Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (2017)
Fiat and Mazda seem like a match made in heaven (budget-minded thrills, heaven). Fiat has had a long history of beautiful “everyman” 2-seater roadsters, the kind of car you could afford to have as a second car on a working-persons’ salary and still look like an Italian movie director cruising to his summer house on the Mediterranean coast. However, over the years, Fiats went from the trusted Italian workhorse to, something less than reliable, giving birth to the acronym “Fix It Again Tony” (Fiat). Regrettably, this, plus the increased complexity of US automobile regulations, lead to the death of the Italian roadster in the 80s. This left a market segment mostly alone and ignored for many years.
Mazda Noticed this and in 1989 they revealed the MX-5, a modern, true two-seater, everyman’s roadster. The MX-5 had a small, yet responsive engine that delivered the reliability that Italy never could, the chassis was near perfectly balanced and the rear wheel drive provided a true sports-car-feel, that would push you around a corner. The car was not perfect, for starters, the car had the design cues of a Fisher-price toy, with that annoyingly dim-witted smile on the front grill, and most offensive of all the car in the US market was badged with the odd name, Miata. Seems to me, that it is perhaps one of the least menacing names to be given to a car. Needless to say, the Miata was not a cool exotic car that belonged cruising the back-roads of Italy.
With the Fiat 124, Fiat has taken the latest MX-5 platform and drivetrain and did some Italian magic with it. For starts, the entire body is different, taking design cues from the timeless Pininfarina design of the original 124, this all new roadster is undoubtedly a Fiat in styling. Fiat added a beautiful long hood, smooth lines from front to back, finishing up with classic European-style taillights. The 124 Spider we got to drive was the more powerful and sporty Abarth version with an automatic transmission (no signature black hood unfortunately). The Abarth package is mostly an appearance package, offering only four more horsepower from the engine; 164 HP vs 160 on the standard 124 Spider. The interior is Mazda, featuring a clean, well designed layout that has excellent fit and finish throughout.
Now came the moment of truth! Can my extra-tall frame get in the car comfortably, let alone drive it? The short answer is yes. The true question is to what degree? With the easy to operate manual top in the down position, it was a pleasure to drive, I somehow felt the 124 feeling slightly bigger than the MX-5, though both claim the same interior dimensions. So, I set of on my first drive in the Italian/Japanese crossbreed and my immediate impression was the power band the turbo gave the 124 Abarth a lively feel followed by a nicely balanced steering and responsive brakes. The 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine gave the car extra pep, and created a much nicer, throatier-sounding exhaust note out the dual exhaust. As this 124 was automatic, I felt that maybe I was missing out on part of the experience, which is my usual reaction when we get an automatic car. However, wedging two size 15 Oxfords in the foot well, made me wonder where would they put the clutch pedal. Maybe what this car truly needs and I cannot, for the life of me believe, I’m saying this, is a flappy-paddle, dual-clutch transmission. Something that a person my size, at a “feather-light” 250 lbs. 6’7” can control without having to worry about too little space. The overall convertible experience was great, realizing that I never wanted to put the top up, that was until the sunny South Florida weather gave us a not-so-sunny rain event in just a number of seconds. Once the roof was up the story changed. I no longer felt cool and eccentric, I felt a bit claustrophobic due to my height, although, I’m sure it would be fine for the average sized person. By the time the rain stopped, I didn’t wait single second to spring open the convertible top once again. Frankly, this is the best way to experience the 124 Abarth.
Overall the 124 Abarth delivers where the MX-5 doesn’t, as Fiat made all the right changes while keeping what made the car good to begin with. They succeeded in finding the DNA responsible for the success of the original 124 and use it wisely on the new 124 Abarth. If I was to choose between the Mazda MX-5 and the Fiat 124 Abarth I would choose the 124 Abarth without hesitation. There is something special about the Fiat that the Mazda lacks plus in my opinion the 124 Abarth looks better overall.
Fiat got it right with this one. As long as the Japanese engineer it and the Italians style it there is a promising future for engaging and fun roadsters around the world.
Humm, how can I convince Fiat to loan me a 124 Abarth for a drive in the Italian Alps during my next trip to Europe?
MSRP: $28,195.00 MSRP (As tested): $31,735.00
Fuel Economy (Observed): 29 MPG
Engine: I-4, 1.4 liter, 164 HP
Popular Options: Alcantara Leather Recaro sport seats, Red Brembo Performance Brakes, 6 Speed Auto transmission