Fiat Abarth 124 Spider Quick Review

By Alex Inwood, 17 Sep 2016 Car Reviews

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Fiat Abarth 124 Spider

Take a proven platform, put a turbo engine under the bonnet, let Italians design it, and you get the Abarth 124 Spider.

TELL ME ABOUT THIS CAR

The Abarth 124 Spider is a turbocharged two-seater roadster tuned by the performance arm of Fiat. The Abarth 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5, which is the reigning Wheels Car of the Year, but the Fiat-badged version is more powerful and has a greater emphasis on performance via a firmer suspension and stronger brakes.

STRENGTHS

  • Performance. It might draw heavily from the Mazda MX-5 parts bin, but the Abarth scores unique suspension with Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential and a more powerful, turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 125kW/250Nm. This means it can hit 0-100km/h in a respectable 6.8 seconds, and it feels racier and more focused when the road gets twisty.

Fiat Abarth 124 Spider

  • Handling. Its 1060kg kerb weight might be slightly heavier than the MX-5’s, but the Abarth stays true to its lightweight roadster philosophy. Its firmer suspension means it turns into corners more keenly and the chassis has a nice sense of balance, helped by a 50:50 weight distribution. The brakes are brilliant, too, thanks to a reassuringly firm pedal that’s easy to modulate on the cusp of ABS.
  • It’s affordable. Fiatis yet to drop official pricing, but the Abarth 124 Spider will hit Aussie shores wearing a price tag in the low $40K bracket, putting it in the same ballpark as the range-topping Mazda MX-5 2.0 GT

  • It has more equipment than the Mazda, such optional systems such as blind spot monitoring, adaptive headlights and rear cross traffic alert. The most notable piece of standard equipment, though, is a reversing camera, which is something you don’t get in the MX-5.

  • It sounds sporty. Unlike the MX-5 that can sound a little underwhelming on start-up, the Abarth 124 fires into life with a deep-throated bark. The secret to this stirring soundtrack is the Abarth’s quad exhaust pipes. However, if you really want to dial the 124’s noise up to 11 - and trust us, you do - you can also option an even louder Monza exhaust.

Fiat Abarth 124 Spider interior

WEAKNESSES

  • There’s no reach adjustment on the steering wheel. This sounds like a minor complaint, but it’s something that compromises your driving position and by extension, how you interact with the car. It’s more of an issue for tall people, who either sit too far back to accommodate their legs, or cramp themselves by sliding forward to reach the steering wheel.
  • It’s not as pure as the Mazda MX-5. It’s not as simple or as paired back as the Mazda, with the Abarth’s turbocharged engine changing the two-seater’s personality. Where the MX-5 comes alive high in the rev range as you ring every last drop of performance from its aspirated engine, the Abarth feels more muscular, even lazier. This makes it a more relaxing car to drive everyday, but slightly less rewarding when driven hard.

ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?

The obvious rival is the Mazda MX-5. In terms of price and performance, the more powerful 2.0 GT MX-5 variant is the closest competitor, but you should also consider the cheaper 1.5-litre MX-5 which remains a brilliant sportscar and costs a full $10K less than the Fiat. Toyota’s 86 and the Subaru BRZ are also worthy rivals and deliver affordable, rear-drive thrills, however neither have a convertible option.