What's the used Abarth 124 SPIDER sports like?
The story behind the Abarth 124 Spider is rather convoluted, with it being essentially a sportier version of the Fiat 124 Spider, which is itself based on the hugely successful Mazda MX-5. Abarth, you see, is Fiat's in-house tuner. However, you won't find any Fiat badges on this car and it was sold in separate dealerships.
What you get is the two-seat interior and rear-wheel drive platform from the Mazda (and the Fiat), but with stiffer suspension, a traction-enhancing limited slip differential and a more powerful version of the turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine found in the Fiat.
The Abarth 124 Spider sounds racy in the mid-range, but there’s a bassy drone from the exhaust below, while high revs bring a loud, strained engine note, and this soundtrack remains prominent even with the roof up. You also have to put up with a fair amount of wind noise as well as that exhaust drone on the motorway. Taller individuals may find the top of their head blasted by wind with the top down, too.
Much more positively, the revised suspension tames the body roll that you get in this car's Fiat and Mazda cousins, yet the ride is still fairly supple. The limited-slip differential provides fantastic traction out of corners, and this is a thrilling car to drive down a winding road, because it's as involving as it is playful, and you can adjust your line with ease using the accelerator.
The problem is that the Abarth starts to feel raggedy the harder you push it. The stiffer suspension causes the body to wobble more over bumps and sometimes you can’t quite tell how much grip the front tyres have. Take it to a track and you might be disappointed, especially as the cheaper MX-5 handles more sweetly.
The interior design is identical to that of the Mazda MX-5 and Fiat 124 Spider, aside from some different finishes. However, that means all-round visibility is very good and head room just about acceptable for most six-footers.
Dropping (or raising) the manual roof is a moment’s work, and can be done without leaving your seat. And although the range of seat and steering wheel adjustment is limited, most people will find it easy enough to get comfortable.
Clear instrumentation is viewed through the chunky steering wheel, with a prominent rev counter taking centre stage. Meanwhile, the infotainment system is easy to use and responsive to both touchscreen inputs and a rotary controller, even though the sat-nav maps can be a little slow to load.
What you do get is a pair of flimsy, movable cupholders, one of which can be fitted next to the passenger’s right leg. Alternatively, both can be mounted on the transmission tunnel, in prime position to be knocked by your elbow.
The boot loads from the top like an American washing machine, but is sadly far less capacious at just 140 litres. The boot’s shape is irregular, too, so to get a week’s luggage for two inside you’ll need to bring squashy bags and go easy on the packing. At least the boot doesn’t get smaller with the roof down like some cabrios.
It’s not like you get plenty of room inside for your belongings, either. Oddment storage is stingy as it has no glovebox, the cubbies in front of and behind the gearlever are tiny, and the three compartments behind the seats are pokey, too.
The Abarth 124 Spider comes with four airbags and cruise control with a speed limiter as standard. It hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but expect a similar overall score to the MX-5’s four stars out of five. Both cars are only held back by a relative paucity of driver assistance equipment.