Fiat is back in the convertible game, and its 124 Spider Abarth seems like just the thing for folks wanting a heavy dose of nostalgia to go with their top-down motoring. This car, like any 2-seat roadster, stands out like a sore thumb in traffic even if it is dwarfed by the SUVs it shares the road with. It’s just a shape we’re not used to seeing often, aside from the Mazda Miata it shares so much DNA with. (roughly 75%)
The return of the 124 was based on a simple premise - take a platform like Mazda’s MX-5 ND and swap in a Fiat engine and bolt on retro-inspired bodywork. Show and go. Here, the go is provided by Fiat’s 1.4 liter Multiair good for 164hp and 184lb-ft. At just over 2,400lb curb weight it doesn’t take much to motivate the 124 but to get the car to move with any kind of gusto means getting deep into the rev range and keeping the turbo spooled. The low curb weight translates to an EPA rating of 26 city and 35 highway with 30mpg combined.
The 124's interior is cozy but comfortable and well arranged. The two-tone seating surfaces are a cool touch and the seats themselves are perfectly adequate for driving con brio. (Pro Tip: Go with the leather seats; the cloth seats are reportedly thinly disguised torture devices) One squawk though; even with the seat all the way back and the tilt wheel full up there’s going to be shin contact with the rim for drivers 6' and over. Sorry folks with 31"+ inseam. The manual top is easily raised and lowered with one hand, but climbing out of the vehicle with the top raised will amuse spectators to no end. There’s just no graceful way to do it.
The 124 Abarth is a nice melding of new and old; heated seats, automatic climate control, adaptive LED headlights, and GPS navigation system rolled into a classic sports car-styled wrapper. Comparisons to the Mazda are unavoidable - the Fiat is arguably the better cruising car with its torque arriving further down the rev range than the peakier normally aspirated Miata. The Abarth’s ride is firm with little body roll in normal maneuvers, but broken pavement transmits shock waves directly to your spine. Nobody expects a 2,500lb sports car to ride like a Bentley Mulsanne over bumps, so the 124 should be cut a fair amount of slack. Starting with a platform as good as the Mazda’s was a win-win for Fiat.
The Big Picture: Look, we’re never really satisfied with OEM power so suggesting a bump for better acceleration out of corners is hardly heresy. The seat-of-the-pants dyno suggests 200hp with 200lb-ft would be perfection in this car. (helloooo aftermarket!) With a base price of $28,195 ($33,185 as tested) the 124 Abarth is a solid and fun cruiser with the same compromises typical of any sports car. It’s easy to live with (egress issues for taller folks notwithstanding) and the added soundproofing keeps the road noise at speed bearable. The best way to describe the 124 is it’s just a fun car that you look forward to driving for any reason.