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Used test: Abarth 124 Spider vs Audi TT Roadster
One of these used cars is a drop-top bargain and the other is a great all-rounder, but which should you choose for your path to wind-in-the-hair glory?...
Abarth 124 Spider 1.4 Turbo MultiAir Heritage
List price when new £29,620
Price today £19,000
Available from 2016-2018
Fiat’s sporting arm worked its magic to create this racy version of the regular Spider.
Audi TT Roadster 1.8 TFSI Sport
List price when new £30,250
Price today £24,000
Available from 2014-present
This open-top version of our favourite coupé brings style and quality to the sports car class.
*Price today is based on a 2017 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
While dicing with the British weather may, even in the warmer months, be like playing a game of Russian roulette, it really shouldn't put you off that sporty drop-top you always wanted.
What's more, if suavity, sophistication and capability top your list of priorities, we have a brilliant used option for you, and it goes by the name Audi TT Roadster. It's one of our favourites and, in convertible and coupé form, it's won a huge assortment of What Car? awards over the years.
But what if you think the TT is a bit too tame? Well, if you’re after something a bit more ‘in your face’, the Abarth 124 Spider might well appeal. It gets look-at-me styling as well as a standard quad-pipe exhaust system, so it has tons of eye-catching charisma. Buy used and it's even cheaper than the TT.
Clearly, it’s time to see if Italian flair can topple German sophistication. Read on to find out which one is our used drop-top winner.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
On paper, the TT looks to hold all the aces, thanks to its larger, more powerful engine. However, the smaller and lighter 124 actually scampers from 0-60mph in less time. At faster speeds, the 124 edges out a bigger lead, but the TT isn’t far behind and is still brisk enough to see off most other cars on the road. It isn’t just lower weight that helps the 124 to accelerate quickly, though; it’s also short gearing. So even when you accelerate from relatively low revs in third, fourth or fifth, the 124 always builds speed at a faster rate. We also prefer the 124’s shorter, more mechanical gearshift, which has a shorter throw than the TT's.
While tall gearing may hurt the TT’s acceleration, it helps with refinement. Even at 30mph, the 124 is noticeably noisier as its engine drones away. As the speed increases, and with the roof up, the 124 generates loads more wind and road noise, while its rowdy exhaust note becomes wearisome on long motorway journeys.
Roof down, the TT protects you far better from buffeting, especially if you’re tall. If you get caught in the rain, the TT’s electric roof can operate at up to 31mph and takes just 10 seconds to open or close. The 124’s roof is manually operated but, because of that, even quicker to put up and down.
The 124 took longer to stop from both 30mph and 70mph in our braking tests, no doubt due to its skinnier tyres. And that extra rubber on the road means the TT grips much harder through corners, too. It may share oily bits with an Audi A3, but it impresses with little body lean, a real eagerness to turn in and a nose that sticks stubbornly to your chosen line through fast corners. The steering is precise, too, although you won’t feel Porsche Boxster levels of feedback filtering through the steering wheel.
As for the 124, it’s good fun at moderately quick speeds, thanks to meatier steering and firmer suspension. But the faster you go, the less it impresses; the front tyres don’t grip the road as well as you might expect, so it’s all too easy to run wide of your intended trajectory. Considering that the 124 is based on the playful and neatly balanced Mazda MX-5, that’s a bit of a disappointment.
The 124’s body doesn’t feel as stiff as the TT’s, either, so you feel wobbles through the car over bumps – particularly when cornering forces are involved. Add a bumpier ride into the mix and the 124 is a far more fractious long-distance companion.
Next: What are they like inside >>
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