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Abarth 124 Spider 2016 review

The Abarth 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5. In fact, they are built in the same factory in Hiroshima, Japan.
EXPERT RATING
7
Tim Robson road tests and reviews the 2016 Abarth 124 Spider with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

Tim Robson road tests and reviews the 2016 Abarth 124 Spider with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

So let’s get it out there now - the Abarth 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5. In fact, they are built in the same factory in Hiroshima, Japan.

And that’s a pretty good thing.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles correctly surmised that the costs of developing its own affordable droptop sports car would be vast, while Mazda knew full well that while sports cars add a nice halo to the brand, sales of a new version tend to fall off a cliff after a couple of years.

So the two companies got together and made a deal; Mazda would supply the basic body, chassis and interior, and FCA would add its own driveline, front and rear bumpers and some new interior trim.

Thus, the 124 Spider was reborn.

But while physically and ideologically the two cars are largely the same, there are actually sufficient differences between the two that allows the 124 to stand on its merits.

The suspension work alone is enough to give the 124 a unique personality over the MX-5 right out of the gate.

Design

The Abarth is based on Mazda’s fourth-generation MX-5, which was released with much fanfare in 2015. Built in Mazda’s main plant in Hiroshima, the Abarth wears a different nose clip, bonnet and rear end, and is 140mm longer as a result.

FCA says the car pays homage to the original 124 Spider of the 1970s, and it can even be optioned with a black bonnet and bootlid to look like the 124 Sport of 1979. Our advice? Don’t worry about the homage stuff; it doesn’t do it any favours.

The 124 still shares the same cab-back silhouette of the the MX-5, but the larger, bluff nose, prominent bonnet and bigger rear lights give the car a more mature, almost macho look. It’s finished with charcoal grey 17-inch rims that are matched in colour by the rollover covers and mirror caps.

Practicality

It’s a strictly two-seater affair in the Abarth, and those two people ought to have at least had dinner first. The 124 is diminutive in every direction, with the driver getting the better of the deal when it comes to legroom and width.

The passenger lacks for legroom most of all, especially if they are over 180cm.

The Abarth’s interior is largely lifted from that of the MX-5, with some pieces of trim replaced with softer-touch items and the speedo dial – somewhat inexclicably – replaced with an item that was obviously calibrated in miles per hour, changed back to kilometres per hour and makes no practical sense as a result.

The 124 inherits the MX-5’s plastic modular movable cupholders, which isn’t great. they may allow two bottles to be mounted in the cabin, but they are too shallow and not mounted securely enough to stop regular-sized water bottles from rattling around or being easily knocked out by an elbow.

Careful packing, too, is the order of the day with very few places to stash much of anything, with the lockable glove box moved in between the seats. The boot is only 140 litres in capacity – compared with the MX-5’s 130-litre VDA figure - which is also on the titchy side.

The 124’s roof arrangement has been carried over from the MX-5, and it’s an absolute joy to use. A single latch lever allows the roof to be easily pitched down and away with a single click to retain it, while erecting it is just as simple.

Price and features

The 124 will be sold under Fiat’s Abarth performance brand initially, with a single model on offer that starts at $41,990 before on road costs in manual guise, and $43,990 with an automatic transmission.

By way of comparison, the current top-spec MX-5 2.0 GT is priced at $39,550 in manual guise, with the auto range-topper costing $41,550.

The Abarth’s array of kit for the money, though, is pretty impressive. The 124 scores a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine, trick Bilstein shocks, Brembo four-piston brakes and a limited slip diff.

Inside, it gets leather and microfibre seats that come equipped with speakers in the headrests via a Bose stereo, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth, leather wrapped wheel and gearknob, sports mode switch and more.

Leather centred seats are a $490 option, while Recaro leather/alcantara seats are $1990 for the pair.

A Visibility Pack allows the 124 owner to add more safety items like cross traffic detection and blind spot monitoring, as well as LED headlights (LED taillights are standard).

Engine and transmissions

FCA has fitted the 1.4-litre MultiAir turbocharged four-cylinder engine to the 124, backed by its own version of the Aisin six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

The 1.4-litre engine makes 125kW at 5500rpm and 250Nm at 2500rpm, and can be found under the bonnet of the Fiat 500-based Abarth 595.

  • 2016 Abarth 124 Spider. 2016 Abarth 124 Spider.
  • 2016 Abarth 124 Spider. 2016 Abarth 124 Spider.
  • 2016 Abarth 124 Spider. 2016 Abarth 124 Spider.
  • 2016 Abarth 124 Spider. 2016 Abarth 124 Spider.
  • 2016 Abarth 124 Spider. 2016 Abarth 124 Spider.
  • 2016 Abarth 124 Spider. 2016 Abarth 124 Spider.
  • 2016 Abarth 124 Spider. 2016 Abarth 124 Spider.

The car’s gearbox options are similar to those found in the MX-5, but have been uprated to cope with the additional power and torque (7kW and 50Nm over the 2.0-litre MX-5, to be exact), while the auto has been configured to work with the new limited slip diff.

FCA claims the 124 will hit 100km/h in 6.8 seconds.

Fuel consumption

The 124 returns a claimed 6.5L/100km on the combined fuel cycle. Over 150km of testing, we saw a dash-indicated return of 7.1 L/100km

Driving

The suspension work alone – heavier dampers, stiffer springs and revised anti-roll bars – is enough to give the 124 a unique personality over the MX-5 right out of the gate.

The additional toys, like the limited slip diff and one-piece Brembo calipers (available on a Japanese-market MX-5 called the Sport) also give the 124 a leg up in the performance stakes.

The engine doesn’t sound or feel particularly fast, but the package feels about ten per cent more potent than a similarly equipped MX-5.

The 124 is about 70kg heavier than its donor, which accounts for some of the lack of urge.

Over the course of a long cross country jaunt, the 124 is a willing companion that has a deeper, more fulsome connection with the road than its friskier fraternal twin, with more meaty steering and more tied-down suspension than its donor.

The simple, no-fuss mechanical rear diff is a welcome addition, too, and gives the 124 a crispness of turn-in and corner exit that suits the car.

Safety

Coming standard with two airbags and a read camera, the 124 offers a Visibility Kit that adds LED headlights, rear cross traffic alert, rear sensors and blind spot warning.

There’s no automatic emergency braking offered – the frontal section of the car is essentially too small and low for current systems to work effectively, according to sources.

Ownership

Abarth offers a three-year, 150,000km warranty on the 124.

A three-year pre-paid maintenance plan can be purchased for the 124 Spider at the point of sale, at a cost is $1,300

Pricing Guides

$31,570
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$27,500
Highest Price
$35,640

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
SPIDER 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $28,710 – 34,650 2016 Abarth 124 2016 SPIDER Pricing and Specs
SPIDER LAUNCH EDITION 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $29,590 – 35,640 2016 Abarth 124 2016 SPIDER LAUNCH EDITION Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7

“The Abarth 124 Spider may very well be related to the MX-5, but the cars have their own distinct and strong personalities.There’s a sense that the Abarth hides its light under a bushel – the exhaust, for example, could be more vocal, and a little more power wouldn’t hurt it.Its suspension tune, though, shouts ‘performance first’, and gives the 124 a harder, more aggressive edge, and Abarth tells us that an optional exhaust kit, called the Monza, will give the 124 a louder, more raucous voice.”

Would an Abarth suit you, or would you choose an MX-5? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$28,710

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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