Driving the sporty Italian take on the Mazda MX-5
The Abarth 124 Spider is a car derived from the Fiat 124 Spider, which itself is derived from the Mazda MX-5. Confused yet? It’s a bit convoluted, but all you need to know is that this is potentially the hottest, most focused version of all three, with bespoke performance development from Fiat’s in-house tuning arm.
It builds on the rear-drive chassis shared by both models, and fits an even more powerful version of the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine used by Fiat (Mazda prefers non-turbo engines). There is a price to be paid for this, though – literally: the Abarth 124 Spider is the priciest version of all three models.
Power is up to 168bhp, for 0-62mph in just 6.8 seconds. Once you’re past the slightly annoying initial turbo lag, the engine performs really well, and the snappy six-speed manual gearbox is also a delight – far preferable to the optional automatic.
We generally like the noise it makes in everyday use, but it does seem strained at high revs and it drones too much at lower revs. Up the speed and wind noise drowns it out, which isn’t a particularly satisfying way of solving the issue, and if you’re tall, be prepared to have your hair rearranged when the roof is down: wind blast is significant.
The roof itself isn’t electrically operated, but it’s easy to flip up and down – you can even do it from the driver’s seat. The interior is pretty roomy for two, and there’s a decent infotainment system, although some of the scratchy plastics that are acceptable in the Fiat and Mazda are less acceptable in the pricier Abarth. The boot is awkwardly shaped and small: just 140 litres. Make sure your bags are squashy.
The suspension has been tuned so there’s less body roll than in the Fiat and Mazda. Impressively, this doesn’t seem to have spoiled the ride. A standard limited-slip differential gives it great bite out of corners and on twisting roads, it’s a very engaging machine, albeit a rather frenetic one when you push it harder: the stiff suspension can send it scurrying around.
It’s also strangely disappointing on a track. You’ll have much more fun in the regular, sweeter Mazda MX-5.
As mentioned it’s pricier than both the Fiat and Mazda, which places it alongside some pretty tasty competitors. An Audi TT Roadster doesn’t cost all that much more, for example – a car that’s roomier, better quality and cheaper to run. At least fuel economy is OK, with better economy than the most powerful MX-5. It’s built in Japan too, so has the same robust quality as the Mazda.
Overall though, we think it’s a step too far. The Abarth is fun, but it’s too expensive for what it offers, and unless you’re looking for something standout and rare, we’d recommend saving your money and going for the cheaper Fiat 124 Spider or Mazda MX-5 instead.