Skip advert
Advertisement
Long term tests

Abarth 124 Spider (2016-2019) – living with it

The Italian upstart arrived with a mission to put the MX-5’s nose out of joint. After six months on evo’s Fast Fleet, did it do it?

Evo rating
  • Lots of fun, accessible performance, engaging character
  • Quite expensive, steering lacks feedback

I’ll admit, when this little Italian roadster rocked up in the evo car park last summer with a swagger and ‘look at me’ attitude, I wasn’t convinced. Either by its raucous exhaust note or, to a greater extent, its looks.

Whilst I’m all for a fruity soundtrack, it was more the manic tone emanating from those four tailpipes that wasn’t quite doing it for me. A parpy, fart-like noise that I just knew wasn’t going to go down well at home, either. But I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and see how we got on over time.

Advertisement - Article continues below

As for those looks, they were arguably even harder to like. The Abarth may be closely related to Mazda’s MX-5 in many ways (bar a few flourishes their interiors are nigh-on identical), but for me the 124 couldn’t hold a candle to the Japanese offering in the looks department. Truth be told, to my eyes it was a bit gopping. The ugly sister to Mazda’s Cinderella, if you will. Maybe it was colour-sensitive, as just before ours left the evo Fast Fleet I chanced upon a 124 in a darker hue – Portogallo 1974 Grey – that I thought suited the car’s looks better than our Spider’s Costa Brava 1972 Red paint scheme. Maybe it hid the overstyled detailing better…

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

With those initial reactions out of the way it was time to find out what the 124 was all about – and most importantly how it drove. Having driven the latest Mk4 MX-5 it was immediately obvious – and surprising – that this was going to be a different kettle of fish altogether.

The Abarth was all about instant gratification. A riot of fun straight out of the box. You needed to be in Sport mode, mind, as left in the default setting it felt like it was lacking a little get-up-and-go. So Sport mode it stayed on pretty much for the duration. As a result, what you were rewarded with was an eager throttle response and a tightening of the steering that encouraged you to make the most of the turbocharged shove from the 1.4-litre MultiAir engine. It may have packed only 168bhp, but with 184lb ft of torque available from 2500rpm it felt more powerful than those figures suggested and good for the quoted 0-62mph time of 6.3sec. The downside was that at the top end it could feel a little breathless.

Advertisement - Article continues below

One area where the Spider wasn’t lacking was in the kit department, with heated seats (Mrs Baker insists on them), in-headrest speakers, cruise control, red Brembo brake calipers and that dual-mode Monza exhaust system all included as standard. However, going back to woeful halogen headlights after the LEDs on my previous long-termer (a SEAT Ibiza FR) only served to highlight just how good modern lighting has become. Or not, in the Abarth’s case. Thankfully, LED headlights are an option on the 124 and are one area you shouldn’t scrimp on. Elsewhere, some Alcantara, a smattering of Abarth logos and some red highlights – most notably the sporty central rev counter – helped to brighten up the otherwise dark and dour cabin.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Engine warning lights aside, which I’ll come to in a moment, problems were non-existent and annoyances few (hopefully this is a sign that ‘fix-it-again-tomorrow’ Fiats are well and truly a thing of the past). The slightly claustrophobic feel to the cosy cabin and the lack of a glovebox could prove an issue for some; storage in general too, especially if you’re thinking of heading off for anything longer than a weekend in the Spider. And, once lowered, the stiff soft-top wasn’t the easiest to click into place without getting out of the car to do it. If you’re vertically challenged, be warned.

Would I pick an Abarth 124 Spider over the 2-litre MX-5? There’s the thing. They’re so different in character you could almost make a case for having both. Fancy a B-road blast without having to put in too much effort? The Spider is ideal. Want to be made to work a little harder for the (equally rewarding) thrills with the Mazda’s naturally aspirated engine – and any excuse to make good use of that slick-shifting gearchange in either car is a good thing – then plumping for the Spider’s Japanese counterpart won’t make you feel like you’ve made a mistake. They are similar in so many ways, yet so different in core character that it really comes down to how you prefer to get your kicks. Then again, the fact that the 124 Spider is in the process of being withdrawn from sale in the UK – not through lack of sales but due to a lack of profitability – might just make that decision for you.

In the days before it left evo, the Abarth’s dashboard was doing an admirable impression of the Blackpool Illuminations, with the TCS/DSC, ABS and service lights all lit up. So maybe it was the right time to be handing back the keys to RV18 WJK. It was at that time that I also realised that the exhaust note which had irked me in the early months of my time with the 124 had actually grown on me, and was something I was going to miss.

So, in summary, the Abarth 124 Spider was noisy, cramped, lacking in storage and had looks only a mother could love. I loved every minute of it. – Jonathan Baker, evo 262

Date acquiredJuly 2018
Duration of test6 months
Total test mileage5395
Overall mpg34.0
Costs£0
Purchase price£30,025
Value today£22,000
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement

Most Popular

Ford Mustang GT 2024 review – old school in all the right ways
Ford Mustang GT – front
Reviews

Ford Mustang GT 2024 review – old school in all the right ways

We loved the new Ford Mustang in track-focused Dark Horse form – how does the standard GT fare?
23 May 2024
Toyota GR86 v BBR Mazda MX-5 – car pictures of the week
Toyota GR86 v BBR Mazda MX-5 – twin
Features

Toyota GR86 v BBR Mazda MX-5 – car pictures of the week

In evo’s Track Car of the Year issue, we put Toyota’s GR86 up against a BBR-tuned Mazda MX-5 – these are our favourite shots
25 May 2024
Toyota GR Yaris v Mercedes‑AMG A45 S v Hyundai i30 N v Honda Civic Type R
Hot hatch test final four
Group tests

Toyota GR Yaris v Mercedes‑AMG A45 S v Hyundai i30 N v Honda Civic Type R

The rally-bred Toyota GR Yaris, bombastic Mercedes‑AMG A45 S, thrillsome Hyundai i30 N and dazzling Honda Civic Type R are each brilliant in their own…
26 May 2024