Don't call it a Fiata. Because this Fiat roadster is so much more than a rebadged Mazda.
Bella, bambina, ciao, grazie, pasta, mangia… I think that’s about as much Italian as I’ve got in me. Thankfully, top down, motor singing baritone, at the wheel of the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, most people won’t hear what I have to say.
Abarth, Fiat’s in-house performance moniker, gets applied to the 124 Spider, giving it some mechanical and visual upgrades. And while the resulting performance upgrades are light, the Abarth-ized version of the Fiat 124 Spider is pretty dang special.
Absolutely elemental. There’s nothing quite like an Italian… err, I mean Japanese, manual gearbox that clicks away as you row your own. The Mazda sourced six-speed is geared tall to make the most of the turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder motor. A limited-slip differential makes for all kinds of rear-wheel drive fun, and the car just begs to be thrashed once you’ve hit that sport button. Drop the top - a manual affair that can be done with one hand - and you’re enveloped by the sights and sounds of roadster life. Even in weather hovering around zero, you couldn’t get me to put the top up. Heated seats, which are standard on Lusso and Abarth models, do help.
Turbo power. While the 124 Spider’s sibling Miata MX-5 puts a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre to use, Fiat opts for the turbo 1.4 that delivers power earlier, and a lot more of it. Capable of 164 horsepower (four more than the non-Abarth model, nine more than the Mazda), and a meaty 184 lb-ft of torque (36 more than Mazda), there’s no question the 124 Abarth is quicker off the line. It does weigh about 53 kilograms more than the MX-5, but I’m convinced the extra torque more than makes up for it.
All Italian design, sexy as hell. Design for the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider was lead out of FCA’s Centro Stile studio in Turin, Italy. The 124 Spider looks nothing like the MX-5, instead opting to pay homage to its Pininfarina-built predecessor from 1966. A flat trapezoidal front grille, long hood, and a distinctive body line that flows from the front LED daytime running lamps to the tail lights make for one beautiful car. Being the Abarth model, my tester also feature gunmetal finish wheels, Recaro sport bucket seats with wrapped in leather and microfibre with red accents, along with the obligatory swath Abarth badging.
Nowhere to put things. There’s no glove compartment in the 124 Spider. Instead you get a little cubby behind the elbow rest in the centre. You also get a total of one cup holder, positioned just so that your passenger’s leg is always pressed against it. The trunk seems downright tiny at 140 litres, but is actually a full 10 L larger than the MX-5, which I guess means it’s a decent size for a roadster. It's big enough for a medium sized bag of golf clubs, but if you're taking this to go golfing, you're probably missing the point of this car.
Not cheap. My fully kitted tester, a $37,995 2017 Abarth 124 Spider with the $5,500 Luxury Collection, $1,900 Brembo brake pack, and $400 Recaro seats, rings in at $47,690 including delivery. That’s convertible Audi A3 or BMW 2 Series money, both of which offer an extra two seats.
Perhaps that’s why you buy the 124 Spider, because in typical Abarth fashion, it’s all a bit mad. It’s too small, too expensive, and too brash, yet 20 years from now, this’ll still be a cool car. Because practicality and sensibility are overrated. Sometimes you just want to feel special, and the Abarth 124 Spider delivers in spades.
Photos: Kanishka Sonnadara / Motor1 Canada