"One of my best friends is called Audrey. Audrey is French and being French, it won’t surprise to you to learn that she lives in a place called Paris - a tourist resort famous for its massive spiky tower "
500 miles in an Abarth 695 – A good idea?
Would you take a tiny hyperactive car on a grand tour?
It’s 11pm. North Devon is in the middle of a pretty nasty storm, and in the dark, wind, and icy-cold rain is a lanky figure attempting to stuff his luggage into the back of a little Abarth 695.
Yep, that person is me, and that person has had the incredibly foolish idea of driving to Paris only around an hour ago. Three hurriedly packed bags, a Euro driving check-list, and a hastily chosen Chunnel ticket later, and things were just about ready to go.
Of course, my little Abarth 695 isn’t really made to do this sort of thing. It’s not a GT, it’s not even close to being so. What it is, is a supermini stung by the Scorpion – the husk of a Fiat 500, pinched by tuning division Abarth, and firmed, stiffened, and toughened up. Its speciality is relatively short blast down the country roads around Devon – the starting point – not multiple centuries of miles on motorways. Nevertheless, in order to find out just how bad long-distance travel in an Abarth is, the experiment would be undertaken.
The first part of the journey involved getting from my native North Devon to Folkstone – home of the World’s filthiest service station… and the Channel Tunnel. The little 695’s navigation told me it would take around five hours or so, but some extra time had been allowed for getting sleepy, needing a coffee, or stopping to top up the rather teeny 35-litre fuel tank – which in theory would still get me 300-miles or so of range.
The first 100-miles or so of driving was more like surfing. Mother Nature had chucked so much H2O at the surface of the road that in many places aquaplaning was unavoidable, and this was made more problematic by the high winds which the upright little 695 reacted to with some surprise. It was perhaps best that these challenging conditions happened in the first part of the journey, as driving in weather like that while feeling fatigued would have been a dangerous cocktail.
Once the conditions eased up a bit in the middle portion of the UK, the first signs of being uncomfortable were showing. You have to be a certain shape to really fit perfectly in an Abarth, the steering doesn’t adjust for reach, and there’s no lumbar support. Thankfully, I’m roughly the right sort of shape. At least, that was my thinking before commencing such a long drive. Lower back pain was going to be the issue here, and to lessen the throb of the mighty Akrapovic exhaust system, I was having to Bluetooth Queens of the Stone Age at a pretty hefty volume. This helped me smash through all the way to Folkstone though. Carefully avoiding the service station, I made my way to the Chunnel. It was now about 5:30am. Time for a quick nap.
Quick it was too, as a tourist unfamiliar with the way the tunnel works wanted to ask for some advice. Total nap time was therefore 20 minutes. After the familiar train-on, train-off hop under the sea it was time to press on with getting to Paris – around 300 of those European ‘kilometre’ things. The lovely thing about those km’s is that they tick down faster than our miles, so you feel like you’re travelling further than you actually are. It was however now becoming increasingly uncomfortable in the car.
The 695 XSR is much more an upgraded Turismo than it is a Competizione, so the leather seats and high levels of equipment make this about as comfortable as one of these pocket-rocket gets. 500-miles later,my knee hurt from hitting the plastic under the wheel, my back ached, and my head throbbed from a combination of QOTSA’s thumping tracks and the Akrapovic system.
Is it really a good idea to travel 500-miles in an Abarth 695 then? Well, no, it really isn’t. It isn’t cut out for this sort of thing – despite cruising nicely at motorway speeds. That being said, I am pretty proud of actually doing it. It’s not an insulated bubble of comfort and ease like most modern cars. It has five gears, it’s loud, it’s not that economical, and it’s compromised. However, it’s full of spirit and now it’s here in Paris it’s easy to say it’s one of the cooler cars on the streets of the City of Light – small, nimble, naughty, and loud.
Despite obvious shortcomings, adventuring in your own car still feels special, and now I’ve got a taste for it…
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