Only the best for Kiwis with Abarth-sorted 124

More cash, yes, but also more cachet … and more kapow too: The Abarth 124 Spider, Fiat’s ultimate version of a certain Mazda, will prove its worth to Kiwi fans by providing better brio.

BEING built in Japan then sent to Italy for finishing by performance house artisans will likely reflect in the price attached to a hotshot roadster from Abarth and thus significantly reduce potential of it competing directly with the Mazda it derives from.

The man making this admission, Fiat Chrysler New Zealand boss David Smitherman, nonetheless assures any premium that attaches to the Abarth 124 Spider – Turin’s version of the latest MX-5 convertible, confirmed today for New Zealand sale from late 2016 – will be offset by sharper looks, dynamics and performance.

Especially the latter: As things stand, the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine that Fiat uses, though the smallest capacity powerplant for this platform, is nonetheless the most powerful, which bodes well for performance enthusiasts.

However, Smitherman agrees this new icon car won’t be the cheapest choice for those cross-shopping against a certain other.

While pricing (or the specification) of the new model has yet to be set, it is likely the car – which Fiat sees as a rebirth of an icon model it made from 1966 to 1980 (but never in right-hand-drive) and FCNZ views as a halo car for its entire Euro-American family here – will cost more than the most expensive current MX-5, the recently introduced 2.0-litre GT which in retailing for $46,990 manual and $48,995 automatic carries a $6000 premium over the base 1.5 that arrived last year.

However, that’s a positive, in a way. The 124 also comes in a less powerful Fiat-badged form, but by determining not to start there FCNZ achieves an aim of largely avoiding direct confrontation, if not comparison, with MX-5.

“It’s about differentiation from the other product,” he affirmed.

He believes the small but avid following for Abarth product, which for some years has purely been based on the small Fiat 500 city car, will be untroubled differentiating what makes the 124 Spider a different proposition to the MX-5.

While the Abarth is only distinguished in the kerbside check by different nose and tail stylings - cross-referencing the cabins shows even less change – lifting the respective bonnets tells another tale entirely.

In ignoring Mazda’s sweet-revving naturally-aspirated SkyActiv engines for its own 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir petrol engine from the 500 Abarth, in first north-south application (to suit rear drive), Fiat has gained a real edge.

The Italians are claiming outputs of 126kW and 250Nm of torque, which compares more than favourably with the 2.0-litre MX-5’s 118kW and 200Nm and is rather more energetic than the 1.5, which puts out a fizzy 96kW and 150Nm.

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’.

Smitherman is confident his car will set the pace on New Zealand roads. “Absolutely, that’s for sure. I believe that will make a difference in the way it sells. That is why we are doing it. We need a point of difference.”

The 124 is built in Japan but is shipped unfinished to Italy for final work by the Abarth performance outfit then will be shipped from there to New Zealand – a circuitous process that “will inevitably” affect pricing, Smitherman agrees.

“But that’s why we’re not offering a Mazda – that’s why it is an Abarth.”

How much of a premium the car will carry is not something Smitherman wants to speculate on at the moment. “We haven’t had the final pricing yet, but I imagine it will obviously be more expensive. But I won’t know until I know.”

He expects that Fiat will price its car in Euros, rather than Japanese Yen, which might also have an impact on the NZ sticker.

Sorting pricing before release is important because he anticipates the customer base will want to put in their orders before the first cars arrive. He thinks that interest will extend well beyond the Abarth fan club.

“It’s also a genuine roadster Fiat as well … it’s something we have not had for some time.” The pre-sale model is one that FCNZ wants to move to, he adds. “We want to create some demand aaround it.”

The original 124 still resonates well with Fiat followers, he says. “We still have people asking about that car and even though you tend to only see it in museums and at car shows it still looks pretty good.

“I saw the new car in Detroit and it looks fantastic – it’s a great thing for the Fiat brand and, along with the new Giulia that is also on the way, is a real positive for the future.”

he 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 slip spoiler in contrasting red, plus unique design 17-inch alloys.

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 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.

The specification level is unclear at this stage, but as well as the track-focused ESC, the Abarth is likely to feature some of the gear from the Fiat, such as a repurposed Fiat Connect 7.0 system – based on Mazda’s system – with a 7.0-inch touchscreen display, multimedia control, Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats, keyless entry and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with headrest speakers.

Further safety gear could include adaptive front headlamps, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection and a reversing camera.