Don’t Call It a Fiata
Fiat takes Italian design, marries it to the Japanese engineering of the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and out comes the 124 Spider. Taking it up a notch, and you get the 2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth. The most significant difference with the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is it carries a different engine, some suspension tweaks and some styling cues.
Exclusively available in the 124 Spider is the Fiat 1.4-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder delivering 160 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque. The horsepower isn’t significantly more than the base engine, but what the Abarth engine gets is the Monza exhaust that lets everyone know you are making the scene. The exhaust is raspy, to the point that trying to sneak out of the house in the wee hours of the morning is pretty much impossible.
Automatic vs. Manual
Clean Fleet Report has reviewed the MX-5 Miata and the base 124 Spider previously, but always with the six-speed manual. This transmission has short throws, a buttery smooth clutch and is geared to get the most from the base engine. This time around, we requested the 124 Spider Abarth with the six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The interest stemmed from the fact that automatics are increasingly out-performing manuals, and heck, we wanted to try something different.
Driving Experience: On the Road
The rear-wheel drive 2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth’s turbocharged engine also powers the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500 Abarth. The similarities with a very capable off-road 4X4 and a compact coupe end right there.
The EPA rates the 124 Spider Abarth fuel economy at 25 city/36 highway/29 combined. In 356 miles driving throughout Southern California we averaged 28 mpg. Our inability to meet the EPA combined estimate mostly
was due to our staying off the highways to discover every back road, twisty and tight corner we could find. The automatic begged the paddle shifters to be put to use as much as possible, and we gladly obliged.
The engine loves to be run high in the rev band. Low-end torque is missing, but don’t worry. Once above 1,500 rpm the 1.4L turbo wants to be taken to the 7,500 rpm redline. This is where the paddle shifters come in. Fiat has done a great job with the automatic rev matching, allowing for throttle blip with the paddles to match the engine and wheel speed.
The low center of gravity, a curb weight of 2,516 pounds and a 53/47 percent front-to-rear weight distribution deliver confident, consistent and nimble handling. The chassis balance is excellent with a Bilstein sport suspension that includes double wishbone front, multi-link rear, electric power-assisted rack & pinion steering and stabilizer bars at both ends. The 205/45VR Bridgestone Potenza three-season performance tires on 17-inch gun metal aluminum alloy wheels didn’t fall-off after repeated hard cornering. There was a bit of tire chattering when pushed extremely hard, which was probably due to the suspension stiffness.
If you will be taking your 124 Spider Abarth out for track days, then go with the optional Brembo brakes. Otherwise, the standard ventilated front and solid rear discs are all you will need.
Driving Experience: Exterior
The Fiat 124 Spider Abarth was designed at Centro Stile in Turin, Italy, home to the famous Pininfarina design house. The Italian styling touches leave no mistaking the 124 Spider Abarth for its Miata MX-5 soulmate. Fiat stretched the front by three inches and the rear by two inches, resulting in a longer visual look that is accentuated by its low-slung 4.9-inch ground clearance.
Clean Fleet Report’s Abarth was painted in Chiaro Silver Metallic with distinctive red accents on the lower fascia and the exterior mirrors. The almond-shaped LED projector headlights are set under what look like eyelids. The honeycomb grille is smaller than the grille on the Miata MX-5, and leads to a hood characterized by two domes. The sides are smooth, ending at the short trunk deck, quad chrome exhaust tips and downward/inward slanting LED taillights.
Badging on the car is kept to the absolute minimum with the word “Fiat” nowhere to be found. The only insignias are the very distinctive Abarth scorpion badge on the front fenders, nose, tail, and wheel center hubs. The soft convertible roof, with an acoustic headliner, is manually operated and could not be easier to lower and raise.
Driving Experience: Interior
The 2019 Fiat 124 Spider interior’s materials are a step-up from the sibling Miata, with some retro-inspired Italian flair. Fiat also added soft touch surfaces and additional sound insulation to reduce NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), resulting in a more refined and quiet ride. However, even with the top up and the acoustic windshield glass, there is considerable road and engine noise in the 124 Abarth. You want quiet, then this isn’t the car for you.
The 124 Spider Abarth’s heated leather sport seats have red piping to match the exterior red accents. Recaro seats are optional. More bottom cushioning and padding would have been nice, and the seats lacked lumbar adjustment. These are not so important if you are driving short distances. However, if thinking of taking a long road trip on open freeways, then investing in aftermarket seat cushions might not be a bad idea.
The dash layout is simple and clean with the 124 Spider getting its own instrument cluster design. Three round gauges were deep set under a hood to help reduce glare because, as you soon find out with the top down, everything is pretty bright. Because performance is key, the tachometer is in the center of the three gauges, and the largest of the three. The HVAC round knobs were center-placed, just above the leather-wrapped gearshift lever.
The Mazda-designed infotainment system continues to be among the most challenging to operate, so the 124 Spider suffers as a result. Our test car had the optional Navigation & Sound Group package that included the top/center dash-mounted 7.0-inch color touch-screen display. Without volume and channel knobs on the dash, we found it cumbersome to make band and channel changes. It required multiple steps to control a single function, and the need to use the center console-mounted selector knob resulted in diverting the driver’s eyes from the road. The controls mounted on the leather-wrapped steering wheel helped some, but were limited in their range of functionality. Maybe in time it becomes an easy operation that can be done all by touch, but after a week and hundreds of miles we never were comfortable with the system.
Operational challenges notwithstanding, this is not to take away from sound quality of the Bose nine-speaker (including one in each of the seat headrests) sound system, for the AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX radio with a USB input. SiriusXM is included with a one-year subscription.
Features include cruise control, remote keyless door locks, power windows with one-touch down, power side mirrors, rain sensitive windshield wipers, push button ignition, tilt steering column, carpeted floor mats, small but appreciated storage areas, and two inconveniently placed cup holders. The trunk is more-than-adequate for two people on a weekend road trip, but bringing golf clubs, visiting wineries and lugging home cases of wine, or antiquing, should be left to the Fiat 500L or 500X.
The 2019 Fiat 124 Spider comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features including four airbags, four-wheel power disc ABS braking, rearview back-up camera, electronic stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and an anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer. There is a tire service kit, but no spare.
The 2019 124 Abarth has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Pricing and Warranties
Clean Fleet Report’s 2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, with optional equipment totaling $4,735, had a MSRP of $33,030. All prices exclude the $995 destination charge.
The 2019 Fiat 124 Spider comes with these warranties:
- Basic Four years/50,000 miles
- Powertrain Four years/50,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance Four years/unlimited miles
- Corrosion 12 years/unlimited miles
Observations: 2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth
Fiat added Italian flair to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, with a redesigned exterior, upped the luxury level with changes to the interior and noise reduction insulation. So, what is the difference between the two?
Those who like the 2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth actually love it. After spending a week on corners, twisty mountain roads and on the open highway, my take is the Bilstein sport suspension in the 124 Spider Abarth does not add anything to the already excellent handling and ride of the MX-5 Miata, especially the Club version. The Fiat turbocharged engine is no more powerful than the Mazda engine, and even suffers from turbo lag. The Monza exhaust is, well, exhaustingly loud. Some will like it, but after awhile, a bit of quiet driving would be nice. You could opt for the Fiat 124 Spider Classica or Lusso models, and get the same performance and great handling for a few dollars less. But do those look as cool as the Abarth?
Is the 124 Spider Abarth a fun car? Yes! Should you consider it when shopping two-passenger convertible sports cars? Yes! You see, it comes down to styling, uniqueness and image of buying the 124 Spider Abarth over the MX-5 Miata. There are not many 124 Spiders on the road, and even fewer Abarth models. Therefore, if you buy one, expect to get the same reactions we did of: “What is that?” and “I didn’t know Fiat made a sports car.”
Reasonable comments. We always took the time to tell people what they were looking at. To a person, after a quick conversation, they all thought the 124 Spider Abarth was a pretty cool car.
We think you will too.
Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!
Photos by Lex Adams
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