First drive: 2021 Fiat Abarth 695 70th Anniversario in the UAE

First drive: 2021 Fiat Abarth 695 70th Anniversario in the UAE

The current Fiat 500 has been around for a decade now with almost no visible changes. While the car is long in the tooth, the good thing is the sportier Abarth 595 versions are still around. And there is yet another new variant this year in an attempt to keep the model fresh on the unchanging showroom floor. The latest “special edition” is the 695 70th Anniversario (as it is customary for Fiat to rebadge yearly special models as “695”).

The standard Fiat Abarth 595 is offered in the GCC is in optioned-up Competizione trim, complete with dual-zone auto a/c, Beats audio, some premium cabin trim and more. The car looks terrific at first glance, with its fancy wheels, Brembo brakes, rear spoiler and stickers along the sides. It looks as expensive as the Mini Cooper S, but is quite a bit cheaper.

So to stand out from the already-loaded 595, the Abarth 695 70th Anniversario adds a stick-on body kit with wheel-arches, a manually-adjustable rear spoiler, unique all-black wheels and a different bunch of stickers, including a big checkerboard-pattern sticker on the roof that replaces the sunroof. And with these purely cosmetic upgrades, now it costs as much as a Mini Cooper S.

The interior is largely the same as the standard model, with a button-operated automatic gear-selector, a little multimedia/nav/comms touchscreen with a Chrysler-derived UConnect interface, power windows/mirrors, digital gauge cluster, metal pedals and a well-padded handbrake handle. The optional carbon-fibre trim we saw on our previous 595 tester is missing in the 695 though.

However, the previously-optional heavily-bolstered Sabelt sports seats is standard on the 695, with unique leather/alcantara upholstery.

There’s just enough space in the back for average-sized adults, and there’s two extra cup-holders for them too.

However, anyone beyond 6 feet in height is going to struggle to fit in the rear. And anyone wider than a supermodel is going to feel crushed in the racing seats up front.

The front passengers sit almost touching elbows, and the boot space fits only a day’s worth of groceries (and that’s before taking the spare wheel into account as it was missing in our tester). At the least rear bench folds down to increase cargo room.

For something priced at the level of the premium Mini, the 695 is far too compromised. The a/c takes a bit longer to start cooling in the afternoon even in a Dubai winter, and aside from the roofliner and padded armrests, it’s all hard plastics inside. There is basic keyless entry, but no push-start button.

The standard motor remains a 1.4-litre turbo-four crammed into the tight engine bay, making 180 hp and 250 Nm of torque, and mated to an ancient 5-speed single-clutch automatic. The latter continues to have all the negatives of a manual and none of the positives — it takes its time and jerks heavily as it shift between gears. You can shift gears manually with the paddle shifters.

After some initial turbo lag, the engine builds power linearly on full throttle, with a raspy exhaust note that’s louder than the average hot hatch. But it’s one of the slower entries in its price range, with a claimed 0-100 kph time of 6.9 seconds.

The 695 can tackle corners quicker than most performance cars, thanks to its tiny size. You can dive into corners with no obvious body roll or tyre squeal, as the 205-width tyres hang onto the road with ease. It understeers at the extreme limit, but by then you’re already travelling at ridiculous cornering speeds. However, its limits are still notably less than that of the Mini, and you’ll get outrun by the little British-German in autocrosses and on the racetrack.

Oddly enough, it’s the controls we have an issue with. The brakes are expectedly strong, but the pedal feedback is a bit light. And while the steering is well-weighted and offers a bit of feedback, the 695 has a rather large turning circle for a little car. It’s still small enough to park easily and comes with rear sensors, but the ride quality is on the harsher side, and doubly so at lower speeds. At times it feels like being in a shopping trolley rolling down the side of a mountain.

As for the external mods, they don’t do anything. The slightly-wider wheel arches house the same stock tyres, and making the rear wing more upright just adds more wind noise rather than noticeably change any handling characteristics at high speeds.

The Abarth 695 70th Anniversario is quite the cutie to have around as your fun sporty runabout. If the novelty factor trumps the middling performance for you, we would recommend getting the standard 595 now or just wait until the body kit trickles down to the regular models, as is customary with FCA products. We also hear the dealer is running a discount to clear these “limited” special editions quicker, so you may find it to be decent value right now.

For prices and specs, visit the Abarth buyer guide.

Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.

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