On paper, the figures don’t look outstanding – 168bhp and 0-62mph in 6.8sec aren’t particularly special in the high-end sports car world – but on the road the Abarth upgrade feels extremely well sorted, especially accompanied by a fantastic exhaust note through the standard Record Monza exhaust.
While the auto transmission option isn’t that satisfying, the six-speed manual sends power to the rear end via delightfully slick changes.
Plenty of low-down muscle gets the 124 Spider off the line, and there’s a fat, turbo-rich midrange. The upper reaches of the rev range could be more exciting, true, but most people will be more than content, and at least there’s less chance of losing your licence or scaring yourself silly than in some other sports cars.
And then there’s the chassis… This Mazda MX-5-based roadster weighs just 1060kg and is equipped with stiffened anti-roll bars, specially tuned Abarth-Bilstein dampers and a limited-slip diff. While it’s not quicker than the standard 2.0-litre MX-5, its handling definitely raises the bar, giving a real feeling of excited satisfaction. Excellent and alive steering complements the 124 Spider’s accomplished body control, and even a bit of safe yet exhilarating tail-out cornering at sensible speeds is achievable if you switch off the traction control. This car is such a lot of fun.
Inside, the 124 Spider’s cabin boasts all the expected Mazda quality as well as neat Abarth embellishments including plenty of Alcantara trim and a numbered plaque. It certainly makes you feel like you’re in a special car – although whether it feels special enough to tip the £30,000 balance after ticking only a couple of option boxes is open to debate. That’s quite a difference from the range-topping, £23,695 Mazda MX-5, and the value-for-money question raises its head when you consider the considerable road noise, especially through the fabric roof, and buzzing under load.
The Abarth 124 Spider’s unique style and hugely fun drive knock any such thoughts out of your head, though. Its unique presentation of superb Japanese design and construction overlaid with Italian flair make this a very desirable machine.
Abarth 124 Spider
Engine 4 cyls, 1368cc, turbocharged, petrol
Power 168bhp at 5500rpm
Torque 184lb ft at 2500rpm
Top speed 143mph
Gearbox 6-spd manual
Dry weight 1060kg
Economy 44.1mpg (combined)
CO2/BIK Tax 148g/km/26%
Rivals Mazda MX-5, Mercedes SLC
Sarah Bradley is a writer for AutoCar.Reuse content