Abarth 124 Spider 2019 review
Sure, it's just a tiny bit Japanese underneath, thanks to its clear family tree connections with the Mazda MX-5, but there's no doubt there's plenty of Italian passion in the fabulously brio-filled Fiat 124 Abarth.
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It's weeks like this where one recognises how quickly time marches on - the BRZ and 86 twins have been with us for nearly seven years. That's a long time in car years. It's still a fresh car in my mind because people are - genuinely - still talking about it and still arguing about it.
We don't often drive the BRZ because the 86 takes the lion's share of the co-production's sales - something in the order of nine to one. The people I talk to dismiss the car as a waste of time - what does the BRZ have that the 86 doesn't?
|Subaru BRZ 2019: (base)|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
For your extra six grand you score 17-inch alloys, six speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, sat nav, auto LED headlights, the same excellent front seats, "leather look" steering wheel and shifter and a full-size spare.
Miraculously, the BRZ's stereo head unit is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-capable and the USB port is down in the console rather than sticking out of the side of the screen. Toyota's continuing resistance to this piece of increasingly important technology is as baffling as it is irritating. A slightly down-spec version of Subaru's 'Starlink' runs the 7.0-inch screen that is in every way better than its sister's.
Well, it's an 86, so in and of itself, it's not a particularly fascinating design. Since launch a couple of tweaks have cleaned up the bumper and side strakes. The BRZ has always been the classier twin (I identify with that, being a twin myself... cough), with better colour choices and more attractive wheel options. Subaru has also resisted that polarising rear wing Toyota offers on the 86.
It always strikes me how small the BRZ is. It's genuinely tiny but looks so much bigger in photos, which is a lot to do with how low the bonnet is owing to the flat-four engine.
The cabin is basically the same as the Toyota, but the panel in front of the passenger is meekly trimmed in fake leather with red stitching. The seats are terrific, as ever, while the general fit and finish is good enough, if not amazing. The materials are nothing to get excited about, the point being to keep the price down, but few actual buyers seem to complain loud enough for any wholesale change.
For two passengers, things are great. The two cupholders are part of a removable tray in the centre console, with a slot for your phone. You can also sling your phone under the climate controls and the USB port doesn't present a visual crime like the 86's.
While it's not the easiest car to clamber in and out of, there is plenty of room once you're in and the seats are excellent.
The back seat is near useless for carrying passengers. Even when number one son was significantly shorter, he was not keen on riding in the rear. The boot in the BRZ is interrupted by the face-down full-size alloy spare, but at just 218 litres, what's a litre or two between friends? Drop the single-piece rear seat and there's space for a full set of alloy wheels.
Situation normal here under the bonnet, and I for one don't mind at all. Subaru's 2.0-litre, naturally-aspirated boxer four still sends 152kW/212Nm to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission and limited-slip differential.
The 0-100km/h time remains at a quick-if-not-amazing 7.4 seconds for the 1282kg BRZ.
Subaru says you'll get 8.4L/100km on the combined cycle in the BRZ and I'm inclined to agree with them. We managed 8.7L/100km over a week of suburban warrior-ing and 'long way to the shops' thrashing.
The BRZ scored five ANCAP stars in July 2012, so it's been a while.
5 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
Since January 1, 2019, Subaru has offered a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is cause for celebration. The BRZ also falls under the capped-price servicing program which runs to 63 months or 105,000km.
Services A to D are a nice easy $224.55, E is $362.81 and then the price leaps to over a grand for the F and falls slightly for the G service, leaving a total of $3306.18 over the program's life.
You can also pay your servicing in advance with a service plan but it doesn't seem to save you any money and has different time and kilometre limits compared to the capped price regime, but does come with free roadside assist for the duration of three or five years.
The 86's warranty isn't as long but the servicing is cheaper... at least for the first four.
Ah, yes. It's still wonderful. A couple of years ago the two companies who make the BRZ made some running changes. They were subtle and the effect was subtle because you don't want to mess too much with a winning formula. The extra welding and bits and bobs brought a little more stiffness to the shell meaning the suspension could be tweaked to further improve things.
The steering is weighted just right, the longish throw gearshift still works well in reducing the time your hand is off the wheel and it still turns in with the urgency of a politician looking for a good news story after being caught leaving a brothel.
What Subaru has resisted is bolting on a fat set of super-sticky tyres which would make the BRZ more like a hot hatch than the balanced sports car it is. Running those skinny tyres brings you and your instincts to the front of the experience. It means engaging your brain along with the Track mode that releases the hounds a bit and ensures you're (mostly) in control until you do something really dumb. That saving hand is always there until you make that final decision.
The brakes look small, but the car weighs so little, they're perfect for the job - the feel is terrific, with an enthusiastic bite and without too much assistance.
Good gracious, it's still a noisy little bugger, though. That boxer engine sends every growl back into the cabin which can make conversation difficult. Some will tell you that it's part of the character of the car, but it would be nice if it were quieter, especially if it's your only car. Sydney's crap roads also create a roar from the tyres.
But nothing - nothing - beats the purity of the experience, not even the otherwise sublime Mazda MX-5.
The BRZ remains a resolutely analogue delight and I love it more every time I drive it. It annoys my wife because she says it makes me drive like a teenager, but that's exactly the point. She also refuses to drive a manual (she begrudgingly agreed it was good fun when she drove the auto).
I also like the Subaru touches that kind of remind me that Fuji Heavy Industries still remembers its '90s purple patch with the raw WRX, mad Forester Turbo and wild STis.
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||8|