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.RELATED>Car Review: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF>Car Comparison: 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs. 2017 Subaru BRZ
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.
Heater worked like gangbusters even with top downClayton Seams, Driving
Despite cozy confines, the 124 was a great road-trip carClayton Seams, Driving
Inline-four makes 164-hp and 181 lb.-ft. of torqueClayton Seams, Driving
Little Garrett turbo rams 22-psi of boost into 1.4L SOHC I4Clayton Seams, Driving
2018 Fiat 124 Spider AbarthClayton Seams, Driving
Flat black hood/trunk treatment is a whopping $2,995 optionClayton Seams, Driving
Interior is largely same as MX-5Clayton Seams, Driving
Slim seats are too narrow in the shoulder even for smaller drivers. Recaro optional seats are much improved.Clayton Seams, Driving
Rear styling much better in 124 than MX-5Clayton Seams, Driving
Quad pipes look great but aren't actually all that noiseyClayton Seams, Driving
An ideal city carClayton Seams, Driving
And the most egregious of all? That flat-black hood and trunk treatment is a $2,995 option. Personally, I think i could accomplish the same look with a can of plasti-dip and a free afternoon and save myself a couple thousand. It all adds up to $10,885 worth of options — most of which you could do without. I’d check the box for the aforementioned Brembos and one more for the $1,695 Recaro seats; the standard units are too narrow in the shoulder for even a stringbean like myself.
Sadly, the restrictive seats are just a small part of the driving discomfort as soon as you hit the highway. I realize its a soft-top, but compared to the folding hardtop MX-5 RF, the increase in wind noise is drastic. I kept checking to make sure I hadn’t forgotten to roll up a window. The 124 is loud on the highway — and not the fun way, either. It’s all tire and wind noise, and whoever is driving beside you. And you’d hope to drown out the din by turning up the radio, but despite having nine speakers at your disposal, the sound comes out tinny, with no mid-range and must be turned up rather high to hear a song well at 110 km/h. Not an ideal road trip car.
Which begs the question why I chose to take it on a 1,600-kilometre road trip from Toronto to Quebec City and back. Because it’s fun! If a hatchback made that much road noise on the highway, you’d drive it into the sea. But in a sports car? It’s just a part of the experience. There’s a wonderful rhythm to road tripping the little 124. You sit close to your passenger in a cozy cocoon, skipping over expansion joints in your Bilstein-suspended sportster. I averaged 7.6 L/100 kilometres along the way, to boot. Not stellar for a 1.4L four-cylinder, but pretty good for a sports car.
My final qualm is with the transmission. Not because of how it shifts or feels, but the actual gear ratios. See, first gear has a very low 4.4:1 ratio and second has a high 2.3:1 ratio. This means the revs drop annoyingly low when shifting from first to second gear and you have to make that shift often. For example, a shift at a relatively high 3,000 rpm from first gear will drop you down to a chugging 1,700 in second.
That leaves the 1.4 well out of boost, and you’ll be struggling to accelerate with the flow of traffic. Shifting into second at even 2,000 rpm — and give the car a chance of not being painfully slow — means you have to ride first gear to a full 4,000 rpm. That’s just not practical or enjoyable in the city.
None of that makes me want to buy one any less, though. Once rolling with top down, the 124 Abarth is nearly without peer. In a world where more and more cars offer to chip in and do the driving for you, the 124 Abarth is a car you’ll want to drive. Skip the stripes and pricey digital options, and you’ll have as more fun than just about anything on the road.
Source : https://driving.ca/fiat/reviews/road-test/car-review-2018-fiat-124-spider-abarth/Thanks for visit my website