With a useful boost in power over the standard Fiat 124 Spider comes a modest increase in pace. The Fiat’s 0-62mph time drops from 7.5sec to 6.8sec for the Abarth 124, while top speed grows by 10mph to 144mph. Incidentally, automatic models are barely slower than the manuals, being just a tenth slower to reach 62mph and only 2mph down at the top end.
While the Abarth is only a little more powerful than its 2-litre Mazda MX-5 counterpart in horsepower terms, it does still knock half a tenth from its 0-62mph time and bests it by 12mph when flat out – no doubt a result of developing 25 per cent more torque and doing so 2000rpm lower down the rev range.
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The way the Abarth delivers that performance isn’t quite perfect, however. As you’d expect from a turbocharged engine there’s a definite sweet spot where the 1.4 delivers its best work, but that sweet spot feels all too brief. Little happens below 2000rpm – the non-turbo Mazda feels more responsive here – and there’s little incentive to use the full 6500rpm sweep to the red line when working the engine hard, as it begins to feel flat beyond around 5000rpm.
In contrast, the Mazda’s larger, naturally-aspirated engine isn’t as strong through the mid-range, but doesn’t protest at lower revs and feels (and sounds) sweeter all the way up to its cut-off. Drive on its mid-range torque though the Abarth feels usefully punchy, if not truly fast, and as you’ll see from our ride and handling comments, its performance can be more readily accessed as a tool to play with the car’s balance.