I love classic cars , so I’m a little protective when a car manufacturer relaunches something from their past. It’s a genuine relief, then, when I first see the new Abarth 124 in the metal.
Sit a new 124 Spider next to the original Tom Tjaarda-designed Fiat 124 Spider from 50 years ago, and you are looking at one of the best examples of a relaunched classic out there. My only gripe is that the tail lights don’t seem to match the rest of the car, or the original. However, they do have an Italian flair, looking like those off a Maserati.
Only the interior doesn’t match the rest of the car. It’svery MX-5 in here. That’s not to say its cramped, though. More than anything it just highlights that while the creative flair of the designers was able to expand the exterior outwards (the Abarth is dimensionally bigger than the MX-5), with the interior the hard points acted as boundaries. I’m guessing they decided it’s best to leave it as is, just change the steering wheel and seats and get going.
As much as this is a different car to the MX-5, you are left with no real choice but to compare the two. While the Abarth uses the highly praised chassis of the MX-5, it also manages to not only add its own style, but proves that beauty is more than skin deep because the Abarth 124 treats us to Brembo Brakes, Bilstein suspension and its own a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. All that suit its character perfectly.
Driving out of Byron Bay on the local launch, the first thing I notice is that the 1241s not slow, with the engine and six-speed manual working well together — a six-speed torque converter automatic is available as an option. Despite its modest capacity, the engine is muscular throughout the rev range. There’s 125kW available at a low-sounding 550Orpm, and a stout 250Nm from just 250Orpm.
In the manual (not surprisingly, our pick), the drivetrain’s sweet spot ranges from the top of second gear through to fourth. Then there’s fifth and sixth to come. The gearing is well suited to the characteristics of the turbocharged engine and around town you’d never need more than 60 per cent throttle per gear, with the remaining 40 per cent reserved for spirited driving.
Dynamically, the 1241s a very forgivirg car, though you really have to push it hard to find yourself in a place where forgiveness will be required. Yes, you can chuck it into a corner and, yesyou will come out the other side, leaning on the brilliantly tuned Bilstein suspensionwith a lot of confidence. How Abarth managed to set it up to be so comfortable yet relatively firm deserves mention.
Combined with steering feel that, while not the sharpest out of town on these roads, will make it far more liveable around town. It suits the character of the car perfectly and on the bumpyyet brilliant twists and turns of the Gold Coasts hinterland roads it feels right at home.
But unlike the MX-5, turn-in bite isn’t what the Abarth 124 is about. Once we get to the track it’s obvious that it’s more of a car youwant to glide around in, keeping it finely balanced where it will deliver the best outcomes. I can almostguarantee that an Abarth that makes no tyre noise in a lap will post a faster time than one that does.
The only real criticism I can find is in the exhaust note, the engine just does not provide the right type of mechanical energy that Abarths of old created. There is no crisp bark to that I really want. You can attempt to fix this with the optional Monza exhaust but its additional volume doesn’t provide the old-school fireworks that we crave.
We’re clearly fans of the new Abarth 124 Spider and we suspect it will find plenty of otherswhen we tell you the price. The manual starts at $41,990, while the six-speed auto is an additional $2000. There’s also an Australia-wide deal that will getyou into a manual 124 Spider for $43,500 drive away. There’s also a limited run (numbered 1 to 100) of Launch Edition Abarth 124 Spiders available for no additional cost.
In this category and at this price it lives alone at the top. It’s old school motoring for fun reborn. Now, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a homologation special Abarth 124 Spider Rally.