Alain Kuhn Von Kuhnenfeld
2019 Abarth 124 Spider
Updated: Jan 2, 2020
This week we are reviewing the 2019 Abarth 124 Spider. Our vehicle was assembled at the Hiroshima plant in Japan in conjunction with Mazda and has an MSRP of $52170 CAD.
Fun Factor: 9
Can it Family: 2
Karaoke Friendly: 6
City Cruising: 6
Many people may not know Abarth was founded 70 years ago by Karl Albert Abarth. He was born in Austria and moved initially to Italy to work on motorbikes; he also started racing bikes until his accident in Slovenia ended his bike racing career at the same time. That's when he began working with his long-time friend Ferry Porsche on a prototype that unfortunately never saw the daylight as it was too advanced for the time. After these projects, the now called Carlo Abarth after being naturalized Italian citizen went into building race cars and high-end exhaust under the Abarth name brand. Later the company was purchased by Fiat, where he stayed at the reins of his company until he moved back to Vienna and subsequently died in 1979.
The Abarth 124 Spider is one of these cars that don't get enough recognition on how enjoyable it is to drive. Our test car was equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission sporting a 1.4L turbocharged engine that produces a very respectable 164hp in the Abarth; the Fiat variant produces 160hp. Both vehicles produce 184 lb-ft and should get you to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds. In our real-life acceleration test, we reached 100km/h in 7.09 seconds with massive 17-inch Bridgestone Potenza tires on this considerably small roaster. The little turbo 1.4L engine is quite fun and likes to be revved; power delivery is constant in the mid-range and abruptly drops just before the redline. At low RPM, the engine does show its small displacement, however to the joy of the driver the aggressive exhaust note makes it fun to keep the engine revving as high as possible, we would even say louder than the one found on the Abarth 500. The Abarth 124 is quite the gem and is unfortunately overshadowed by its brother, the MX-5. While these two models do not rock the same engine and the MX-5 reaches 100km/h faster by half a second, the Abarth 124, feels nimbler around corners and brings some of that Italian flare that the Mazda can't replicate. The manual transmission is quite simple to operate and goes through gears quite smoothly, it's the perfect car to show someone to drive manual, and after driving, they may buy the manual 124 instead of the optional automatic.
Now we wouldn't hide that the Abarth 124 isn't a family car; however, that didn't stop us from driving our kids in it. And yes, we did install a car seat as we did in the BMW Z4, and it works perfectly fine to bring your 3-year-old on an open roof experience. The roof is quite easy to operate with one hand and can be opened and closed at any speed. Now, as a taller driver sitting in the 124, you can't be claustrophobic; the space is quite limited, and over bumps, our head is shy of an inch of hitting the roof. The seats themselves are well-bolstered and make it a perfect touring vehicle. The roof down combined with the lower seating position makes it bearable to drive on a cold morning as wind flow is limited within the cabin when the windows are up. And, if that doesn't suffice and you need that additional heat, the Abarth comes standard with heated seats. The main downside of the Abarth 124 is the interior storage; a cup holder takes away legroom from your co-Pilot as everything has been centred around the driver's experience.
The combined fuel consumption we experienced with mainly city driving and a little bit of HWY driving was 8.2L/100km. We were not able to get a full break down of our fuel consumption as we usually do because one of the tires got damaged due to a road hazard. Fiat Canada announces the following fuel consumption of 6.7L/100km on the HWY, 9.0L/100km in the city and a combined fuel economy of 7.9L/100km.
On the HWY, the 124 feels agile and never dull, maybe a little too much road noise getting into the cabin; however, that's to expect with a soft-top convertible. The roof does let in a lot less than the more premium Z4 we tested earlier this year. As for overtaking, the 1.4L turbo engine loves to rev, and with the lightweight of the car, it just moves you forward effortlessly. The suspension is tuned a little bit on the stiffer side; this is compensated by how nimble it is around corners, even at highway speeds. In our mind, it is the perfect weekend getaway vehicle and houses a respectable trunk of its size.
Now about the sound system, Bose isn't our favourite sound system; in the Abarth 124 Spider, it does a decent job. Other premium sound systems found in other Fiat products sound better. Still, Fiat and Mazda have done a great job making the Bose system sound better than in other premium cars we've tested recently. We're bringing up Mazda as both cars use the same infotainment, and Mazda likes to use Bose as their higher-end system. Sharing the infotainment system comes at a cost; it doesn't offer Apple Car Play, nor does it offer Android Auto. The phone needs to be paired via Bluetooth, a task we've almost forgotten how to do as most new vehicles work with a plug and play or even do so wirelessly. The graphics of the infotainment aren't the best either; however, we can forgive all of these details as the 124 brings so much joy, especially with the roof down listening to the real exhaust notes being pushed out by the quad-tail pipes.
Now we will not lie to you that the 124 doesn't have much space for babies, it does have the option to install a car seat on the passenger side if you want to drive to your cabin in the woods while trailing a scenic route. All that in the comfort of the Abarth 124 Spider!
We enjoyed driving it in the city with the roof opened and found it so pleasant to drive. It made us reminisce about a time where you could drive your roadster to work and enjoy your drive even while stuck in traffic. Not only that, the looks we would get were priceless, some people imagined our car being an exotic natural without the hefty price tag. Parking, while the roof is open, is quite simple. No rear camera needed, visibility is excellent. With the roof closed, the visibility is a little bit more limited, but what was most disappointing is the rear-view camera or screen because it was so pixelated and we see the bumper in the screen, it would need an upgrade. As mentioned above, the suspension is a little bit on the firmer side, and while driving around the city, with potholes, the ride is quite harsh. However, Abarth managed so that the roadster body doesn't get too upset while driving over one.
Why would we buy the Abarth 124 Spider or what we liked about it: The looks & the sound is just amazing! How easy and enjoyable it is to drive and how rewarding it is to your ears once you get those exhaust to sing. We really enjoyed the 124 and could easily see it in our garage as a car that can be driven around on a day to day basis.
Why we wouldn't buy the Abarth 124 Spider or what we didn't like about it: Unfortunately, in North America, Fiat/Abarth are not known for their reliability even if this might not be the case with the 124, this reputation follows the brand to this day and will affect resell value. The limited space for taller driver and cramped cabin.
FCA Canada has lent us this vehicle for one week as a press vehicle, we have no affiliation with FCA Canada, and the above is a recollection of our personal opinion of the vehicle referred to above.