Abarth 124, things start well. While the overhangs are probably still a bit awkward and the ride height a little tall, the Abarth is a far sportier and more exciting thing to look at than a regular 124. The red accents work, the black bonnet is a nice feature and the wheels look cool as well, although four exhausts might be a bit much.
Inside, any thoughts about the amount of Alcantara and scorpion logos that can be squeezed into one interior are cast aside once the noise from those exhausts is heard. This really is a very, very loud little car. And that's before the Sport mode is selected. It will make people look, whether you want them to or not, because it's a proper old din. Sometimes it sounds great, all fizzy and angry four-cylinder sports car, and occasionally it sounds like an outboard motor. It sounds authentic at least, the pops and bangs that sometimes emerge from behind you seemingly from driving hard and not because the ECU says so.
There's a broader point to consider here though: the aggressiveness of the exhaust and the firmness of the suspension send very clear signals that this is no longer a soft and accommodating 124. This is the sports car, the car to channel the emotional, exciting Italian spirit. It therefore must be judged as such...
last year, the toughening up of the 124's suspension not helping its structural integrity. In Britain on bumpy and wet roads the flex really dents your confidence as the car feels to be pulling itself in different directions.
Moreover, while the firmness has added some extra precision, it still hasn't solved the rather skittish behaviour that afflicts both 124 and MX-5 in damp conditions. The Abarth feels like its springs have been stiffened but the dampers left unchecked, even though the press material speaks of 'Abarth by Bilstein' items. While it leans and lurches less than a standard car, the Abarth still doesn't engender much faith at the limit as the control of wheel and body movements feels rather slack. It's a bizarre sensation in a car so light.
The limited-slip diff is a worthwhile addition though; no longer is power squandered through an inside wheel and, with good response from the pedal, the Abarth can be adjusted easily on the throttle to a pleasing degree. Again though the driver isn't entirely comfortable because of the slightly glassy steering, a common trait throughout these cars. You don't know much about what the front is doing, so the first you know is when the rear is letting go. Best be quick...
The brakes are very good, the gearbox still excellent, and there's a real pleasure to be had in driving something small on British roads - it feels really well suited. Lots about the Abarth impresses, it's just that lots frustrate as well. And for all the noise and four-exhaust fury, it still isn't that fast.
Finally, while Abarth of course has history with the 124, here it feels misplaced. If the standard car is meant to be the more relaxed and refined version of the MX-5, why force it into a sportier suit? As mentioned when we drove the MX-5 RF, that more luxurious hard top variant would surely sit more comfortably with the Fiat's remit. That leaves the MX-5 there to base the racier variants on, as has happened so successfully over the past quarter of a century.
a turbocharged car into budget as well. A GT86 is £5K cheaper and more fun straight out of the box. Despite that, it's not hard to imagine the 124 proving popular with Abarth aficionados; look at the Abarth 500s, where a Fiesta ST is cheaper and better to drive - still see plenty of them, don't you? For fans of the look and image, they will find a lot to like about the Abarth; it's just disappointing that there's limited appeal here for those beyond the committed few.
ABARTH 124 SPIDER
Engine: 1,368cc, turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 172@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@
Top speed: 144mph
MPG: 44.1 (NEDC combined)