Ride and handling
We noticed it on first acquaintance abroad, and noticed it again having now driven the car in the UK: the Abarth 124 definitely seems to have a stiffer structure than the Mazda MX-5 on which it’s based. Not so stiff that cabin shimmy has been eliminated – you’ll still feel wobbles over harsh surfaces – but it’s a welcome improvement nevertheless.
As is the slight reduction in roll, though again this hasn’t been entirely curtailed, and the 124 still adopts some amusing body angles in corners. Well, slightly frustrating angles actually, as the roll results in a slightly vague response to inputs. Given the steering delivers little information from the road to your fingertips it means there’s always some guesswork involved when turning into corners, particularly if the surface is slippery.
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That’s not to say the handling isn’t still a lot of fun. Get your turn-in right and the extra torque of the turbocharged engine gives you more throttle adjustability, more of the time than that of the MX-5. Turn off the traction control, which does allow a degree of slip, and you’ll still need plenty of throttle to break traction, but the lack of chassis feedback means you notice the onset of oversteer through visual cues rather than through your hands. Thankfully the steering is quick and light, so dialling in corrective lock is easy.
Sport mode doesn’t significantly alter the feel of the car, but the quicker throttle response at lower throttle openings, and the slightly weightier steering are different enough to warrant them being your default setting on a spirited drive.