Without much warning, Abarth’s 124 Spider has touched down in South Africa with a footprint as light as the car itself. The surprise newcomer of 2016 will be content as a low-volume, niche seller with driving thrills and exclusivity at its owner’s behest. The charm here is weight. Every possible gram cleaved from the 124’s body without being forced down the expensive path of carbon fibre. Stepping onto the scales at 1060kgs bestows the wirySpider with a best-in-category power to weight ratio aided by its low position tucked centrally between both axles.
Even the manually operated roof, which stows behind the front seats, saves weight while keeping to the no frills theme. The 1.4-litre turbo charged engine is pushed as far bade behind the front wheels as the cabin will allow. With weight down to a minimum, 125kW and 250Nm has never produced this much joy. The 0-100km/h time of 6.8 seconds and top end of 232km/h shouldn’t be compared to anything mainstream because the 124 Spider keeps its driver rapt in ways other than pure output.
We couldn’t come up with a better set of components ourselves: Bilstein shocks, mechanical limited slip differential and six-speed manual gearbox. A dynamite trio that has trademarked raw handling for decades used and perfected by Fiat in the halcyon era only to be revived to similar glory in the 124 Spider. The drive selector on the car’s centre tunnel is where throttle response, steering feedback, traction control take their instructions from. Normal is suited to everyday driving but the step up to Sport has the provenance of Abarth Motorsport all over it.
With the Abarth 124 Spider, traction off means exactly that – a light rear-wheel drive car with a fizzy turbo engine being fairly intuitive to bring back to safety by a moderately skilled driver. Cars obsessed with lightness usually chuck out everything from carpets to door handles onto a crumpled pile of soundproofing material but in the 124 there’s a slot for a memory stick, an audio system capable of various formats and heated seats.
We wouldn’t even miss the 7-inch touchscreen, cruise control and keyless start system had Fiat not bothered to offer it but this is a brand desperately trying to endear itself to tech savvy customers so we accept them as necessary juxtapositions. The Abarth 124 Spider will be available immediately from Abarth dealerships countrywide, retails for R649 900, and comes standard with a three year 100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.