Fiat Spider Abarth puts extra fun into the classic roadster experience

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

January 8, 2018

           

2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

The 2018 Fiat 124 Spider pays homage to the original 124 Spider, introduced 50 years ago and revived for 2017, with classic Italian styling and performance.

The ultimate Italian roadster experience is a combination of technology and safety, with driving excitement and iconic design. The current 124 Spider reinterprets design cues from the original, one of Fiat’s most beautiful cars, with a low-slung profile, classically beautiful body sides, balanced proportions and sporty cabin-to-hood ratio.

Three models are available –– the bare-bones Classica ($24,995), the more-comprehensively equipped Lusso ($27,495) and, for performance enthusiasts, the aggressive Abarth ($28,195) –– the most-affordable turbo-powered convertible in America.

All models come standard with a MultiAir Turbo 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine with twin intercoolers and an air intake; the engine’s first application in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, producing best-in-class 160 horsepower in the Classica and Lusso, and 164 hp in the Abarth. A six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic sends power to the rear wheels.

Options packages for the Lusso and Abarth have been updated for 2018, allowing customers more flexibility. One package – the Technology and SiriusXM Group ($1,295) – is available for the base Classica. Comfort and Convenience, Navigation and Sound, and Visibility Groups are available for Lusso and Abarth.

The all-new Red Top Edition is available for the Lusso, and red Brembo four-wheel disc performance brakes are available for the hot Abarth.

Three new exterior colors are available for 2018 – Puro Bianco Perla (Tri-Coat White Pearl, $595), Grigio Chiaro (Silver Metallic) and Blu Scuro (Dark Blue Metallic). Up to eight exterior colors are available, depending on the model chosen.

(END OPTIONAL TRIM)

My 124 Spider Abarth was Grigio Chiaro with red-stitched Nero Black leather and microfiber sport seats, fitted with the sox-speed AISIN automatic transmission, riding on 17-inch Gun Metallic aluminum wheels with three-season performance tires.

The Brembo brakes ($1,495) peeked through the five V-shaped spokes. Gun Metal exterior accents (rearview mirrors, headlight and DRL housings) added sportiness, along with unique aggressive-looking front and rear fascia. Wide rectangular LED taillights were easy to see.

Abarth shields punctuated the trunk lid and the middle of the creased hood, with smaller representations in red on the wheel hub covers. Abarth is an Italian racing- and road-car manufacturer founded by Carlo Abarth. The shield shows a black stylized scorpion on a yellow and red background. A hand-painted Heritage Racing Stripe is available for $1,995.

A performance-tuned suspension (specifically tuned for greater stability during braking and turning), limited-slip differential, and a driving mode selector with Sport and Normal modes were standard. A sport-tuned exhaust with four dark-chrome tips added the world-renowned Abarth sound.

Choosing the automatic transmission added $1,350, and included a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel paddle shifters. The AISIN provided smooth full-throttle launches and quick upshifts and downshifts, delivering a more-direct feel in response to acceleration.

A Visibility Group ($995) included adaptive LED headlights (maintains a wide field of vision by adjusting the headlight position according to steering angle and vehicle speed); automatic headlight leveling (keeps beams focused on the road by adjusting the headlight position according to vehicle angle); LED daytime running lamps; and headlight washers.

Getting in was a challenge, as the sill was tall and wide and the roof (in the up position, of course – it is December) was low. The interior of the 124 Spider is small – it is a roadster – and the seats are narrow with bolstering that could be uncomfortable for larger passengers. A small armrest with a covered cubby and a storage spot for a phone divides the seats, and a glovebox cubby is large enough for a small or medium-size purse and a few other things between the seatbacks.

Movable cup holders could be positioned on the front sides of the center console (near the knees) or the back of the console (behind the elbows, in front of the glovebox – not very convenient). Speakers integrated into the headrests were a little tinny.

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

The standard audio system was AM/FM/Bluetooth with Pandora, Aha, and Stitcher apps, a seven-inch display, and four speakers. Bluetooth was capable of displaying incoming text and email messages. The system did not, however, include Android Auto or Apple CarPlay capability. The system was nav-capable, although my 124 Spider didn’t have nav. Two USB ports meant that passenger and driver could each charge a device.

(END OPTIONAL TRIM)

The heated seats were set low, an appropriate driving position for a roadster, and had recline and fore-and-aft adjustments. As room for adjustments was limited, one could choose to recline or move fully aft for long legs, not both at once. Room for the passenger was slightly claustrophobic, with a low, thick windshield frame and a wide transmission tunnel intruding on the passenger-side floor space.

Visibility through the front was good and the rearview mirror was above average for a roadster, thanks to the low, sloping rear deck. Due to the wide rear supports of the cloth roof, rear three-quarter visibility was severely limited. A Comfort and Convenience Group ($1,495) brought Blind Spot and Cross-Path Detection to cover that area.

The package also had ParkSense Rear Park Assist, heated exterior mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener, and a security alarm. A standard ParkView Rear Backup Camera also helped when backing from a parking space.

Bumps and dips were felt, as expected in a roadster, with smaller imperfections well absorbed. Irregular road surfaces or seams caused a slight rocking effect due to the short wheelbase.

Also as expected in a cloth-top convertible, some road and wind noise were noticeable, depending on road conditions. My Abarth had an acoustic headliner to help absorb some of that noise. The manual top was exceptionally easy to use by releasing a handle at the front edge and pulling.

Climate control knobs were simple and easy to reach. Infotainment knobs were also close, clearly marked and easy to use. The sport instrument cluster had a large tachometer in the center, flanked by the speedometer and gas and temperature gauges.

Abarth’s trunk was small, as expected, but low to the ground for an easy liftover. I managed to stuff lots of groceries and cat supplies in, although luggage for a long road trip would not be possible or comfortable.

A standard Enhanced Accident Response System will cut off fuel to the engine, flash hazard lights as long as the battery has power or the ignition key is turned off, turn on the interior lights (the same as the hazard lights), and unlock the doors.

The diminutive 124 Spider Abarth was fun to drive, and could manage zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Once up to highway speed, overtaking was quick and easy.

Handling was nimble, even darty at highway speeds, with minimal body roll in turns. Braking was firm and straight.

My Abarth was EPA rated for 25 mpg city/36 highway, and I managed 32.4 mpg driving mostly on the highway.

With $5,335 in options and $995 in destination charges, my 124 Spider Abarth delivered for $34,525.

———