TEST DRIVE – Abarth 124 Spider
I’ve become a bit of an Abarth fan after a recent trip to Italy. I was supposed to be going out there for a few days with the new 124 spider, but sadly the car wasn’t ready for some reason so I took a 595 turismo instead. I went all over Italy from the Stelvio pass to Pisa to Maranello. I’d always liked the look of the hot little hatch but not so much to drive. But this time as soon as I got home I traded my personal Mini Cooper S for one, that’s how much I fell for it.
But now, finally they have a 124 Spider available for me to drive and I’m scared that my wallet is going to take another bashing if I fall in love with it.
The standard Fiat 124 looks great, but Abarth didn’t muck about when they got their hands on it. Our car was in white with a flat black bonnet and boot lid with black wheels too. It has such an aggressive and purposeful look that even the uninitiated will know it’s going to be good.
The dash is half leather and suede with red stitching. The rev counter is bright red and there is a red stripe on the top of the steering wheel. Little touches like that give me a bit of a quiver.
It’s not exactly breaking news that the 124 is based on the Mazda Mx5. The platform is sent over from Japan, Fiat have a fiddle, then hey-presto an all new car!
With the Abarth things are not that simple. Abarth take 124 and throw a fair chunk of it away and replace it with better stuff, like sporty Bilstein dampers and a nice limited slip diff. They give it an aggressive little facelift and now you really do have a proper contender for an MX5
It has the 1.4 multiair turbo engine that you will find the little 595, tuned up from 138bhp to 168bhp. That still doesn’t sound like much, but the car is so light and nimble, the power is more than sufficient. But if you’re not happy, these multiair engines are very tuneable so 200bhp isn’t out of the question if you have a little money to spend.
The gearbox is a 6 speed manual, but there’s no gear stick, it’s automated and uses flappy paddles, and to be honest, it’s crap, especially so in full auto mode, it’s very easily confused when pottering around town. It’s better when you give it some stick and use the paddles, but not better enough for me.
If you’re a proper driver you will be pleased to know there is a stick shift manual. It’s a 6 speed (Mazda) box with close ratios and allows you to seriously enjoy the work Abarth have done on this car. It’s a hoot with the proper gearbox.
The 1.4 Turbo has the same issue that it has in the 595 models, the lag. You need to keep the revs up or you’ll get frustrated, you notice it more if you’re feeling sporty on a very twisty road, day to day it would be fine. But otherwise it’s a cracking little power unit with plenty in the mid range to keep you smiling.
The layout inside is brilliant. My little 595 isn’t the most comfortable car in the world, but this 124 is great. You feel very cosseted in it and everything is where it should be. Your arms rest beautifully on the tunnel when changing gear, the steering wheel is chunky and not too big and the handbrake is bang on right, and not electric, it’s a real proper one so you can be a car park hooligan if you’re feeling childish.
It’s not cheap, prices hover around £30k for a nice model but you should easily get over 40mpg regularly. Co2 is 148g/km. Remember though that a 2 litre MX5 will be about 7k cheaper than this. Can you put a price on proper Italian-ness? Well yes, it’s about 7k. Would you pay it? I would