The Fiat Abarth 124 Spider is something of a mongrel, says Will Dron in The Sunday Times. When Fiat decided it wanted to introduce its first two-seater sports car since the Barchetta of the 1990s, it did a deal with Mazda so it could use the chassis from its new MX-5 sports car. It then clothed that chassis in a new bespoke bodyshell and dropped a 1.4-litre Fiat engine under the bonnet.
Most pundits agreed the result was “a little lukewarm and disappointing”. Abarth, Fiat’s high-performance tuning division, has changed all that. The car is now more powerful and dramatic. It’s less supple and more aggressive than the MX-5, but “comfortable enough to be a daily driver, and through tight and twisty turns the car comes into its own, staying level and composed yet pointy and engaging”.
The secret of the MX-5’s success is its “carefully balanced formula for top-down driving fun”, and it would have been all too easy for Abarth’s tuning to upset this, says Antony Ingram in AutoExpress. But it has actually done a great job, building on Mazda’s success. This is “arguably the best ‘MX-5’ yet”. The steering lacks feel, but “once you’re keyed in to the Spider’s ways”, you’ll have a great time driving it.
The “sweetly balanced chassis” is as sweet as it always was, but “the extra torque means it’s even more exploitable… You’ll quickly start to push harder, get on the throttle earlier and feel the chassis moving around beneath you” and the car “feels fun to drive even at low speeds”. More than £5,000 more fun than the MX-5? Possibly not, says Will Beaumont in Evo. But the Abarth will be a rarer sight on the road and the heritage of the badge goes some way towards justifying the price.
Engine: 1.4-litre, four cylinder, turbo petrol
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Top speed: 144mph