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Abarth 124 Spider: PH Fleet

Arrivederci to the Abarth roadster; will it be missed?

By Matt Bird / Wednesday, February 14, 2018

So the 124 has departed from the PistonHeads posse of long term loaners (driven by long-term loners), just as Britain eagerly anticipates a sunny spring after this miserable winter. Madness, right? Well, not necessarily; if you took the roof off a Honda Jazz there would be some summertime amusement there, as the balmy fresh air cast aside many objective concerns. But if a small convertible can still be enjoyed during winter, then there's something more to it.

'Our' 124 was certainly thoroughly tested, clocking up more than 6,000 miles in five months and returning to Abarth with good chunk more than 15k on it. Bear in mind that the next highest mileage example in the classifieds has 5,000 miles and you can see that RO17 DVK really is one of a kind.

To mark its departure, I wanted to do something meaningful with the Abarth because, despite its flaws, it had been an enjoyable companion over the past few months. Sadly Ace Cafe's Italian Night didn't quite go to plan, the attendance registering eight by the time we left with five of those being Abarth 500s. And two being Abarth Puntos. And then the 124... Presumably all the Enzos, Diablos and Zondas arrived later.

Send off attempt number two - involving a Sunday afternoon driving around the countryside - was marginally more successful, though that's not saying a lot. Despite the winter gloom, dithering fools in Xsara Picassos and some heinously expensive carrot cake, it served as a nice reminder of the Abarth's virtues: compact dimensions, punchy turbocharged performance, great handling balance and strong brakes.

While the Spider's issues won't be ignored, it's worth stating that the majority of my Abarth memories are fond ones; crucially, too, they are from aspects of the car not shared with the MX-5. I loved that people were interested in the 124, that it was rare and largely unknown to a lot of people. Every person who tried to guess the price assumed it was higher. The bold details meant it would grab the attention in a way no MX-5 would have, and that would surely help justify the price premium. And while the noise wasn't exactly to my taste, the brazen nature of its racket was oddly appealing - it was apologising to nobody for being a loud and proud Italian sports car.

Of course, this was combined with so much of what was good about the MX-5, including an intuitive interior, that fabulously simple roof, and a slender kerbweight. Aside from that one electrical glitch, the interior functioned perfectly (and the heated seats were great), although I must say one thing to Mazda, to Fiat, to everybody: please, can you add reach adjustment to the wheel? Please. It would make a sometimes awkward driving position (because the car is so small) into something far more accommodating. Surely it can't add that much weight?

While the moans are being addressed, it's worth dealing with the biggie: the Abarth really doesn't ride how it should. Stiffening it for sportiness has added a brittleness to the ride quality, plus there's a fair degree of flex from the chassis, too. Yet it still rolls quite a lot. This mismatch can make it difficult to drive fast, because the initial messages from the car aren't all that confidence-inspiring. As discovered at Silverstone, the balance is certainly there, but the Abarth's occasionally vague character at lower commitment levels makes you reluctant to explore. A mid-way setting for the stability control (it currently has just fully on or fully off) would help a great deal.

Where does that leave the Abarth as a long-term prospect? In a more positive position than after the initial road test, that's for sure. It's a shame that it's not dynamically better sorted, certainly, although aftermarket solutions must be on the way if they're not already. Don't forget, too, that the Scorpione model offers the Abarth package at less money (and in just one paint colour). At a bit more than £25,000 instead of over £30k it makes a great deal more sense, more exclusive and more entertaining than an MX-5 while also being the only other rear-wheel drive alternative for the money. Ultimate purists will prefer the dynamic finesse of a GT86, but the Abarth has an awful lot going for it - even in winter - that hasn't arisen simply from plonking a scorpion badge on a Mazda. With a touch more polish to a few key areas it has the potential to be brilliant.

 2017 Abarth 124 Spider
On fleet since: August 2017
Mileage: 15,488 miles (delivered on 8,858)
List price new: £29,565 (As tested £32,210 comprising £600 for Portogallo 1974 Grey paint, £1,250 for Visibility Pack (LED headlights with automatic levelling and washers, Adaptive Front Light System, Dusk-sensing and rain sensitive wipers, rear parking sensors) and £795 for Bose Sound System)
Last month at a glance:Britain’s highest mileage 124 heads home!





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