By Nauman Farooq
It is fairly easy to fall in love with a car like the Fiat 124 Spider. It marries Italian good looks and charms with Japanese build quality and reliability – after all, it is a sister vehicle to the Mazda MX-5.
While the 124 Spider and the MX-5 are built in Japan, by Mazda, the two have quite different powertrain components. Whereas the Mazda utilizes a naturally-aspirated motor, the Fiat gets a smaller displacement (1.4L) turbocharged engine, and a different manual gearbox (which actually comes from the older, NC generation of the MX-5); so the drive feel between the corporate twins is very different.
I tested a 124 Spider about two years ago, when it was first launched, and quite liked it. Many of you have shown a similar like for this model, as it is currently the best selling Fiat model in Canada.
However, the model I had previously tested was the more luxuriously appointed Lusso trim, time now, to check out the Abarth.
Car enthusiasts will know the name Abarth – which was established in 1949 and used to make the craziest, high performance variants of Fiat models. Fiat bought Abarth in 1971, and has used the name more as a trim package rather than a heavily reworked model with much greater performance capabilities.
Such is the case with the 124 Abarth versus the 124 Classica and Lusso models – the differences are quite subtle. Yes, the Abarth version has different bumpers and wheels, but no big spoilers or wheelarches. Under the hood lies the same engine, but in the Abarth version it produces an extra four-horsepower, for a total of 164 hp. Torque remains the same between all 124 models with 184 lb-ft. That extra power is hardly going to get noticed, but what differs is rather skin deep!
You see, only the Abarth version gets a limited-slip differential – so now it slides much more predictably. To further aid handling, the Abarth version also gets Bilstein performance suspension front and rear, and a strut tower brace – in short, this is the 124 you want to tackle twisty roads or a racetrack with.
The Abarth version also gets a “Sport” mode selector – which trust me, makes a big difference as the car feels much more reactive to your throttle input.
What I really enjoy is the fact that the Mazda MX-5 and the Fiat 124 Spider offer a very different experience, which is uncommon whenever platform sharing occurs! Take the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ for example, these two cars not only look identical, but also have an identical driving feel. In the case of the MX-5 and the 124 Spider, not only is the body completely different, but thanks to their different drivetrain, the driving experience is also vastly different. The Mazda feels more enthusiastic, much more likely to spend its weekends at autocross events! The Fiat is more relaxed, and would be happier on road trips! The little turbocharged motor is good fun on the highway – just leave it in sixth gear and put your foot in, wait for the boost to build up in the turbocharger, and you will soon pick up speed to pass slower moving traffic. Thanks to the torque of the turbocharged motor, you don’t need to shift down a few gears to build up speed, making it a much more relaxing driving experience.
Adding to that relaxed driving feel, is the 124’s interior, which while largely based on the MX-5, offers different seat bolstering and a red tachometer – I like that.
I also liked my fuel bill at the end of the week, because despite all the fun I had with the 124 Spider Abarth, I still managed to average 9.0 L/100 km.
I do wish the pricing was a bit better though! The 124 Spider Abarth has a base price of $37,995. My very well equipped tester stickered at $48,980 (plus destination charge, dealer fees, and taxes). For this kind of money, most people would want something bigger, with more cylinders – but that would be missing the point of the 124 Spider! This is not a numbers car -after all, it takes about 6.8 seconds to go from Zero to 100 km/h, and top speed is drag limited at 219 km/h- but its joy lies in how it makes you feel, and everyone who drove it, said it feels great! A friend of mine, Jeffrey Williams, who is known for liking cars with big power, big noise, and high performance numbers, laughed at the 124 Abarth when we met up, and didn’t really care about driving it. But, after I took him for an hour drive, he was smitten, and didn’t want to get out of the driver’s seat.
Fall has started, and that means sports cars -especially soft-top convertibles- will soon be hiding in garages, but that also means there will be great deals on any remaining 2018 stock, so if you want to make the most of 2019, I suggest you start shopping for your sports car now!