportions wear the steroidal Abarth makeover remarkably well, as it always has done.
Unlike most Abarths, though, this one isn't covered in decals and painted in bright colours - instead, it wears a superb two-tone grey and blue paint scheme with a bright pinstripe round its equator.
Thin-spoked silver wheels and gratuitous applications of Abarth's famed Scorpion badge complete the picture on the outside, while the interior sees a gorgeous blue leather interior colour scheme clash slightly with a choice of two dashboard ambiences - carbon fibre effect or mahogany.
It's all part of the 'Riva' makeover - aiming to give the Rivale some of the style of the famous Italian powerboats.
What's it like inside?
It's far from roomy in here. Where other city cars succeed in carving out space from every spare inch, the Rivale doesn't.
In terms of cabin storage, there is at least a decent glovebox and four dinky cupholders for your espressos, but that's about it.
Well, accommodation for the front passengers is good, with comfortable seats and plenty of leg and headroom, though the narrow Fiat 500 cabin means you'll be brushing shoulders. The rear is a different story, not suitable for tall people. The boot is small, too, as you'd expect in a city car.
It's characterful, though - mainly thanks to the Rivale touches, which include blue leather seats, a carbon-fibre dash and gorgeous blue leather floor mats. Yep, gorgeous floor mats.
You will find an upgraded version of Fiat's Uconnect infotainment system, which can now handle Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus electric windows and climate control.
There's no cruise control available, and its headlights are halogen units - xenons are an optional extra.
The Abarth is a purchase you make with your heart. It's noisy, cramped, and somewhat thirsty. In fact, to be gentle, it's as daft as a box of frogs - but that's the fun of it.
For many, the Abarth's sheer sense of silly fun will get under their skin, and they'll find it irresistible.
The Rivale is limited to just 350 units in the UK - 175 each of hard-top and convertible.
And if it's not for you, there's the rest of the brilliant Abarth 595 range to consider, all based on the Fiat 500, including the basic 595 (from £15,980), and the increasingly sportier Trofeo, Turismo and Competizione models.
There's also the 595C convertible model starting from £17,980. The 695C Rivale is essentially the fire-breathing pinnacle of the 595C convertible range.