The Abarth emblem was inspired by Carlo Abarth’s astrological sign, Scorpio and for 70 years it has been seen on various versions of both race cars and performance road-cars. He was an incredible builder and engine tuner, and since 1971, a symbol of performance Fiats. On to our test car the 124 Spider Abarth is the most energetic trim of the current 124 sports coupe. Compared to the base 124, it has improved handling, a slightly more powerful engine, and of course options that aren’t available on other trim levels.
The 2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is an Italian two-seater built upon the Mazda Miata’s incredible platform. The two cars are built on the same production line at Mazda’s Hiroshima assembly plant. Starting with the differences the 124 Abarth is 5.5 inches longer than the Miata. Fiat say the 124’s styling is taken from the original classic Italian roadster. Miata-Fiat differences more or less disappear once you sit inside. With the exception of different gauges, door panels, small trim bits and badges, it is a classic Miata cabin. The 124 Spider however, is quieter when rolling around town with the top up thanks to an acoustic windshield, thicker rear glass and additional sound insulation for a more relaxing ride.
Dropping the top is almost effortless, one-handed task, and due to the simplicity of the operation it invites the driver to do so frequently. Although a lightweight cloth top can only do so much to curtail road noise at speed, due to the aforementioned sound deadening it is noticeably lower than its Mazda-badged counterpart.
The onboard technology and infotainment system is also borrowed from Mazda. It is a 7-inch touchscreen which in my Abarth loan car ($1,295) featured additional onboard navigation and a nine-speaker Bose audio system, satellite radio and Bluetooth are standard issue. But at the moment no place for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
A Sport Mode selector on the center console also helps differentiate the driving experience from the Miata, dialing up the throttle sensitivity and steering weight while loosening the reins of the stability control system. On the flip side the 124 Spider also has a selection of safety features like Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors which are packaged into a Comfort and Convenience Group ($1,495) that also includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated exterior mirrors, a universal garage door opener and an alarm.
Where the 124 Spider deviates a lot from the Miata is in the engine compartment. Instead of Mazda’s naturally aspirated 2.0-liter I4, the Abarth 124 Spider uses Fiat‘s 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir four-cylinder, with 164 hp, 184 lb-ft and a gravelly exhaust note. Put it Sport mode and the turbo engine’s peak torque is available from 2,500 rpm and stays strong through the high 5,000s before tapering off. The midrange power is a real joy to have at your disposal. Throttle response is not quite as lively as the Miata’s naturally aspirated engine, but the Fiat‘s setup is great for rev-matching when downshifting the six-speed manual transmission. When not rev-matching you can achieve the EPA-estimated 26 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. The Abarth comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, which roadster purists will enjoy. If you prefer to have the shifting done for you, you can get a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
The Abarth Spider’s ride and handling on the street are another strong suit. The Abarth does have an upgraded Bilstein sport suspension and limited-slip differential that improve cornering. There is some give in the Bilstein shocks and uprated springs. Impacts are felt but are not uncomfortable in the slightest, making the 124 well suited for daily driving and weekend road trips as well as a track day. It is worth noting that the Abarth 124 Spider weighs about 138 pounds more than an equivalent Miata.
Make what you will of the styling, but we will say this – you’ll certainly get some attention. While both the Fiat and Abarth are decidedly retro, the Abarth comes with the option of heritage, rally-inspired colour schemes. The matt black bonnet is to reduce glare in the eyes of focused rally drivers and it is certainly not a styling gimmick. The 124 Spider Abarth’s trunk is not very big, at just 4.9 cubic feet we would say it is just enough for a weekend’s worth of luggage for two people.
Our test vehicle also came with a selection of additions taking the total price including Destination charges to $40,595. Aside from the already mentioned Comfort and Convenience Group and Navigation and Sound Group, it included the Abarth Leather Sport seat ($595), Visibility Group which included Adaptive LED Headlamps and Daytime Running Lights ($995), Veleno Appearance Group (495), Brembo Performance Brakes ($1,495), Hand Painted Racing stripe ($2,195) and the Record Monza Exhaust ($995).
Fiat offers a four-year, 50,000 mile basic warranty, a four-year, 50,000 mile powertrain warranty, and a 12-year, unlimited-mileage warranty against corrosion on a new 124 Spider Abarth. Four years of roadside assistance is also included. In the end the Abarth Spider doesn’t feel like a small car, it is just a great roadster. It is a great daily driver and looks and feels suitably sporty, what more could you ask for.