The Abarth marquee has been with us since 1949 when it was launced by Carlo Abarth as a factory racing team. His astrological sign was Scorpio and that is why even today, we still see the Scorpion badge adorning every car that carries his name. In 1971, the company was sold to Fiat and is now recognised as Fiat’s tuning house, similar to AMG for Mercedes and M Series for BMW. By Maarten Hoffmann
The Abarth 124 Spider, based on the Mazda MX-5 platform, is nothing like the Mazda – as the Fiat is full of Italian flair and style. It is a hoot to drive and having reviewed the standard 124, this is a cut above in terms of get up and go.
With a 1.4-litre turbo charged engine affording 168bhp, it will hit 62 in 6.8 seconds with a top speed of 144mph. It is hilarious to actually do this as it is real hair-in-the-wind stuff, and just makes you smile all the time.
The exhaust note is raspy and loud when under full chat. But a roadster is a simple car so let’s not overthink
this – the Abarth is a front-engined, rear-drive, manual-gearboxed, manual-roofed two-seater that wants to show you a good time.
Prices start at just £32,500 for an entry-level ‘Scorpione’ version, without the retro colour schemes, or around £36k if you want the black bonnet and a bit more spec. Add another 10% and you can have the Abarth 124 GT special, complete with removable carbon fibre hard-top.
I have the Special in my hands and it is great fun but as for that retro removable hard top, it’s just plain daft. Take an hour, a friend and a bunch of tools and you have in your hands a heavy roof that then needs to find a home whilst you go out to play. It was a hoot in the old days but just seems a faff in the 21st century. Better take the soft top that you can just pop down.
The steering is crisp, the handling tight and the tail will hang out on demand, and empty B-roads are an utter joy. The manual gearbox is lovely to use and whipping through the gears is a real blast from the past. There is an optional automatic but why-oh-why would you? The interior does the job but will not blow you away and the only really annoying thing is the lack of cubby holes. I ended up driving with my keys and phone between my legs. There really is nowhere to put anything. Overlook that and it is an old-fashioned sports car that is charming in its simplicity and a real handbrake that just begs to be yanked on tight corners.
It loses on price against the Mazda as at £32,500 for the base model against £23,400 for the MX-5, that is quite some differential but l would pay the extra and take the Fiat every time. The Mazda is Japanese and therefore dull as ditch water – the Abarth 124GT just makes you smile – and that is tough to put a price on.
Model tested: Abarth 124GT
Speed: 0-62mph 6.8 seconds
Top Speed: 144mph
Economy: 44.1mpg combined