Fix It Again Tony.
When I first saw the official pictures of the Abarth 124 Spider I didn’t think much of them, not that I thought a lot of the ND MX-5. yet I’ve always been a huge fan of the NA MX-5.
I completely changed my mind when I saw the Abarth in person, listening to the engine start up and hearing the optionally-fitted Record Monza exhaust. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, and while my first couple of minutes driving the car were fun, it wasn’t until I found the sport button that really woke up the beast; improving the throttle response, firming up the steering, relaxing the traction control and ESP.
I spent the next week looking for every opportunity to get out and go for a drive and I was sad to see it go at the end of the week. So much so that three weeks later I was in the dealership trading in my Kia ProCeed GT on one.
I ignored all the advice I had been given about buying an Italian car. Figuring that it’s built by Mazda on the same production line as the ND MX-5, it made me feel fairly comfortable that my purchase would be a safe one.
Sadly the bits built by Mazda are the ones that I have the most problems with. From really thin and soft paint that scratches with the slightest touch, to the steering wheel colour band rubbing off within 12 months. The main issue was the retractable roof rubbing on the rear of the roll hoops so much that it wore a hole in the roof fabric, a claim that was rejected by Fiat at three dealers, citing I wasn’t retracting the roof correctly.
Eventually it was replaced but the original rubbing problem is still present. Other than that, build quality is solid with no rattles or squeaks.
The cabin is snug for someone who is 186cm tall, but that just adds to the sensation of putting the car on rather than getting into it. As snug as it is, it’s not wanting for much with auto headlights and wipers, nine speaker Bose stereo, push-button start, reversing camera and with the optional vision pack it also has cornering LED headlights, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert - but it does miss out on AEB. The one feature I miss more than anything is "auto up" on the windows.
Although the Fiat connect infotainment system is just a re-skin of the Mazda Connect system, it’s disappointing that (unlike Mazda) Fiat have not made the Android Auto/Apple CarPlay upgrade available. But thanks to a great online community and the fact that it shares the MX-5’s electrics, I was able to order the parts from my local Mazda dealer and two hours later I had CarPlay installed.
This is not the car to buy if you’re shy and don’t like talking to strangers. At some point on almost every drive I find myself alongside someone at the lights trying to get my attention, asking questions on whats under the bonnet, how fast it goes, how it drives and even asking what it is.
I used to tell people it’s an Abarth, but after the third ‘what?’ I’d say it’s a Fiat, which more people understood. While I secretly love the attention the Spider receives, it’s an issue when it’s parked in public as people can’t seem to keep their hands off it. With the soft paint it’s showing the signs of admiring fingers being dragged along it.
It’s the constant grin when driving the Spider that makes you forget about all the negatives. The turn-in is sharp, it handles flat and is super predictable at the limit. The power delivery is not as linear as the MX-5, but I’m okay with that. I love the feeling of the boost kicking in and opening the valves on the bi-modal exhaust - it just does it with so much more theatre.
So two years on I still find myself looking for an excuse to get out and go for a drive.