Fiat’s sister tuning brand Abarth has worked on its magic on the Mazda MX-5-based 124. It’s fantastic to drive, but also expensive. Is it worth the money?
Pros & Cons
– Aggressive looks
– Fantastic engine
– Fun to drive
– Very expensive
– Cramped cabin
– Not as quick as you might expect
Fiat debuted its 124 Spider in 2015 in quite a surprise move for the Italian manufacturer as it reverted to producing true sports cars again with its Mazda MX-5-based roadster.
Naturally, it wasn’t too long before Fiat’s performance brand Abarth worked its magic on the 124 with the production Abarth 124 being shown off at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show.
The Abarth 124 was a model fettled by the manufacturer’s racing team and is a fantastic back-to-basics sports car because of its low kerb weight and rear-wheel-drive.
The Fiat 124’s 1.4-litre turbocharged engine is uprated from 138bhp to 168bhp for the Abarth, while other touches include quad-exit exhausts as part of the superb-sounding Monza exhaust system.
Abarth has also expanded into rallying with its 124, often showcasing these vehicles in heritage liveries. Although, surprisingly Abarth has not made any road-going versions of these available.
The latest Abarth is the 124GT —a limited edition model, which features a carbon fibre roof (it is removable, but not folding), as well as 17-inch OZ ultra-light alloy wheels, and a Bose sound system.
Just 50 cars are set to come to the UK, priced from a significant £33,625 – £4,000 more than the standard 124.
The carbon fibre roof weighs just 16kg, although it’s fiddly to remove. Other features include a Bose sound system and a ‘Visibility’ pack, which includes automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and adaptive LED headlights.
The 124GT retains the standard car’s engine, which is no bad thing, and comes in three colours: Portogallo 1974 Grey, San Marino 1972 Black and Turini 1975 white. All of them are named after the firm’s past motorsport victories.
Value for money
The Abarth 124 is not a cheap car, and costs over £3,000 more than the Abarth 124 and £7,000 more than a similarly-powered Mazda MX-5 – the car it’s fundamentally based on. That said, Abarth adopts a rather different character with its 124, which is more aggressive, both to drive and to look at.
Abarth prices start from £29,625 for the fabric-roofed convertible, or £33,625 for the hard-top 124GT, although good luck getting your hands on one, as they’ll likely sell out quickly because of its rarity. Just 50 are being brought to the UK!
On the plus side, standard equipment is excellent, with all models coming with leather seats, a seven-inch touchscreen, keyless start and climate control to name but a few.
Because the Abarth 124 is quite a rare model, there are not that many to choose from on the used market. That said, there’s some very healthy discounts out there on nearly-new models. The cheapest 2016 cars start from around £18,000 meaning that over £10,000 has been shaved from its list price in less than two years. Sadly, Abarth has a very loyal following so the 124 has not depreciated to the extent that the standard Fiat 124 has.
As for the GT, just one was for sale at the time of writing —a 2018(68) model with delivery miles for £28,000 a sizeable amount off its list price.
Looks and image
Due to its racy styling and dramatic noise, Abarth’s 124 will appeal to the type of customer who wouldn’t be fussed by the Mazda MX-5 or standard Fiat 124 due to its Monza exhaust.
Standard styling features such as black side skirts, red Brembo brake callipers and the four exhaust tips give the 124 an aggressive stance on the road. You can also choose to have the bonnet in satin black. However, many owners choose to have red accents added to their 124, to hark back to Abarth’s heritage.
The interior is also equally stylish, with leather seats and matte black interior panels featuring on the model. The cabin is sadly let down by some very cheap feeling plastics which make it neither or look particularly sturdy. One good thing is that the infotainment system is more or less unchanged from the Mazda MX-5, which means you get a clear seven-inch infotainment display with satellite navigation, Bluetooth and DAB radio. It’s simple and easy to use, too.
But, most importantly, what’s it like to drive? In a word, excellent. The punchy turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine is a perfect match for the slick six-speed manual box, and it pulls well all the way up to 6000rpm. The power delivery isn’t entirely linear, meaning there can be slight flat spots when accelerating, but they’re not overly noticeable. The steering is also well-weighted and direct, although it can feel a bit twitchy at times and you need to have your wits about you whilst driving in the rain. The Brembo brakes also don’t feel quite as sharp as you might hope for and can feel spongey at times. But perhaps the best thing about the 124 is the wonderful soundtrack created from the Monza exhausts.
Space and practicality
As you might expect from a two-seats sports car, there isn’t a great deal of storage space on offer.
The interior is cosy, although it doesn’t feel particularly cramped. Taller adults might struggle for space —particularly with the hard top 124GT —although there’s plenty of room for adults’ side by side. However, interior storage is at a premium. You don’t have door pockets or even a glove box, only a small box between the two passengers where you can store odds and ends. But what surprised us the most was how easy it is to get in and out of the 124. You don’t sit as low in it as you do in other sports cars, so accessibility is relatively good, too.
However, boot space is limited. Just 140 litres are on offer in the strangely-shaped boot. It’s 10 litres more than you would find in the Mazda MX-5, but you won’t fit much more than a small suitcase or a couple of shopping bags in there.
Neither the Fiat or the Abarth has been safety tested by Euro NCAP, but the Mazda MX-5 which they’re both based on scored four stars, which isn’t bad for a sports car. There’s plenty of airbags, electronic brakeforce distribution and electronic stability control, but nothing in the way of advanced safety aids that many new models are equipped with.
Just one engine is offered on the Abarth 124 – a 168bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine. It comes paired with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although you can have an automatic gearbox for a costly £2,300 extra. We don’t recommend the auto as it feels slow witted and isn’t worth any extra over the manual, which is best-suited to the 124.
As for performance, it can accelerate from 0-60mph in an impressive 6.6 seconds and keep going to a top speed of 144mph. The automatic is only marginally slower, both in terms of top speed and acceleration.
For a sports car, the Abarth 124 is relatively cheap to run. It can return up to 44.1mpg, with CO2 emissions of 148g/km. Even on our test run where we weren’t aiming to drive efficiently it was giving a readout of 37mpg, which we thought was quite impressive. The automatic gearbox is not quite as efficient, although in real-world conditions, it shouldn’t make too much difference.
Insurance groups vary between 29 and 31 for the standard model and GT, which is respectable when you consider the performance on offer.
Things to look for
Neither Fiat or Abarth have the best reliability reputation with their models, although thankfully because many of the 124’s components come from Mazda, it should be more reliable than you might expect, particularly as Mazda has an excellent record for its cars being trouble-free.
The Abarth 124’s closest rivals are undoubtedly the cars it shares its underpinnings with —the cheaper Mazda MX-5 and Fiat 124 Spider. There aren’t really many other pure two-seat sports cars to choose from, although you could look at a Mini Cooper S Convertible, a Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ or the more expensive Alpine A110.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, there are sizeable discounts available on the Abarth 124, both on used and nearly-new versions. That said, the car’s rarity and Abarth’s loyal following has kept prices higher than the equivalent Mazda or Fiat.
Just two trims are offered on the 124 —the standard model and the limited-edition 124GT.
Prices start from £29,695 with standard equipment including leather sports seats, climate control, keyless start, a sports steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels and a seven-inch touchscreen with DAB radio, Bluetooth satellite navigation and smartphone connectivity. It also comes with adaptive headlights, red exterior details, black side skirts, chrome pedals, a leather gearstick, LED rear lights and cruise control.
There’s also a ‘Heritage Look’ model available at no extra cost, which adds a black bonnet, further red exterior inserts (you can opt to have grey inserts instead), as well as Alcantara interior features and Abarth branded floor mats.
The range-topping Abarth 124 GT costs from £33,625, and adds a removeable carbon fibre hard top roof, a Bose sound system, 17-inch OZ lightweight alloy wheels, as well as the ‘Visibility’ package, which comprises of automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and adaptive LED headlights. Just 50 of these are available in the UK.
What to look for
1. Aggressive styling
2. Fantastic sound from the Monza exhaust
3. Plenty of power from the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine
4. Expensive list price…
5. Although surprisingly cheap to run
6. Limited boot space
7. GT models adds extra flair to the 124
8. Lots of standard equipment
9. Great to drive
10. Hugely fun, but that enjoyment comes at a price