Fiat revived the 500 and more recently, the 124 Spider, which was originally named the 124 Sport Coupe and was one hundred per cent Fiat. The modern equivalent though is anything but as it is more Japanese than Italian.
Italian look, everything else Japanese
Lift the top off the pretty body and it is all Mazda MX-5 underneath, in fact, it is built in the same factory as the MX-5. This Turismo test unit does however have some slight racing inspired adaptions thanks to Abarth tuning over its eastern counterpart. So is it as noteworthy as the MX-5 on which it is based?
For starters, I’m not sold on the looks, especially from the front. In fact, I’m not much of a fan when it comes to the MX-5’s styling either. The side and rear of the Abarth does resemble its classical heritage though. It’s square, neat and sporty.
One will even find quad tailpipes at the rear, a slight overkill if you ask me, but that’s my opinion. The Abarth model gets racy alloy wheels to add to its character, and when finished in bright red, it does look really good.
Inside, one will be hard pressed to find the differences between the Fiat and the Mazda. It remains a sporty looking interior and I do like the overall design. There has been some slight alterations to some finishes as well as the addition of Abarth badges.
The interior is not extremely spacious and there is a lack of cup holders and door bins. There isn’t even a glove compartment. Other issues pertain to the overall quality of plastics and materials used not being as good as what I expected.
One highlight though was the fact that the soft-top roof can be lowered at the flick of a latch and raised just as easily. Drop it, and the Abarth comes alive and one starts to forget about all the interior’s niggles.
Under its long bonnet though, the similarities between the 124 and the Mazda stops. The Abarth features a different, more powerful 125kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged engine sending power to the rear wheels via a really snappy six-speed manual gearbox.
It is also lighter despite being slightly bigger, which means a better power to weight ratio, a faster 0-100km/h time of 6.8 seconds and a higher top speed of 232km/h than the Mazda. In addition, it also has a sportier exhaust note which makes a sound that some performance 2.0-litre cars would be jealous of.
Granted, while there is a bit off turbo-lag initially and even a decidedly asthmatic feel in the upper regions of the rev-range, keep the boost within the required range, and the 124 will put a big smile on your face as you go up the ‘box. The suspension has also been specifically tuned for this car, as has the steering and dampers, which means you can really exploit what it has on offer handling wise
To conclude, some will argue that the 124 Spider is not as driver orientated or as pure as the naturally-aspirated and more edgier MX-5, which I tend to agree with.
It is however a great little roadster that delivers loads of fun when behind the wheel. It lets you take liberties and push boundaries. It’s a great little car for just over R400 000. That is until my colleague Charl Bosch told me that it is in fact R200 000 more expensive than the Mazda, which brings the price tag to a stupendous R650 000 at the time of testing.
I almost passed out with shock and disbelief. I’m sorry, as fun and fuss free as what it is, I would much rather search the autodealer.co.za website for something just as fun for a lot less.