Abarth’s new 124 Spider has X-factor
Abarth’s new roadster succeeds in offering a very different driving experience to the Mazda MX-5 on which it’s based. By David Linklater.
Mazda has stuck to its guns with the MX-5 for a quarter of a century: not too much power, not too much grip. Delicate, not dramatic.
The MX-5 is one of the world’s sweetest sports cars and of course everybody knows it can handle more of everything. Mazda is keenly aware of that, but it’s always left the tweaking to the aftermarket.
Think of the new Abarth 124 Spider as the world’s most sophisticated MX-5 upgrade, then. As you’ll no doubt know, the latest MX-5 was a joint venture between Mazda and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). What the division of labour was, nobody will say. I’m guessing FCA wrote a big cheque and Mazda did what it does best: engineer an awesome sports
FCA has its own version of the MX-5, called the Fiat 124 Spider. We don’t see that in New Zealand, but we do have something better: the Abarth version, from Fiat’s official tuning arm.
Word of warning: don’t believe any vague insinuations from Fiat’s marketing department that artisans at Abarth’s head office in Italy lovingly craft the 124 Spider into a performance roadster by hand. Just like the MX-5 and standard Spider, the Abarth is built in Japan by Mazda.
It does have plenty of FCA hardware, though. No body panels are shared (only the windscreen header is carried over). The Abarth has an FCA 1.4-litre turbo engine with MultiAir technology making 125kW/250Nm, or 7kW/ 50Nm more than the Mazda’s SkyActiv 2.0-litre.
The six-speed manual and automatic transmissions have different ratios to the Mazda. The Abarth is 50kg heavier than the MX-5, but still faster to 100kmh: 6.8 seconds versus 7.3.
The Spider rides on stiffer suspension than the Mazda, with Bilstein shock absorbers, Brembo brakes and an old-school mechanical limited-slip differential. A chrome quad-tip Abarth sports exhaust is standard, with the option of the so-called Monza dual-mode exhaust for more volume.
Here ends the lecture about Japan and Italy. Because we’re here to evaluate the finished product, not the R&D politics.
It looks the part, right? It stands as a cool homage to the original 124 Spider, which celebrates its half-century this year.
More to the point, it feels special as soon as you hit the start button. The exhaust is not intrusive, but it is suitably throaty. There’s a global shortage of the optional Monza pipes at the moment so we haven’t heard them, but FCA people assure us that they take the soundtrack into the OTT sphere.
On the road, the Abarth is still impressively complaint and you’d hardly call the turn-in aggressive. But there’s a muscularity lurking underneath that’s easy to unleash.
All things considered, the $52,990 Abarth still looks like great value compared with the $46,990 Mazda MX-5 2.0.
Not crazy-fast, but MultiAir engine offers entertaining punch. Limited-slip differential is standard.