by Roger Biermann
The 124 Spider Abarth is Fiat's standalone performance variant of its classically-inspired 124 Spider range of convertible sports cars. While the standard model borrows cues from the original Spider of the '70s, the Abarth dials up the aggression but retains the timeless low-slung presence and rear-wheel drivetrain crucial to the 124's being. With foundations in the Mazda MX-5 Miata, paired with an uprated 164-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, there's a standard six-speed manual to cater to enthusiasts or an optional automatic, while a performance-tuned suspension setup gives the 124 Spider Abarth an unequivocal character of its own. This roadster is no race-car with a 0-60 mph time of 6.4 seconds, but it's an alternative to the MX-5 and Toyota 86 for those who wish to possess a purists sports car on a budget. Starting with an MSRP of $29,295, the 124 Spider Abarth is comparatively more affordable than class rivals.
Since the iconic roadster's reintroduction in 2017, the 2018 model remains relatively unchanged, receiving only content reconfigured package options for improved customization, while on the tech front there's now satellite radio functionality as standard.
The 124 Spider Abarth sports an aggressive aesthetic, complemented with a distinctive sport-style front and rear fascia, 17-inch Gunmetal aluminum wheels, chrome quad-tip exhausts, Gun Metal rearview mirrors and exterior accents, and Abarth scorpion badging. Lighting consists of automatic bi-function projector headlamps as standard along with front fog lights and LED taillamps. It's given a touch of sophistication with an acoustic headliner dual-cloth convertible soft top.
Compared with the Mazda MX-5 Miata of which the 124 Spider Abarth shares its chassis, dimensions are near homogeneous. The cosmetic styling of the Abarth does, however, stretch its length to 159.6 inches, 5.5 inches longer than that of the Miata, while a wheelbase of 90.9 inches remains the same as the Mazda. The Abarth is marginally wider at 68.5 inches compared to the Miata's 68.3 inches and is slightly shorter at a height of 48.5 inches. The Abarth is marginally heavier, weighing in at 2,477 pounds equipped with the manual transmission and 2,516 pounds with the automatic, where even the heaviest, hard-top Miata RF weighing in at 2,445 lbs and 2,485 lbs respectively.
The 124 Spider Abarth's color palette remains identical to last year with a total of five options, including Forte Black Metallic, Chiaro Silver Metallic, Mare Blue Metallic, Hypnotique Red, and Brilliante White inclusive with the buy, and Puro White Tri-coat Pearl for an additional $595. The Forte Black Metallic or Hypnotique Red both suit the Abarth's aggressive styling and offset the Gun Metal and chrome exterior accents brilliantly.
The 124 Spider Abarth retains the engine it was given at its 2017 launch, a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four that generates 164 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque sent exclusively to the rear wheels - much the same as traditional rivals like the Toyota 86 and Mazda MX-5 Miata. The roadster boasts a theoretical top speed of 139 mph and, if driven adeptly, manages a 0-60 mph sprint in 6.4 seconds, which is about average for the segment. Rivals make use of larger, naturally aspirated motors giving better responsiveness but matching the 124 Spider Abarth for performance.
Neither the 124 Spider Abarth nor any of its rivals are offered in all-wheel-drive variations, this is principally due to the fact that vehicles in this segment are designed in traditional sports-car fashion with a rear-wheel-drive powertrain to harness the performance advantages in handling dynamics at the limit. At any rate, the 124 Spider Abarth endeavors to balance the race-car experience with comfortable on-road driving.
The 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine is the same unit found across a range of Fiat products, but in the 124 Spider finds its first longitudinal application. The turbo four-pot generates 164 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, representing a 4 hp increase over the standard 124 Spider. A six-speed manual transmission handles power delivery to the rear axle by default, and a six-speed automatic is optional.
The manual transmission is recommended for its notchy shifts and appreciable sensation of control, it enhances the race-car-like driving experience and improves general driving performance. The automatic transmission, on the other hand, makes for lackluster shifts and poorly manages the turbo-lag - something found in abundance.
The engine is a theatrical thing of beauty, noisy and punchy in equal measure, with a throaty soundtrack and a heavy dose of kidney abuse when it comes on boost. But boost arrives late and dies off early, giving the 124 Spider Abarth a limited power band. More than that, there's a hefty amount of lag, even in the middle of the boost threshold, which dulls throttle responses. The engine's reliance on boost is theatrical but ineffective in making the best use of the 124's light mass, and while the torque may be a boon at altitude, at close to sea level the Miata's naturally aspirated engine suits the lightweight roadster character better.
Along with the bellicose character the Abarth badge brings to the 124 Spider range is improved performance courtesy of the bespoke performance-tuned suspension and limited slip differential. Based on an already competent chassis, the LSD and sports dampers sharpen handling dynamics and improve ride quality, both under duress and at a casual cruise, while the near 50:50 weight balance and light mass gives the 124 Spider Abarth a sense of purity.
Body roll is present but is managed well by uprated suspension, giving the driver more feel as to how close the 124 is to the limits of adhesion. However, it requires delicate balance when cornering, as hamfisted inputs yield definite amounts of understeer, while only the most precise placement yields to a tightrope act along the line between adhesion and oversteer. Turn-in is sharp and the agile 124 responds well to sudden changes of direction, while the new dampers manage surface changes adeptly.
With limited suspension travel, larger bumps permeate the cabin substantially, and large crests can send the 124 seemingly soaring. But smaller bumps and road imperfections are absorbed effectively. Braking is a particular strong suit of the 124 Abarth, with sharp pedal responses and immediacy of stopping power. However, cabin insulation is lacking, and dirt hitting the undercarriage echoes through the cabin, as do tire and wind noise.
EPA estimates for the 124 Spider Abarth are impressive in its class, earning scores of 26/35/30 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles for models equipped with the manual gearbox, while automatic variants boast estimates of 25/36/29 mpg. The Toyota 86 can't match these figures, with its own base model achieving estimates of 21/28/24 mpg and 24/32/27 mpg for the manual and automatic transmissions, respectively. The Abarth has a fuel tank capacity of 11.9 gallons, making use of premium unleaded gasoline to get the most out of the turbo engine. A full tank of gas allows for a range of 357 miles in the manual-equipped model with mixed driving scenarios, while 345 miles is attainable with the automatic transmission used in similar driving conditions.
At first glance, the 124 Spider Abarth's interior sees the fundamental aspects of layout and functionality borrowed from the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Its compact dimensions make for a tight but ergonomically sound cabin, with all controls in comfortable reach. Taller occupants may struggle though, as limited seat and steering adjustment cater to those below six-feet-tall. In styling, it has a sporty driver-focused design, with a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel featuring Abarth badging, bright aluminum coated pedals, and sporty red stitching on the interior upholstery. The Mazda-sourced seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system functions well, while unique sports bucket seats and a reworked gauge cluster with a sporty-red rev counter add to the sporty aesthetic. Compact, but high-quality, the 124 feels like value for money in the best way possible.
The two-door convertible seats two occupants intimately in a low-slung position, cosseted by cozy sport bucket seats with optional Recaro items adding more lateral support. The driver is ergonomically seated behind the steering wheel and controls with good visibility hindered only slightly by the low, thick windscreen frame and tiny rear window. Legroom is limited by the transmission tunnel intruding on a cramped cabin, but the snug, low-slung seating position is an ideal one for drivers wishing to feel a cohesion between man and machine. While headroom isn't an issue, tall drivers may struggle to find an ideal position. The limited seat and steering adjustment means drivers taller than six-feet sit very upright, while those taller than six-foot-two-inches may not fit at all.
The majority of materials used throughout the 124's cabin are soft-touch, and those which aren't are generally hidden out of the way. A leather-wrapped sports steering wheel and leather gear shifter with a leather shift boot, are paired with aluminum pedals. Upholstery-wise, the sport seats are combination leather/microfiber items with striking red accent stitching, with a single Nero (black) color offering. Elsewhere in the cabin, silver detailing gives a classy feel, while the red rev counter adds a dash of sportiness.
Practicality is not a strong suit for any two-door sports car, especially one as compact and lightweight as the 124 Spider Abarth. Trunk space and in-cabin storage is limited, with the shallow trunk of just 4.9 cubic feet capable of holding lightly packed luggage for two on a weekend getaway. The Toyota 86 offers those looking for more practicality a larger trunk of 6.9 cubic feet and rear-seats that can be folded down for additional space.
Inside the cabin, don't plan on fitting much more than a bunched set of keys and some loose change in the in-cabin compartments, with only two narrow door pockets, a confined cubby found in the center console, and an impractical scanty glovebox between the seats which is all but unusable with the removable cupholders in use.
Standard features are kept relatively basic in the 124 Spider Abarth, including air conditioning with automatic climate control, power windows with front one-touch-down capability, cruise control, voice controls, and a now mandatory rearview backup camera. The media hub holds two USB ports and a 12-volt auxiliary power outlet for device charging. Some more progressive features include the perforated leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, featured with ergonomic audio and cruise control buttons, aluminum coated sport-like pedals, and performance, heated, and leather-trimmed microfiber sport seats. Paddle shifters are featured on the steering wheel exclusively with the available six-speed automatic transmission. In terms of driver assistance features, the lone item available is a rearview camera.
The multimedia system comprises a seven-inch touchscreen display with four speakers, controllable via a rotary dial on the center console, it features AM/FM radio and Pandora, Aha, and Stitcher Apps compatibility, with integrated voice command and Bluetooth connectivity. The software and hardware of the infotainment system are appropriated from the Mazda MX-5 Miata and disappointingly does not offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality for the 2018 124 Spider Abarth, a notable setback for the modern day roadster.The system is navigation capable, which is available in the optional Navigation and Sound Group package, along with the recommended nine-speaker Bose audio system upgrade.
Fiat offers the 124 Spider Abarth with a 50,000-mile/four-year basic and powertrain warranty, along with four years of complimentary roadside assistance. Fiat's decision to introduce the 124 Spider Abarth utilizing the underpinnings of the Mazda MX-5 Miata has bolstered reliability expectations, resulting in no recorded complaints on the 2018 roadster. Only one recall has been commissioned by Fiat for around eight thousand 124 Spider models, including some Abarth variants. The recall was a result of faulty programming in the six-speed automatic transmissions, that would unexpectedly downshift and abruptly decelerate, increasing the risk of an accident.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have crash-tested any variations of the 124 Spider Abarth. It has therefore not received any safety and crashworthiness rankings. This is a common accordance within the segment, with the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF also not having been evaluated by either authority.
The Abarth lacks the inclusion of any advanced safety and driver assistance features as standard, which are only available via the optional group packages. Standard safety features include daytime running headlamps, a rearview backup camera, a tire pressure warning lamp, electronic stability control, and an enhanced accident response system which, in the case of an accident, cuts off fuel to the engine, unlocks the doors, blinks hazard lights and turns on the interior lights. Dual front and front-side airbags are standard fit as well. Notable safety and driver assist features available in the optional packages are Red Brembo performance brakes, blind-spot and cross-path detection, rear park assist, and adaptive LED headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, an automatic headlamp leveling system and headlamp washers.
The 2018 124 Spider Abarth is virtually unchanged from its 2017 derivative, but in a segment where updates are minor to competitors the fundamentals carry over. With an affordable price tag, the 2018 124 Abarth gives buyers the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a true driver's car without having to fork out supercar money. Performance is modest but exploitable, and the upgrades to the chassis make it keener than ever to deliver on the sensation of oneness with the driver. Sharp handling is however offset by an engine that relies too heavily on boost, bringing with it hefty dollops of turbo-lag and inconsistent responses, somewhat dulling the experience. However, it creates a sense of theater, and when evaluated in isolation, the 124 Abarth is one of the most entertaining sports cars around.
But is it good enough to overlook the benchmark in this segment, the MX-5 Miata? That's the rub, it doesn't do anything much better than the Mazda, and there isn't much to separate the two from a price perspective. Ultimately, the 124 is a fine driver's tool that compromises purity of power delivery for the sake of theater, while the fact that it's an Italian badged roadster rather than a cookie-cutter Japanese roadster may sway buyers looking for something out of the ordinary.
As the standalone performance variation of the 124 Spider range, the Abarth holds the highest starting MSRP of $28,295 equipped with the default six-speed manual transmission. The six-speed automatic can be optioned for an additional $1,350, while all prices are exclusive of tax, registration, licensing, and a $1,295 destination fee.
As Fiat's standalone performance model, the 124 Spider Abarth is the only variation of its kind. It is equipped with performance-tuned mechanicals and exclusive Abarth styling cues inside and out. The 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine shared within the 124 Spider range is dialed up for the Abarth to deliver 164 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, it receives a sport-tuned suspension and exhaust system, and limited slip differential for enhanced handling dynamics at the limit. A six-speed manual transmission is equipped with the roadster as default, while the optional six-speed automatic transmission adds sport-like paddle shifters to the steering wheel.
Along with the Abarth name comes exclusive Abarth scorpion badges on the hood, trunk, and steering wheel, it's armed with unique 17-inch aluminum wheels painted in a gunmetal finish, sporty dual-exhaust tips, and more aggressive sporty accents inside and out. On the inside, features include a perforated leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with ergonomic audio and cruise control buttons, aluminum pedals, and performance, heated, and leather-trimmed microfiber sport seats. Infotainment is by means of a Mazda-sourced seven-inch screen with a rotary controller and four-speakers as standard.
1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The most noteworthy option is the Red Brembo four-wheel disc performance brakes, which improve handling and control at the limit and the red calipers add a stylish touch to the Abarth for $1,495. Also for $1,495 the Comfort and Convenience Group can be included which equips the Abarth with an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated auto-dimming exterior mirrors, the ParkSense rear park assist system, blind spot monitoring system, rear cross path detection, a security alarm, and a universal garage door opener. The Navigation and Sound Group adds appreciable features including the nine-speaker Bose audio system and GPS navigation for $1,295. To equip the Abarth with adaptive LED headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, an automatic headlamp leveling system, and headlamp washers, the Visibility Group can be optioned for $995. Alcantara leather-trimmed seats by Recaro add a luxurious touch to the interior of the Abarth for an additional $1,195.
With only one Abarth-badged 124 available, the decision is somewhat made for you. However, we recommend making the most of the 124 Abarth by equipping the Brembo four-wheel performance brakes for performance, while adding the Visibility Group for the fitment of LED headlights. Lastly, the Comfort and Convenience group adds much-needed safety and assistance systems like blind spot monitoring and an auto-dimming rearview mirror - the latter of particular importance when you're sitting at eye-level with everyone else's headlights. The available Bose audio system is a nice touch, but unnecessary in our opinion.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata RF matches up against the 124 Spider Abarth closely in many aspects, particularly as they share a platform and are similarly priced. The RF does, however, receive more features such as rear cross traffic alert and the nine-speaker Bose stereo with its base setup, and in RF guise features a retractable hard-top roof to give it better insulation and a coupe-like design. Like the Abarth, it also receives performance enhanced mechanics including a retuned suspension, Bilstein dampers, limited-slip differential and a shock tower brace giving it equally phenomenal handling dynamics but a drive superior to that of the Abarths. Where the Abarth truly differs is in its use of a turbocharged engine, which hands the Mazda the advantage as the linear responses of an NA motor are better suited to the lightweight roadster's dynamics. It's this key difference that separates the two and sees us recommend the MX-5 RF.
Convertible vs coupe, both the 86 and 124 Abarth occupy the back-to-basics RWD sports car department. But the 86 is the more practical of the two, giving buyers more cargo volume and a semi-usable rear seat too. But the Abarth boasts better lifestyle appeal, with a soft-top convertible roof and unique styling that many may prefer to the fairly sedate 86. Performance-wise, both are fairly similar, but the linear power delivery of the 86's NA motor is smoother than the peaky boost-dependent delivery of the Abarth. Both have endearing chasses and are competent through a set of twists, but it's the 124 that makes you feel more heroic, while the 86 has more composure and less theater - lending itself to more power on the aftermarket scene. Both vehicles are minimalistic inside, and although the 86 does receive a better standard audio system, it also doesn't feature Android Auto or Apple CarPlay functionality. Getting into an 86 is cheaper than the Abarth, by virtue of the Abarth topping Fiat's 124 Spider range, but as such it's better equipped as standard, while comparably specced 86s are just as expensive. Ultimately, if its performance you crave, the 86 is better at ten-tenths, while the Abarth strikes a balance between performance, enjoyment, and lifestyle appeal.