Abarth 124: Caught in the Spider's web
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Not that I approve of personalised numberplates at all, but if an Abarth 124 Spider is high on your shopping list, may I suggest you keep some coin aside in order to reserve HEDTNR? Or some far more witty variation on that theme anyway, because this car does indeed turn heads.
Depending on how fast you are travelling, you can also watch as people's faces switch from "What is that?" to "Oooh, I quite like that" as well. It happened time and again while I enjoyed a few days with the car.
The Abarth 124 Spider's worst-kept secret is that, underneath, it's a Mazda MX-5. Or at least, has the skeleton and brains of an MX-5.
Think of this as being akin to what the Subaru BRZ is to the Toyota 86. It's not an MX-5, but it kind of is. But look, it really actually isn't, okay?
While the chassis and much of the electrical bits, including the infotainment system, are Mazda-donated, the sheet-metal, bits of the cockpit and the engine are all F*** oh. I almost issued forth the "F" word. But that doesn't apply here you see, because Abarth is Abarth, not Fiat.
Remember that amazing Abarth 500 Tributo Ferrari 695 that got a limited-edition release five or six years ago? This is as much not a Fiat product as that wasn't a Fiat 500. Yes, it's all branding bravado, but let's just go with it.
Besides, anything sporting that scorpion badge and the famous Abarth name is worth a second look. And a third.
Don't think of this as a pastiche of the old 1960s-70s Fiat 124 Spider, although (and again I must bring up the "new" Fiat 500) they've absolutely nailed the design in terms of wholly modernising something, yet retaining an overwhelming sense of the original model. Especially from the front, the Abarth 124 Spider echoes the lines of its cult-fave forebear magnificently.
Auckland | Auckland City
$310.49 p/w $1,241.96 p/m
Auckland | Wairau Valley
$661.40 p/w $2,645.59 p/m
Auckland | Wairau Valley
$395.19 p/w $1,580.77 p/m
Auckland | Wairau Valley
$258.06 p/w $1,032.23 p/m
Probably thanks to that fool-proof Mazda platform, it feels utterly modern, utterly solid. While the bits you can't see are all Mazda, the fizzy powerplant is a 125kW version of Fiat Chrysler Automotive's excellent 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo petrol and offers up lively acceleration befitting a car of this type.
Sitting low to the ground (somehow the Abarth feels lower to sit in than its Mazda equivalent, but it isn't), the 0-100km/h sprint of 6.8 seconds feels much quicker than that figure looks on paper.
It's worth noting though the 124 Spider looks long and lean, it only weighs 1060kg, which is impressive (albeit 27kg heavier than the MX-5 2.0-litre).
As you'd expect, the Abarth badge means the 124 Spider comes battle-ready, with up-rated Brembo brakes, Bilstein sports suspension at every corner, an Abarth sports exhaust and a limited slip differential. The 17-inch gunmetal grey Abarth wheels are standard items and utterly fantastic too.
Inside, lovely Abarth sports seats remind you you're not built like a racing driver anymore, and nestled in the centre console is a "Sport" mode button, which changes the calibration of the engine, as well as the electronic power steering and Dynamic Stability Control system to allow for a looser, more engaging drive if circumstances allow.
I was a bit disappointed by just how much of the donor car remains inside the cabin though. That seems like an odd statement -- I'm a big fan of the MX-5 after all -- but the 124 Spider looks so different from the outside that seeing exactly the same Mazda MZD Connect infotainment system and lightly redressed steering wheel inside kind of ruined the illusion.
Still, were Fiat Chrysler Automotive to spend millions of R&D dollars on an entirely new cabin, the Spider wouldn't remain as potent a bang-for-buck proposition as it does.
Pricewise, the cabrio sits above the Mazda equivalent, although this will come as no great shock. For a six-speed manual Abarth 124 Spider you're paying $52,990. That's six grand more than a Mazda MX-5 2.0 manual, so they're not light years apart.
The closest the Japanese brand comes to Abarth money is in the form of the quirky MX-5 RF Limited, which demands $51,495 for its targa-topped charms.
If the price is of little consequence, the most obvious question is; should you buy an Abarth 124 Spider over a Mazda MX-5? While the MX has obvious universal appeal (it's not the world's best-selling soft-top sports car for nothing), the 124 Spider is going to engender more of a cult following.
If you're an Italian car fan, you've probably already made your decision and are researching what the wait time would be if you were to order one now.
Those who do will possibly reap the rewards over the longer-term; if you think Toyota 86s are set to hold their value in the same way the sportscar's much, much rarer Subaru BRZ first-cousin-twice-removed will, then you should probably search online for the term "appreciating classic".
So it will surely go with the Abarth 124 Spider. Then again, just look what is happening to the value of first-generation Mazda MX-5s...
Regardless of future investment potential, you'll enjoy years of head-turns at intersections, because the Abarth is never set to become so ubiquitous as to morph into street furniture. And for many, that alone will be worth the price of admission.
Abarth 124 Spider
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder MultiAir Turbo Petrol (125kW/250Nm)
Prices: $52,990 (Abarth 124 Spider six-speed manual), $54,990 (Abarth 124 Spider six-speed auto)
Pro: Rarity, driving characteristics, Abarth badging a real head-turner
Con: Too many Mazda reminders inside the cabin, despite those tasty Abarth sports seats