Skoda RS230 Abarth 124 Spider
Noodles with Bolognese sauce, anyone?
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.