Skoda RS230 Abarth 124 Spi­der

Noo­dles with Bolog­nese sauce, any­one?

Motor (Australia) - - FIRST FANG - by JEZ SPINKS

Skoda stuffs the Golf GTI Per­for­mance me­chan­i­cals in a cheaper, more prac­ti­cal body

AF­TER YEARS of slightly bonkers city cars – with out­ra­geous pric­ing in Trib­uto or Bi­posto guises – Fiat’s tun­ing team must have soiled their over­alls in ex­cite­ment when they learnt they would get a proper sports car to work on.

It would have been sooner if the 4C hadn’t been handed in­stead to a des­per­ate Alfa Romeo, but at least an ironic twist sent the 124 Spi­der the op­po­site way af­ter Fiat Chrysler de­ter­mined it was okay for a Fiat/ Abarth, but not an Alfa to wear a

Made in Ja­pan la­bel.

With the reg­u­lar Fiat ver­sion ig­nored lo­cally (at least for now), the Abarth drop-top’s RRP is a bit higher than an up­per-spec ver­sion of the MX-5 on which it’s based, though a $43,500 drive­away deal squares it up al­most iden­ti­cally once you fac­tor in the Mazda’s on-roads.

This is no badge-split­ting ex­er­cise as with the Toy­ota 86/Subaru BRZ twins. The fun­da­men­tal ar­chi­tec­ture, wheel­base, wind­screen frame and fold­ing soft-top roof sys­tem are all shared, though the 124 rolls off Mazda’s Hiroshima assem­bly line with unique body pan­els that make it slightly longer and wider. And visu­ally tied to the 1966 Fiat 124 Spi­der.

Or you can mimic 1972’s ho­molo­ga­tion-fo­cused Abarth 124 Rally by pay­ing ex­tra for the bon­net and bootlid to be painted matte black – though you’ll prob­a­bly be grate­ful the sec­tions re­main metal rather than copy the fi­bre­glass of the orig­i­nal. Fiat Aus­tralia has yet to de­ter­mine pric­ing for this op­tion, though it could be costly. Mazda wasn’t able to fac­tor the con­trast­ing paint into its pro­duc­tion run so any 124s or­dered with it have to go via Italy first.

Be­yond the ex­te­rior, the Ital­ian road­ster then adds racier ele­ments such as ‘Abarth by Bil­stein’ mono­tube dampers, four-pis­ton Brembo brakes up front, stiffer anti-roll bars, me­chan­i­cal LSD on both man­ual and auto gear­boxes (man­ual only on the MX-5), and a front strut brace across the en­gine bay.

And un­der that brace is a com­po­nent Mazda con­sis­tently re­fuses to add to fac­tory MX-5s: a turbo. The tur­bocharger is part of Fiat’s triedand-trusted Mul­ti­air 1.4-litre four­cylin­der, which here de­vel­ops 125kW and 250Nm to out­num­ber the 118kW and 200Nm of the big­gest-en­gined MX-5, the 2.0-litre.

It hardly turns the Abarth into a straight-line devil. With its add-ons in­evitably adding ki­los, the pow­erto-weight ra­tio ad­van­tage over the high­est-spec MX-5, the 2.0 GT, is just 118 v 114kW per tonne.

A 0-100km/h quote of 6.8 sec­onds isn’t far ahead, and it too would be well beaten by a com­pa­ra­bly priced hot-hatch.

The 1.4-litre does pro­vide a key dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in char­ac­ter, though. With more torque pro­duced at al­most half the revs – 2500rpm – there’s hand­ier flex­i­bil­ity in ev­ery gear, sim­pli­fy­ing ev­ery­day driv­ing.

Drive harder, as is al­most manda­tory in such a car, and you can also carry higher gears through cor­ners, while team­work from the torque and au­tolock­ing diff shove the Spi­der out of apexes with pur­pose.

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