Is the new Abarth 124 Spider just a shouty Mazda MX5 in a pretty shell, or is it the new Italian sports car we’ve been looking for over the last few years? Whilst in Spain earlier on in the month, I took the new 1.4 litre turbocharged pocket rocket out for a blast on some of Almeria’s best driving roads to find out.
As you press the starter button the engine cranks and then you get this deep and raspy burble from the car’s Abarth Record Monza Exhaust – An exhaust system designed to make the car sound like it has a bigger engine than it really does whilst also delivering optimum performance from the 170bhp 4 cylinder powerplant. Once you’re on the road the feel and drive are very familiar, you sit low down near the rear axle, you have a small cabin and then a long bonnet in front of you. Driving along it feels very similar to its sister, the new ND MX5, but it’s when you open it up you can really feel the difference. The Mazda and the Abarth may be assembled in the same factory in Japan and they may also share a large proportion of their parts, but the mechanical limited slip differential in the Abarth gives it that upper hand where it’s really needed. As you drop the gears and turn in to the hairpins the little Spider blips the throttle and stays glued to the road and even though the acceleration out isn’t quite the same experience you would get with a mid-engined supercar, the size of the car and noise from the exhaust makes it feel like you are flying out of there, and due to that factory standard LSD, when the car is in “Sport” mode, you also have a very generous amount of slip to make the most of that RWD set up and kick its little back-end out. Another thing “Sport” mode does is alter the exhaust, giving you more pops and crackles on overrun and a great deep sound as you push through the gears, a sound that is actually quite similar to the turbocharged engines in the Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman (I am aware the jury is still out on the sound made by the new entry-level Porsches, but it works well with the Abarth’s character).
Despite the car being brand new, it still has this fabulous mechanical feel about it, like you are 100% in control of it and there is nothing else between you and that angry little engine. The only real negative from the drive itself is the Abarth suffers from what 99% of other sportscars suffer today, firm and crashy suspension. Admittedly a lot of more powerful cars have options like electronically adjustable dampening but the Abarth is a simple beast, and as a result, is not equipped this way and it just made the ride a little uncomfortable at times, but this is by no means a deal breaker.
On the tone of equipment, that is one thing I really like about the Abarth 124 Spider, what you see in the press and on television and online etc… is what you get. If I remember correctly, the only options are the colours, the gearbox and then an extra tick box for the Bose sound system. Other than that, the whole thing is one standard factory option. If I lived in Spain or another sunny country, I would 100% have the spec I drove – white with red accents and the matt black bonnet and boot lid, but for the UK, I would probably go for the slightly less obvious grey, but whatever colour you choose, it really is a handsome little brute. The interior isn’t bad either, you have a great driving position and everything is exactly where it should be, the seats have speakers in the headrests so you can still hear the radio with the roof down and there’s also some lovely Alcantara touches all around you which give it an extra sporty feel. Abarth has done away with the cup holders that the almost-identically-fitted Mazda has, and as always with these, internal storage is very limited, but that’s nothing new.
With styling nods to the classic 60’s Fiat 124 Spider and the build quality of a brand new Mazda, you really cannot go wrong with the Abarth 124 Spider. The Mazda and Fiat are both fantastic little cars and if you just want a really good 2 seater roadster I would recommend the Mazda over anything else, but if you want something that little bit extra, that little bit more different, then the Abarth is the one to get. I don’t think there is anything else on the market today that will give you the same feeling for the same money and it turns heads in Europe more than any shiny supercar!