Abarth 124 Spider Turismo: happiness machine

Photo credits: Francesco Carlo for Lovecars © 2018

The last Fiat 124 Sport Spider rolled off the production line in 1985 after being sold in more than 150.000 units. Fast forward 31 years and the Turin-based company decided to reintroduce the iconic 2-seater.

Shortly after its debut and just like in the 80s, the mechanis from Officine Abarth put their hands on the 124 and turned it into the 124 Spider Turismo.

Exterior

My test car was finished in metallic black with several red contrasting elements such as mirror caps, brake calipers, center caps and front splitter. The 17″ Corsa wheels, the roll-hoops and windscreen surrounding are painted in gunmetal grey. The manual folding top is black to blend in nicely.

Compared to the standard 124, the Abarth features reworked front and rear bumpers with a sportier design; the matte black  bonnet – with its double bulge – and trunk pay tribute to classic Abarth’s racing cars that had the same feature to avoid annoying reflections.

The front is dominated by the large grille and peculiar LED headlights, while at the back the four exits of the Record Monza exhaust take pride of place.
I do like the side shields made of brushed aluminium that commemorate the 70 years of the Scorpion brand founded by Karl Abarth in 1949; they will feature on each car built in 2019.

 

Interior

Inside the cabin we find two sport seats upholstered in leather with contrasting red stitching and the abarth writing embossed on the upper part. They incorporate two speakers – signed by BOSE, just like the rest of the audio – in the headrests to ensure maximum sound clarity even when driving top-down. Both seats are quite comfortable, even on long journeys, offering good lateral support when driving spiritedly; they’re heated too.

The central tunnel hosts a rotor which controls the infotainment, a small cubby hole covered in alcantara with the scorpion logo, the mechanical handbrake – quite a rare sight nowadays – and the lovely 6-speed manual gear stick. Alcantara is used again on the lower part of the dashboard which is rather minimalistic featuring four air vents, three climate control knobs, start/stop engine button and the multimedia display.

The 3-spoke steering wheel is perfectly round and  has a small diameter, sits vertically and is rather thin. The 12 o’clock red mark is a nice touch, reminiscent of racing cars, to make sure the driver always knows where the front wheels are aiming. The instrument cluster consists of three rounded elements: the big red rev counter in the middle flanked by the speedometer on the right and the trip computer on the left; they’re backlit in white to maximize readability.

There’s no glovebox, instead, we find a modestly deep compartment between the seats which can be locked with the key. I’m 1.8m and the driving position is spot on however, taller people might have headroom issues when the roof is up.

Specs

Under the long bonnet of the 124 spider beats a small 1.4L 4-pot engine with Multiair technology and a Garrett turbocharger delivering 170hp at 5500rpm with 250N/m of torque on tap from 2500rpm, good for a top speed in exces sof 230km/h and a 0-100 time of 6.8s. Power is sent to the rear wheel via a 6-speed manual gearbox and a mechanical limited slip differential.

We find double wishbones suspension with anti-roll bar at the front and a multilink solution at the back; sporty dampers and springs provided by Bilstein with a specific tune for the 124 and Brembo calipers biting 280mm ventilated disks. 205/45 front and rear Michelin Alpin tires fit the 17″ Corsa wheels.

The car stops the scale at a mere 1060kg, a featherweight which favors driving dynamic and fuel economy.

Driving Impressions

Getting in the 124 requires agility due to the low seat, especially if the soft-top is up. Once you’re inside the cabin the driving position is bang on, the steering wheel can be adjusted in height and depth and the seat has enough excursion.

One press of the start/stop button  to turn on the ingnition and a second one to bring the naughty 1.4 turbo into life; unlock the soft-top with the handle positioned between the seats and then pull the lever close to the upper ambient light to fold it into position with a clicking noise.

The 124 Spider Turismo has two driving modes: Normal and Sport. In Normal  it’s perfectly suted for comfortably driving down the motorway or cruising along the coastline. Personally I’ve spent most of my time behind the wheel in Sport mode to really feel what the Italian two-seater is really made of.

Flick the switch in front of the gear stick until you see SPORT appearing on the rev counter and the Record Monza exhaust valves fully open; the throttle pedal becomes super sensitive to foot imput. First gear in and I’ve already fallen in love with the gearbox, it’s precise, tight and with a short throw of the stick; absolutely amazing.

The engine has good low-end response but to extract its potential you should keept it spinning in its 2000-5000rpm sweet spot, and it’s free-revving enough to make heel-and-toe a satisfying experience. Pedals are perfeclty placed, the clutch is light and the throttle pedal is floor-hinged.

When diving into corners there’s a bit of bodyroll which results in a slightly vague response to inputs but the handling still is a lot of fun; pulling out of corners you can rely on the extra torque of the turbocharger and the limited slip diff. The steering is quick and light, so managing oversteer is rather easy.

Thanks to the low weight the 124 feels more powerful than it is and you can have fun even when you’re not grabbing it by the scruff of its neck.

Verdict

The Abarth 124 Spider Turismo is an extremely enjoyable car, it’s never intimidating and has enough horsepower to be really exploited on public road. The manually operated soft-top – to shave some weight – is extremely quick and easy to use and keeps out unwanted noises from the cabin even on the motorway. There’s a good amount of luggage space in the trunk despite the external dimensions might suggest. The Record Monza exhaust note dominates much of the Abarth 124 experience along with the awesome gearbox: the optional flappy-auto shouldn’t even be offered.

Is it worth €40k? Looking at the whole package, yes, even though for this price tag it could easily have 20/30hp more from factory if you consider that the same engine – that ensures low fuel consumption and running costs – in the 595 Competizione puts out 180hp and people tune it to 190/200 with ease.

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Francesco Carlo

Automotive photographer based in Florence. If he's not behind the camera, you'll find him on a roadtrip at the wheel of a supercar or reviewing the newest one.