Clear air running for Abarth

More cash, more cachet … and more kapow too: The Abarth 124 Spider, Fiat’s ultimate version of a certain Mazda, has arrived.


THOSE amazing deal airfares that allow you to globetrot on a tight budget appear to have been used to good advantage by the 124 Spider.

Italy’s version of the Mazda MX-5 is born in Japan, but because it also requires finishing in Italy by the artisan’s at FiatChrysler’s Abarth outfit, it hardly comes by the most direct route.

That Japan-Europe-New Zealand travel arrangement was expected to reflect in the price of this wee hotshot to the point where, we were warned by FiatChrysler New Zealand several months ago, any potential for it competing with the car it derives from would be “significantly” reduced.

Now that the Abarth has arrived, with a price tag affirmed, we know that “significant” translates more harmlessly that might have been expected.

Yes, it’s more expensive – but perhaps not wholly ruinously.

FCNZ has priced the car at $52,990 for the six-speed manual and $54,990 for the six-speed auto. The MX-5 sits between $40,995 and $48,995, depending on model and transmission choice.

As we’ve explained previously, apart from price, the main differences are in the engines. Not for the Italian job Mazda’s SkyActiv engines. Instead, Abarth has transplanted one of its one, the fiery 1.4-litre turbocharged unit that has previously served in their edition of the Fiat 500. This pumps out 125kW at 5500rpm and 250Nm at 2500rpm, a decent dose against the 96kW/150Nm and 118kW/200Nm respectively coming out of Mazda’s 1.5- and 2.0-litre mills.

The extra energy is set to be put to good cause. A claimed ability to sprint from 0-100kmh in 6.8 seconds reinforces that it will be the quickest version offered across the Fiat and Mazda models while the cited top speed of 232kmh is also higher than the Mazda cars’.

The 124 offers overseas with a choice of either a six-speed short-throw manual gearbox or six-speed Sequenziale Sportivo automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

Like the 2.0-litre MX-5, the Abarth has fattened anti-roll bars and Bilstein dampers. It also adopts Brembo front brakes and a ‘Record Monza’ sports exhaust.

Fiat Chrysler New Zealand boss David Smitherman has also contended that the Abarth will deliver sharper looks and dynamics as well as a performance advantage.

Fiat sees this model as a rebirth of an icon it made from 1966 to 1980 (but never in right-hand-drive). Its particular role here is to be a halo car for FCNZ’s entire Euro-American family.

The Italian edition also comes in a standard 124 form that would have priced closer to the Mazda models, but FCNZ has determined to avoid that one and focus entirely on the flagship edition to reinforce, as Smitherman told us previously, “differentiation from the other product.”

He believes the small but avid following for Abarth product will be untroubled differentiating what makes the 124 Spider a different proposition to the MX-5. We’re not so sure it’ll be that easy, having already been told previously by a high-up in the Fiat racing register than the car was still too much of a Mazda to be considered the real deal.

From this writer’s viewpoint, there should be no embarrassment about highlighting the Hiroshima genes – the MX-5, after all, is a pretty special drive.

FCNZ’s boss has no qualms about promoting contention that this is a ‘genuine’ Fiat roadster.

The Abarth is best distinguished in the kerbside check by different nose and tail stylings. The Abarth look provides a bonnet with scalloped vents and a bootlid with an extended integrated wing, both which are painted in matte black. There's also a more aggressive bib spoiler in contrasting red, plus unique design 17-inch alloys.

Cross-referencing the cabins shows little change to the hardware, but the Italian finishing is more upmarket, with use of softer trim materials and Fiat has swapped out the MX-5 seats for its own items and covered them with Alcantara.

Naturally it has a number of Abarth scorpion badges inside and outside, plus something unique: A metal plate personally signed off by the Abarth tech and also carrying a bespoke certification number.