The Abarth 124 Spider is priced at £29,565 in manual form, while you’ll pay £31,605 for the same car with an automatic gearbox. Given the standard Fiat 124 Spider starts at £20,995 in Classica trim and still only tops out at £24,995 that’s undoubtedly quite a step up for an ostensibly similar car.
Abarth’s version is the significantly better drive however, not just quicker but more enthusiastic in its responses, more focused. Better to look at too, we reckon – Fiat’s shape has some uncomfortable proportions but the Abarth disguises that thanks to the matt black bonnet and boot lid, some cheeky red details to the exterior and a more appealing set of alloy wheels.
Subscribe to evo magazine
Whether it’s still quite as easy on the eye as its closest rival – the Mazda MX-5 – is a different matter. We reckon the Abarth 124 is the better car of the pair, being just a bit more playful and having a greater sense of fun, but the Mazda is the more cohesive shape and its naturally-aspirated engine has a different kind of appeal.
Importantly though, the Mazda is significantly cheaper. In SE-L Nav spec with the more powerful 2-litre engine it's barely any more expensive than Fiat's basic 124 Spider at £21,090. Prices for the model evo readers might want – the 2-litre Sport Nav, with its sports suspension with Bilstein dampers and a strut brace for extra chassis rigidity – start at £23,690.
The 2-litre MX-5 and the Abarth are fairly closely matched, and you could easily spend the difference between the pair at somewhere like BBR to end up with an MX-5 of significantly higher ability – MX-5s have long been a blank canvas for modification. For others, the benefits of a fully factory-supported car, or indeed the 124’s unique styling and slightly different character, may sway them in the Italian car’s direction.
What’s clear is that beyond the 124 twins and the MX-5 there really isn’t much else in the market that competes directly. You have to stump up more than £4000 over the Abarth to put a new Lotus Elise on the driveway, and while a Toyota GT86 (£26,410) or Subaru BRZ (£24,550) is great to drive, it doesn’t offer the top-down thrills of the Abarth. Caterham? £28,665 gets you the mentalist Seven 420, but the hardcore Brit isn’t really a suitable surrogate for the 124 if you intend to drive it every day.