Upgraded Abarth Treatment Turns Fiat 500 Hatchback Into A Fun Ride

Two years ago, we gathered the Fiat 124 Spider and a Mazda MX-5 together and found, of the two, the Mazda to be the better sports car. Well, that’s because the 124 Spider we drove wasn’t an Abarth variant — and if it was, it surely would’ve won. That’s because the 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is the best Mazda MX-5 you can buy.

The 124 is, of course, the Fiat-ized version of the MX-5. It shares a chassis and an interior with the Mazda, but none of the exterior body panels interchange. And though looks are subjective, yours truly thinks this is a very good thing — the 124 replaces the odd contours of the MX-5 with more classic lines and an overall more pleasing shape.

But the real differences are under the skin, where the Fiat trades Mazda’s normally aspirated 2.0L inline-four for a 1.4L turbo-four. Given the MX-5’s impressive power bump to 181 horsepower for 2019, so the Fiat actually trails in horsepower, with just 164 on tap. But the real figure is the torque: The Mazda makes 151 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm, while the Fiat makes a strong 184 lb.-ft. at a much lower 2,500 rpm. Quite simply, the 124 has much more mid-range punch than the MX-5, and feels much faster when squirting around in traffic. But a car like this wasn’t made for traffic.

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The Fiat did inherit some very fine genes indeed from the MX-5, and as a result, it’s one of the sweetest, most pure driving experiences you can buy in 2018. The steering is divine, the driving position is fantastic and the shifter is a joy. The base 124 is a bit too soft for our liking, but the Abarth fixes that complaint handily; it’s what the 124 should have been all along. The car absolutely dances through turns; with the extra torque, you can shoot yourself forward into the next turn with a faint whoosh of induction noise. It’s a fun car, and you’ll want to fling it around on-ramps and backroads for the sheer fun of it.

The Abarth upgrades won’t be found in the engine bay. Horsepower is up by just four over the standard model and torque is unchanged. Mechanical upgrades are limited to stiffer Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential. Of course, you get cool Abarth scorpion badges for the nose, tail and wheels. But those cool Brembo front brakes? They’re a full $1,995 option and not included with the Abarth package. And we need to talk about the options on this car.

The Abarth starts at a reasonable $37,995 but our tester was optioned out to a full $48,880 — pretty darn rich for just 164 horsepower. The leather seats are a $1,295 option, and heated, auto-dimming mirrors, rear park assist and blind-spot monitoring require the $1,500 “convenience group” package. It also had satellite radio, and a nine-speaker Bose stereo for $1,600.