Abarth 124 Spider (2016-2019) Review
The Abarth 124 Spider builds on its Fiat counterpart but throws in an additional layer of performance thrills.
Strengths & weaknesses
- Fun on track and the road
- Distinctive styling
- Exhaust note sounds dramatic
- Expensive: a Mazda MX-5 is £10,000 less
- Poor automatic gearbox
- Cramped interior for taller drivers
The Mazda MX-5 has long been one of the most fun - and most affordable - sports cars with its engine at the front and power going to the rear wheels. It's exciting to drive fast but easy enough for less experienced drivers to manage and the less-than-mighty engines - which lack the enormous power of pricier sports cars - enable the driver to use more of the car's capability - safely and legally - on the road, without having to blast up to licence-losing speeds.
Fiat quite clearly agrees, because it has borrowed the basic mechanical kit from the MX-5 and manufactured its own version of the affordable, fun rear-wheel-drive sports car formula, the Fiat 124 Spider.
To confuse matters further, Fiat also handed its 124 Spider over to the company's tuning division, Abarth, which has given it a more hardcore sports car makeover. This means the suspension has been tweaked for an even more engaging drive, there's a mechanical 'limited slip differential' - which provides improved grip when cornering at speed - a noisier exhaust and a glut of Abarth-branded scorpion badges and bespoke design touches.
This extra dose of sportiness is noticeable as soon as the ignition button is pressed. The four exhaust pipes bark into life and settle into a deep, throaty note at idle. The manual gearbox slots tightly between gears and is satisfyingly weighty, while the upgraded suspension firms up the ride and improves the way the 124 Spider takes corners no end.
The overall feeling is that the Abarth 124 Spider builds on what the MX-5 offers but throws in an additional layer of performance thrills. The engine note is more theatrical and the track-focused bolt-ons mean drivers can push the car harder.
For those wanting the Abarth styling without the engaging drive, a six-speed automatic gearbox is also available. Prices for this started at well over £30,000 when new, but be warned: it's dimwitted, takes an age to shift gears using the steering wheel-mounted paddles and certainly blunts the razor-sharp performance of its manual counterpart.
No matter the gearbox choice, the Abarth 124 Spider stands out from its Fiat and Mazda siblings with a neat black bonnet and boot lid stripe, LED headlights and rear spoiler, while the interior receives a smattering of fake suede, leather and additional scorpion badging.
Additionally, all UK models receive a seven-inch media system, which is controlled via a neat rotary dial on the centre console, with digital radio, Bluetooth phone pairing and USB ports for charging phones and tablets on the move. Navigation is an optional extra.
Clearly, there are compromises to be made when opting for a car of this nature. Boot space is limited to just 140 litres, there's barely enough room inside for a small bottle of water and road noise insulation from the fabric roof isn't the best at high speeds.
It's also pricey. At around £30,000, the Abarth was more than £5,000 pricier than the top-of-the-range Mazda MX-5 and over £6,000 more than the Fiat 124 Spider in luxurious Lusso Plus trim.
However, for those wanting limited edition Italian looks, a hairy-chested exhaust note and the track-focused additional extras, the Abarth 124 Spider is a seriously appealing prospect.
|3 years / unlimited mileage
|Tax (min to max)
|From F (£145 per year) to G (£185 per year)
Understanding Abarth 124 Spider names
Engine 1.4 Turbo MultiAir
The Abarth 124 spider shares the same engine as Fiat's version, which is a 1.4-litre turbocharged 'MultiAir' unit that is also found in the most potent 500 models.
Gearbox 6-speed manual
6-speed shows that the car has six gears. A standard manual Abarth spider is available but an additional £2,040 buys a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Abarth 124 Spider Engines
1.4-litre MultiAir Turbo
Just one engine is available and that's the 1.4-litre MultiAir that can be found in both the Fiat 124 spider and the hottest versions of the Italian company’s 500 hatchback. Abarth has tweaked the unit slightly so it develops 170hp and an extra 10Nm of torque over its Fiat sibling and it's more than enough to provide belly laughs on the open road.
There's little in the way of turbo lag and the relatively small 1.4-litre unit belies its footprint and provides plenty of shove to get the vehicle hurtling along the tarmac.
This is largely due to the fact that Fiat's tuning arm has saved mass wherever possible, meaning the 124 spider's power-to-weight ratio is an impressive 6.2kg per horsepower. The result is a car that can sprint from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds, which is a whole second faster than its Mazda counterpart.
On top of this. the Record Monza exhaust provides an entertaining soundtrack of pops and bangs, which sounds even better when the sun shines and the fabric roof is lowered.
0 - 62mph
1.4L Turbo MultiAir
Abarth 124 Spider Trims
Abarth 124 spider
Thanks to the Abarth 124 spider being a more potent version of Fiat's offering, it comes as standard with plenty of additional stylistic flourishes, doing away with the need for escalating trim levels.
All cars receive 17-inch alloy wheels, an unmistakable Record Monza exhaust system, the aforementioned mechanical limited-slip differential, Abarth racing seats and one solid metallic colour as standard - San Marino Black.
Two pastel colours - Costa Brava Red and Turini White - cost an additional £400, while metallic Isola D'Elba Blue and Portogallo Grey cost £600.
Customers can also add a nine-speaker premium Bose sound system for £795 and satellite navigation at a cost of £420.
Finally, a Visibility Pack adds automatically levelling LED headlights and auto washers. Those headlights also become dusk sensing, the washers can automatically sense rain and Abarth throws in rear parking sensors at a total cost of £1,250.
Abarth 124 Spider Reliability and warranty
The three-years/unlimited mileage warranty is fairly standard across the industry but Fiat's reputation for reliability has never been its strong point.
Fiat also languished towards the bottom of the 2016 Auto Express Driver Power Survey, while the Mazda MX-5, on the other hand, scored an impressive 96.84 average for reliability.
Used Abarth 124 Spider
The Abarth 124 spider is too new to properly analyse its performance on the used car market but the fact that it will sell in relatively limited numbers, especially compared to the more popular Mazda MX-5, will likely ensure that residual values remain strong.
This is good news for those looking to retain a good chunk of change when it comes time to sell the lively sports car but not so good news for anyone looking to pick up a used bargain.
If big savings are top of the shopping list, then we advise looking at the Mazda MX-5 instead. The sheer number of cars on the used market means that prices remain low, while their reputation for bulletproof reliability means even high mileage models can provide many more years worth of B-road giggles.