The Abarth 124 Spider will be a rare sight on our roads. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK
The Abarth 124 Spider will be a rare sight on our roads. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK

Abarth. If you have never heard of it, then you don’t have performance in your blood. It is a racing and road car maker founded by Italo-Austrian Carlo Abarth in 1949, which became Fiat’s performance brand in 1952 with the Abarth 1500 Biposto, built on Fiat mechanicals.

Abarth vehicles were renowned for their high performance and power, while being small and agile. They achieved huge success in competitions and took many records in the process. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Abarth brand made a name for itself as the synonym for sport, tuning and performance, changing the sports-car world.

The latest model to wear the famous scorpion badge is the Abarth 124 Spider. Fiat has decided not to bring the regular Fiat 124 Spider models to our shores, choosing instead to only bring the top model, with a price tag of R649,900.

Capitalising on the lessons learnt from the Abarth racing team, an obsession for lightness drove the brand to trim every unnecessary gram from the regular Fiat version. This has resulted in a car weighing 1,060kg, with most of the weight concentrated between the two axles.

Under the bonnet is a 1.4l four-cylinder turbocharged engine with MultiAir technology. Teamed with a six-speed manual transmission, it delivers 125kW and 250Nm of torque to the rear wheels, providing a claimed top speed of 232km/h and a 0-100km/h time of 6.8 seconds.

The engine sound is a fundamental element of all Abarth cars, and standard equipment includes the Record Monza exhaust with a dual-mode system capable of modifying the path of the exhaust gas according to the engine speed.

The suspension has double wishbones up front and a five-arm multilink on the rear. The company says the set-up is calibrated specifically to increase stability in corners and for compression braking, further aided by Bilstein shocks.

The interior, left, is mostly Mazda MX-5 with a few Abarth styling touches. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK
The interior, left, is mostly Mazda MX-5 with a few Abarth styling touches. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK

A mechanical self-locking differential is fitted and the steering feedback has been optimised by adopting a specific sports calibration of the power-steering system.

There are also a number of electronic driver assistance systems, which can be switched off to provide that true race-car experience. The electronic controls are integrated in the Drive Mode Selector, which makes it possible to select from two performance settings by means of a lever on the central tunnel: Normal and Sport.

The system can intervene on multiple parameters: maximum delivered torque, accelerator pedal response, power-steering operation level, stability and traction control threshold (if they are not switched off for racing ) as well as exhaust sound.

The design, particularly of the interior, might look a little familiar. That’s because the 124 is basically a Mazda MX-5, the car that won the World Car of the Year title in 2016 and which is renowned for great handling and an ability to put a smile on your face.

Externally, Fiat’s designers have done their own thing with a design that is enhanced by the additional Abarth styling.

Inside, it is basically all Mazda, save for a few Fiat and Abarth design tweaks. This means a great driving position, high level of equipment and absolutely no space for the kids. Equipment includes all the expected mod cons as well as a prominent, red central rev counter and a Sound Plus pack with an integrated infotainment system that can be operated using a dial on the centre console. It includes a seven-inch colour touchscreen, two USB ports, an aux port and Bluetooth connection features.

It is combined with a Bose sound system with nine speakers, four of which are built into the head restraints.

Fabric roof

Sticking with tradition, and just like the Mazda, there is also a manually operated double-layer fabric roof. It is designed to be opened and closed with one hand from the driver’s seat in a few seconds. Once folded behind the seats, it does not occupy space in the boot.

There are a host of state-of-the-art active and passive safety devices. In addition to ABS, standard equipment includes electronic brake force distribution and electronic stability control.

Safety also extends to an active bonnet system to comply with international pedestrian collision safety standards. With sensors on the cross members and two small pyrotechnic devices positioned in the engine compartment, the system detects a collision with a pedestrian and deploys in a few milliseconds to create a safe space between bonnet and engine, and thus attenuate the consequences of the impact.

There is also a Visibility Plus pack which includes full-LED, self-levelling adaptive headlights with automatic orientation. These are combined with rain, dusk and parking sensors.

Normally we would not mention the colour choices available, but we are talking about an Italian company here, so the car is not simply available in red, white or black.

Instead, it is available in colours with really cool names, such as Turini 1975 White, Costa Brava 1972 Red or San Marino 1972 Black. The names all pay homage to famous rally wins for the Abarth brand.

On the subject of rallying, there is also a rally version for those who are inclined to relive the heydays of Abarth, although it is not planned for the South African market. Instead, the Abarth 124 Rally has been developed to compete in the Italian and International Rally Championship in the Group R-GT and features a 223kW 1.8l motor.

We do not expect the Abarth 124 Spider to be a common sight on SA’s roads, but if you want something different to the MX-5 and feel like telling people in the bar that their red car is nothing compared to yours in resplendent Costa Brava 1972 Red, then this could be what you are looking for.

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