by Roger Biermann
The 124 Abarth is the most performance-oriented model of the Fiat 124 Spider range of convertible roadsters. It’s a culmination of the superior Japanese engineered underpinnings of the Mazda MX-5 Miata cross-bred with European turbocharged performance and classy Italian design. Its design honors Fiat’s roadster from the ’70s of the same name, distinctly so in its front and rear styling and traditional rear-wheel drive drivetrain. It retains the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the Fiat 124 Spider, but with the wick dialed up by four horsepower, letting loose 164 hp in total while retaining the 184 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission does duty by default, while the option for a six-speed automatic is available as well. But the scorpion badging is a sign of more than power, and the 124 Spider Abarth has been given a performance-tuned suspension and a limited-slip differential along with a sport and normal driving mode selector.
Now standard in the Abarth is an available Record Monza exhaust system, along with a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a now mandatory rearview camera. The roadster can be tailored with the Veleno Appearance Group package for 2019 which includes Abarth-branded floor mats, an aluminum-look metal footrest, and red mirror caps, tow-eye cover, and red front-fascia lip. The Technology Group package, equipped as standard to the Abarth, now includes keyless entry and SiriusXM satellite radio.
The 124 Spider’s Fiat badges are swapped out for oversized Abarth Scorpion badges on this trim. The Abarth goes on to feature 17-inch gun metallic painted alloy wheels and sporty dual exhaust tips. Retro-styling cues can be seen in the bodywork and use of rounded halogen headlights and squared LED taillamps, while LED headlights with LED daytime running lights are available as part of the optional Visibility Group. The roadster is given some muscle with a large grille in the front of the hood between the headlights and two U-shaped creases on top of the hood.
Measuring 159.6 inches in length, the Abarth is 5.5 inches longer than the MX-5 it’s based on, while its wheelbase of 90.9 inches matches the Mazda’s figure precisely. The Abarth’s 68.5 inches in width is marginally broader than that of the MX-5 Miata, while it measures just a touch shorter in height at 48.5 inches. With curb weights of 2,477 lbs for the manual transmission and 2,516 lbs for the automatic, the 124 Abarth is substantially heavier than the MX-5 Miata, which weighs in at 2,339-2,388 lbs in its various trims, marking a difference of up to 138 pounds between the two.
A standard color palette of seven is available for the Abarth including Hypnotique Red, Ceramica Gray Metallic and Brillante White (standard on the Veleno appearance package). All but the Tri-Coat are no-cost options, with Puro White an extra $595. A hand-painted heritage racing stripe is also available at an Additional $2,195. The standard soft top is black with no other color options.
The 124 Abarth, being the sportier performance-based model of the 124 Spider catalog squeezes in an extra four horsepower over the other models taking the total to 164 hp, while retaining the 184 lb-ft of torque from the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. The power bump results in a top speed of 144 mph and a 0-60 mph sprint of 6.3 seconds with the manual gearbox, while the automatic will reach the same figure marginally slower. The MX-5 Miata, with 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, performs slightly better, reaching 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The four extra hp is sourced from the re-tuned engine. The Bilstein sports suspension and added limited-slip differential enhance the Abarth’s handling even further.
Power is transferred to the rear wheels, keeping to traditional sports car design to deliver better handling dynamics at the limit. Audi offers a four-wheel-drive alternative to the Abarth but at nearly double the price. The Mazda’s MX-5 Miata and the Toyota 86, as the Abarth’s direct opposition, also offer only rear-wheel-drive.
The 124 Spider Abarth is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine developing 164 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Drive is sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox by default, with an available six-speed automatic. An easy short-throw shifter is borrowed from the MX-5 Miata which works perfectly in the Abarth, delivering quick throws and precise gating, although not quite as sweetly as the Miata’s feels.
Off-the-line acceleration and power delivery still feel insufficient, even with the Abarth’s additional 4 hp and performance tune-ups compared to the base model, with a pronounced dead patch at lower engine speeds. The turbo kicks in hard in the midrange but it’s difficult to keep the engine within an optimal power band. There is also a pronounced turbo-lag that takes some pre-empting. The MX-5 Miata’s bigger 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine still delivers better response and immediacy throughout the drive.
The manual transmission is recommended for better performance and a more involving drive compared to the automatic, with the manual gearbox giving notchy shifts and the added sensation of being in control, whereas the automatic transmission saps power, robs you of acceleration, and just doesn’t feel as enjoyable.
Despite carrying an extra 40 lbs over the base 124 Spider derivatives, the Abarth’s added bespoke sports suspension carries the weight better, and along with the added limited slip differential, improves and sharpens the roadster’s already unerring handling dynamics. Combined with the near 50:50 weight distribution, the Abarth delivers legendary maneuverability while curbing body roll to levels bringing it closer to those of the MX-5 Miata.
The re-tuned engine delivers an extra four horsepower over the 124 Spider derivatives, but what buyers will want more than the power is the optional Record Monza exhaust. Although it delivers no outright performance improvements, the special exhaust gives the Abarth’s turbo engine a completely different, more aggressive sports car sound, more akin to that of an '80s Italian rally machine. It's a cacophony of parps and flatulence mixed with the sound of marbles in a can, making the 124 Abarth sound far quicker than it really is.
Steering is light and precise, accurately communicating road feel with the driver. A Sport mode selector on the Abarth also differentiates the driving experience from the Miata and lesser 124s. Throttle sensitivity and steering weight is increased and the stability control system is pared back a bit for even greater body control and handling response. Disabling traction and stability control allow for a whole lot more fun on the track in the sporty roadster which, when plowing into a turn correctly balanced, flirts with the line between adhesion and oversteer joyfully.
Gentler abrasions, bumps, and dips are well-absorbed by the Abarth’s tuned suspension, while the sports car’s low proximity to the ground makes for a rougher ride over larger undulations and uneven road surfaces. At higher speeds, noise and vibration are prominent within the cabin even with the soft top raised.
Despite the Abarth’s increased power, the roadster manages to achieve identical mileage estimates to the standard 124, with EPA estimates of 26/35/30 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles for the manual-equipped variant and 25/36/29 mpg on the same cycles with the automatic transmission. For comparison, the Mazda MX-5 Miata achieves 26/34/29 mpg and 26/35/30 mpg with its manual and automatic transmissions respectively. Both models have a fuel tank capacity of 11.9 gallons and take premium unleaded gasoline. A full tank of gas enables a range of 357 miles in the manual-equipped model with mixed driving scenarios, while the automatic achieves 345 miles in similar conditions.
All 124 Spider models have inherited key aspects of design and functionality from the interior of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Setting it apart from the standard 124 Spider the Abarth receives an exclusive Abarth scorpion badge on the leather-wrapped sports steering wheel as well as sporty red stitching on the interior upholstery. The roadster comes standard with a seven-inch Mazda-sourced touchscreen infotainment system, unique sports bucket seats, and a reworked gauge cluster with a sporty-red rev counter making for a very aesthetically pleasing interior look and feel.
Despite the confines of a compact two-seat sports car, the 124 Abarth seats the driver and one passenger perfectly in comfortable low-slung sports seats, with the driver within easy reach of the steering wheel and with easy access to all controls and interior features. Taller drivers may suffer somewhat due to the limited seating adjustment, however, and drivers taller than six foot two inches will likely not be able to fit at all - one of the 124 Spiders severe limitations. The transmission tunnel also takes up substantial amounts of legroom on both the driver and passenger side resulting in a snug fit for both occupants. Visibility from the driver's seat is mostly unhindered, only minimally so by the low, thick windscreen frame and small rear window, particularly with the roof up. Drop the manually operable soft-top and headroom is infinite, with visibility vastly improved.
The Abarth comes with heated combination leather/microfiber sports seats with leather-only Abarth bucket seats and Recaro Alcantara sports seats as options. It has a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel and a short, stubby leather six-speed gear shifter with a leather shift boot. There are two interior color options of Nero (Black) or Nero/Rosso (Black/Red) both with silver accents, while the available Veleno appearance package adds further customization. This package adds to the interior Abarth badged floor mats, a metal footrest, and sporty red stitching.
The trade-off of the compact, lightweight roadster is the greatly limited storage space and minimal in-cabin storage. The trunk can hold lightly packed luggage for two on a weekend getaway with a volume of just 4.9 cubic-feet in a shallow trunk. The MX-5 Miata offers the same storage limitations as the Abarth. Those looking for a bit more practicality in the same vehicle realm should consider the Toyota 86 which has a bigger trunk space of 6.9 cubic-feet and rear-seats that can be folded down for additional space.
The Abarth offers only the bare minimum in storage space with two small door pockets and a small cubby found in the center console. Between the seats is the tiny glove box compartment which is inaccessible if you're keeping something in the removable cupholders.
The 124 Abarth offers run of the mill interior features such as keyless entry, cruise control, and for 2019, a standard rearview camera. Also standard is automatic climate control and heated seats. The ergonomic steering wheel comes with audio controls and is only height adjustable. The Mazda-sourced voice command system is capable of only a moderate set of functions such as navigation and offers no Google or Siri compatibility. Other optional features include blind-spot monitors, rear parking sensors, heated side mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a universal garage door opener.
The Abarth features the same seven-inch touchscreen display system as the base 124 Spider, also controllable via a rotary dial on the center console. The infotainment hardware and software are inherited from Mazda‘s MX-5’s Miata with similar functionality and caters to AM/FM radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth streaming and hands-free functionality. Pandora, Aha, and Stitcher app functionality are also integrated. The available navigation is easy to use but is inefficient at navigating points of interest, while the standard four-speaker audio system featured in the Abarth is average at best, with the nine-speaker Bose audio system upgrade highly recommended for better audio quality. The infotainment system features two USB ports, but Fiat doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality, which it’ll need to remedy going forward as the two have become crucial requirements.
Coming off of the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s manufacturing line and sharing its underpinnings has made the Abarth just as reliable as the Japanese roadster, resulting in very few complaints from owners. Despite the general reliability, there has been one recall issued, pertaining to the six-speed automatic transmission in certain 2017-2019 124 Spider models. In affected vehicles, the transmission is incorrectly programmed, resulting in unexpected downshifting and abrupt deceleration. Around eight thousand 124 Spiders have been recalled, including certain Abarth variants.
A new 124 Spider Abarth receives a four-year/50,000 mile basic warranty, a four-year/50,000 mile powertrain warranty, and a 12-year/unlimited mileage warranty against corrosion along with four years of roadside assistance.
The 124 Spider Abarth hasn’t been crash-tested or given a safety ranking by the NHTSA or the IIHS. This is common among low-powered sports-cars, with the Mazda MX-5 Miata also not yet crash tested.
Despite a lack of safety ratings, the 124 Abarth still features the basic safety necessities, such as stability control, ABS brakes, dual front airbags, side airbags, traction control, and for 2019, a federally-mandated rearview camera. The Comfort and Convenience Group equips blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, along with rear park sensors for additional safety.
The 2019 rendition of the 124 Abarth hasn't changed much at all since its debut in 2016. Despite the additional power Fiat has endowed the Abarth derivative with, it still lacks the potency and smoothness of rivals, although the turbocharged torque will be a distinct advantage over naturally aspirated rivals from Mazda and Toyota for buyers residing in higher altitude states. Nevertheless, Fiat would do well to give the Abarth a greater performance advantage over lesser 124 models if it really wanted to establish the model as a true performance derivative. The upgrades to the suspension and the addition of the limited slip differential have sharpened up handling dynamics substantially, bringing the 124 Abarth closer to rivals in this regard, but it's still not quite up to the standards set by the MX-5.
While the 124 Abarth carries a lower price tag than comparable trims from competitors, it’s worth noting that in order to get the full experience, you'll still need to add a few options where rivals are more comprehensively specced for the price.
The 124 Abarth is an immensely fun roadster, and the improvements over standard models are welcome, but the Mazda MX-5 is still the unbeaten benchmark in this segment.
The 124 Spider Abarth is essentially the top ranking trim of the 124 Spider line-up and carries a base MSRP of $29,290 when equipped with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed automatic is available at an extra $1,350. All prices are excluding tax, registration, licensing, and a $1,495 destination charge.
For 2019, the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is the top-ranking trim within the 124 range and the only Abarth-badged derivative available. It's powered by a 164-hp version of the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, driving the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic.
As the range-topping model of the 124 range, the Abarth receives exclusive Abarth scorpion badges on the hood, trunk, and steering wheel, unique 17-inch aluminum wheels painted in a gunmetal finish, sporty dual-exhaust tips, and more aggressive sporty accents inside and out. The performance-tuned suspension and limited slip differential improve handling dynamics and ride feel, while the 124 Abarth receives automatic climate control, keyless entry, heated seats, and a seven-inch infotainment system with AM/FM/SiriusXM radio functionality, four speakers as standard, and optional navigation.
While most available additions to the 124 Abarth are grouped into package options, Fiat also offers individual options as well.
For 2019, the new Veleno Appearance package features a red lower fascia lip, red mirror caps, and a red tow-eye opening cap to add some flair to the exterior as well as exclusive Abarth floor mats and an aluminum footrest for an additional $495. For $2,195, you can also add a hand-painted heritage racing stripe.
The Navigation and Sound Group package costs $1,295 and equips navigation capabilities and upgrades the infotainment system with a nine-speaker Bose sound system with subwoofer. The Comfort and Convenience Group package includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated auto-dimming exterior mirrors, rear park assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, a security alarm and a universal garage door opener for $1,495. The Visibility Group package is a recommended addition at $995, gearing the 124 Abarth with adaptive LED headlamps and LED daytime running lamps.
We also recommend the addition of the Record Monza exhaust system, which quietens the car’s idle noise but produces an exaggerated roar under heavy throttle inputs for a cost of $995. The available Brembo four-wheel performance brakes upgrade braking performance and feature red-painted calipers to match the sporty aesthetic of the Abarth and carry an additional cost of $1,495.
Individual interior options include leather Abarth sports seats at $595 or Recaro leather/Alcantara seats at $1,195.
With only the one high-performance Abarth-badged 124 Spider available, Fiat makes the decision for you. To get the most authentic Abarth experience possible we recommend equipping the roadster with the available Brembo brakes for better stopping performance, the Record Monza exhaust system for a more immersive auditory experience, the Visibility package for the LED headlights, the Navigation and Sound package, and Convenience package for extra creature comforts. It pushes the price up substantially, and should you throw in the supportive Recaro bucket seats you’re looking at a $38,255 asking price.
For 2019, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has received some significant improvements including 17 percent more horsepower than its previous model from a low-key 155 hp up to 181 hp. The Miata’s naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine delivers more horsepower but not as much torque as the Abarth’s 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. Both cars handle exceptionally well, but the Miata is more driver-focused despite Fiat’s sport-tuned suspension and limited slip diff equipped to the Abarth derivative. The Fiat is now firmer and more composed but lacks the MX-5’s composure over secondary imperfections. Both models have identically confined interior room, but for 2019 the Miata offers height and reach adjustable steering, making it more comfortable than the Fiat's height-only steering adjustment. Both cars have options for a six-speed manual or automatic transmission and available Recaro sports seats for enthusiasts. Making a choice between the two can be tough, especially with the Fiat’s upgrades to the Abarth derivative, but despite the enhancements, the MX-5 Miata is still the better sports car, largely due to having a superior ride and powertrain.
In the same price range as the Abarth, the 2019 Subaru BRZ is a coupe-styled rear-wheel-drive sports car. Along with the Abarth, the Subaru comes with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. It boasts a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine outputting 205 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, just short of the Abarth’s 181 lb-ft of torque. The Subaru is a two-door, 2+2 seater with foldable rear seats and offers more trunk and cargo space than the Abarth. It also delivers far more power down low and lacks the turbo-lag found in the Abarth’s 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. The Abarth however, features higher quality interior comforts and a superior infotainment system, where the Subaru’s seems outdated with only a 6.2-inch touch-screen multimedia display. In this case, a decision hangs off of whether you prefer the comforts and top-down driving experience of the Abarth, or the performance orientated and exhilarating driver engagement the Subaru BRZ has to offer.