2018 Abarth 124 Spider Review
Isaac Bober’s 2018 Abarth 124 Spider Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: Mazda MX-5 derived Abarth 124 adds plenty of sugar and spice to the recipe to deliver a very tasty roadster.
2018 Abarth 124 Spider
Price $41,990+ORC (manual); $43,990+ORC (automatic) Warranty three years, 150,000km Safety Not tested Engine 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol Power 125kW at 5500rpm Torque 250Nm at 2500rpm Transmission six-speed manual; six-speed automatic Drive rear-wheel drive Dimensions 4054mm (L); 1740mm (W); 1233mm (H); 2310mm (WB) Turning Circle Not stated Spare fix&go kit Boot Space 140 litres Fuel Tank 45 litres Thirst 6.4-6.6L/100km
WE’RE ALL PRETTY FAMILIAR with, I’m sure, the back story to Fiat leveraging off an arrangement with Mazda to use the MX-5 to broaden its product line-up and launch the Fiat 124 – which we don’t get here. Now, that machine might look different to the MX-5 but underneath the metal they’re almost identical.
So, imagine how happy we all were when Fiat said it was letting its performance arm, Abarth, loose on the Fiat 124. Meet the Abarth 124. Okay, this isn’t a first meeting; we’ve already driven the Abarth 124 earlier in the year but I’m a selfish sod and last week was my first opportunity to drive the thing – if only for less than 200km. And I’m oh so glad I did.
What is the Abarth 124?
Well, if you go off the press guff, you’ll be told the Abarth 124 is, “Australia’s ultimate performance roadster, offering best-in-class power and performance combined with stunning Italian design”. And that’s a reasonably accurate assumption.
And let me play my cards early… the key changes the Abarth brings over the Fiat 124 and the MX-5 donor car elevate the thing beyond its Japanese starting point. And the fact the Abarth 124 is only marginally more expensive than the MX-5 ($41,990+ORC Vs $39,890+ORC for the 2.0 GT) makes you start to wonder why you’d bother with Mazda’s offering (cue the hate mail).
Now, the Abarth 124 might be built in Hiroshima, Japan, by Mazda, but the “Italian” car (which was allegedly styled by a team that new the dimensions of the MX-5 but hadn’t seen the design of the latest iteration before they began designing the 124 and so every panel is different) receives a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder which is smaller than either the 1.5 or, obviously, 2.0-litre engines in the MX-5. But, the Abarth 124 offers both more power and torque than Mazda’s engines and while it might only be an extra 7kW (125kW at 5500rpm) there is, more importantly, an extra 50Nm of torque (250Nm at 2500rpm) being punched out in the Abarth 124.
But there’s more to the Abarth 124 than power and torque along but it was worth mentioning that it’s also faster to the legal limit than the most powerful MX-5 variant. As befitting its name, Abarth has added some goodies missing from the Mazda, most noticeable is a sports exhaust, Brembo brakes and Bilstein suspension as well as a limited slip differential available across both manual and automatic variants; Mazda only offers an LSD on the manual MX-5.
What’s the interior like?
If you’ve seen inside a Mazda MX-5 then you’ll know exactly what to expect from the interior of the Abarth 124. Because, while the exterior has been tweaked heavily, the interior is largely identical. The 124 mixes things up with its leather and microfibre seats and leather wrapped steering wheel and unique design gear shifter featuring red contrast stitching (Recaro seats are cost-optionally available). Like the design of the gear shifter, the instrument cluster is unique to the Abarth 124, but that’s about it.
Whether this tarting up of the cabin is enough to differentiate it from an MX-5 will be down to the beholder. But, for me, the cabin, as it is in the MX-5, is a great example of how a sports car’s interior should be crafted. Mostly.
You sit down nice and low in the car with everything else up high around you, giving the sense of being hunkered down in the belly of the beast, the seats providing enough support but not so much that getting in and out becomes a health hazard. But, resting your elbow on the centre console is likely to see you bump the rotary dial for the infotainment, there’s minimal steering wheel adjustment and the cup holders are utterly useless and only end up getting in the way and, if you’ve got a 500ml water bottle in one, it’ll absolutely fall out under hard braking.
The weather wasn’t the best when I drove the 124 and so I left the roof up. That said, I’m reliably informed that dropping or raising the roof only takes around 10 seconds and is an automatic process now with the driver only having to press a button.
The infotainment system is Mazda’s 7.0-inch unit and while it’s okay, it lacks the features of systems you’ll find in cheaper cars. It offers native sat nav which did a good job of getting me un-lost when I took a wrong turn on my way to Melbourne Airport, but I really would like to see Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity added; but Fiat/Abarth can’t be blamed for that.
What about the boot? There’s a whopping 140 litres of storage space or, if travelling one-up, you could also use the passenger seat. There’s no spare, only a fix&go kit.
What’s it like to drive?
The Abarth 124 gets a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 125kW at 5500rpm and 250Nm of torque at 2500rpm. And, while that doesn’t sound like much it’s good enough to hurl the 1100kg Abarth 124 to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds. But that’s not the real story.
Now, I only got time behind the wheel of an automatic-equipped Abarth 124 and before you start rolling your eyes at the thought of an automatic sports car, let me tell you that via the flappy paddles – and I’m not usually a fan of these things – this thing is properly fun. And its in-gear punch is very impressive. Indeed, it’s certainly punchier, once rolling, than either the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ and the MX-5. And that peak torque is available from just 2500rpm means this thing can grunt its way out of a corner easily and, might I add, with plenty of verve. So, this is an engine that you can lean on then, and that it sounds grumbly and growly always is icing on the cake.
The Abarth 124 has been tuned for a firm ride; a firmer ride than you get in the MX-5 and while, across broken surfaces, it can feel a little jiggly I never experienced the scuttle shake I’ve heard others moan about and can only assume they were driving across the sort of roads you wouldn’t normally drive a roadster on. Moving on.
The firm ride means that the Abarth 124 feels properly hunkered down in the corners with sublime body control and minimal body roll through corners. There’s none of the weird mid-corner body weight shift you get in an MX-5 as it settles on its springs, and the grip levels on the slippery roads I drove across and even the, ahem, dry roundabout I hurled the thing at showed grip levels to be incredibly high. This isn’t the sort of twitchy little roadster that’ll try and swap ends on you when you fart. That’s not to say it isn’t playful, it is, although I merely scratched the surface in my short drive… we’re planning a longer test shortly.
What about safety features?
The Abarth 124 hasn’t been tested by ANCAP or EuroNCAP and gets the basics including a standard reversing camera, airbags, traction and stability controls, active pedestrian protection, and LSD. The cost-optional Vision Pack adds adaptive front headlights, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross path detection.
So, what do we think?
The Abarth 124 is aimed squarely at drivers. Sure, it shares a lot with its sister car, the Mazda MX-5 but there are enough very important differences that make it feel very different from the Mazda and, in my opinion, better than the MX-5.