Its no secret that we are big fans of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and its compelling blend of retro Italian charm and its Mazda based underpinnings. Fiat has big ambitions for this model, and hopes that it can help reverse its fortunes here in the U.S.
However we never had the chance to sample its spicier sibling, the 2017 Fiat Abarth 124 Spider which supposedly brings more performance and aggression to the 124’s elegant lines. But has Abarth’s interpretation of performance created a potent roadster offering that adds depth to the 124 lineup?
To find out we spent sometime with the car on the winding roads of Monticello New York to truly see if this droptop has the spice necessary to win over budget minded performance buyers.
The exterior styling of the Abarth 124 Spider certainly has the visual flair to stand out amongst the crowded field of budget performance vehicles currently on the market. The basic design of the 124 Spider carries over to the Abarth version, but the scorpion tinged variant features model exclusive front and rear fascias as well as sinister looking 17-inch dark grey wheels. Our tester did not have the matte black hood or trunk that typically comes with this model, but the overall look still embodies performance, and is certainly more butch than the Mazda Miata that we recently tested.
This newfound sense of purpose also carries over into the interior of the Abarth 124 Spider. While its heavily Mazda influenced interior may invoke unplesant memories of the deliberate cookie cutter designs that once defined older General Motors offerings, Abarth designers did a good job building on the subtle differences that their counterparts at Fiat have infused into the design, while also enhancing it at the same time.
A blood red tachometer serves as the herald of things to come with red accenting also being used on the steering wheel, center console trim, seats, and dashboard. This helps create a bold look that is also welcoming to occupants. The fore-mentioned leather seats in our tester feature suede inserts that did a great job delivering the levels of support and comfort needed for spirited driving. Like the Miata, the cabin is a bit cramped, but still does a good job connecting the driver to the car.
The interior ergonomics also reflect its Mazda DNA and feature big driver oriented controls as well as Mazda’s slick infotainment system which still does a good job delivering crisp images and the same intuitive functionality that defines its Japanese counterpart.
Lastly, Fiat representatives decided to have some fun with our tester, and added an accompanying plastic spider that we affectionately dubbed Rosemary (pictured). Sadly, Rosemary and its eight legged siblings do not come with the car from the factory, but owners looking for an eight legged pal of their own can find one at their local Dollar Tree or Walmart.
With all of this visual punch both inside and out, it was really disappointing that the Abarth’s performance hardware did not live up to expectations. This is not the fault of the excellent albeit notchy six speed manual transmission, which is borrowed from the previous generation Miata, and delivered short and accurate shifts despite a more abrupt and heavier clutch pedal.
Rather, it is the 1.4 liter turbocharged four cylinder that is nestled beneath the hood. In theory the idea of adding more power to an already pleasant driving platform seems like a match made in heaven. However a closer look reveals an engine that is filled with turbo lag and feels lethargic in daily commuting. The turbo boost eventually arrives higher in the rev band but instead of a sustained push, it comes in one big rush, and it eventually fizzles out at 5500 rpm which is somewhat disappointing especially since a more sustained push would’ve really allowed our tester to truly shine on some of the long straightaways that dotted our driving route.
At least the soundtrack from its quad exhaust tips sounds aggressive and the extra four horsepower the less restrictive set of pipes delivers is a nice surprise. The Abarth also features reduced body roll and eliminates some of the nervousness that is present in the Miata especially in its electrically assisted steering. Braking was also strong with the car delivering smooth and stable stops from any speed.
Pricing for the 2017 Fiat Abarth 124 Spider starts at $28,195 with our lightly optioned tester ringing in at $29,190 thanks to a customer preferred package as well as its $995 destination fee. This pricing puts our tester in a tough spot with the scorpion badged Fiat being slightly more expensive than the $28,600 Miata Club, while also slightly undercutting a base Grand Touring model which starts at $30,065.
While the 2017 Fiat Abarth 124 Spider certainly does a good job delivering the levels of style and Italian engineering that buyers crave, its gutless engine keeps it from usurping the Miata, and its well earned spot in our dream garage.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.