Why the Abarth 124 Spider is our Top Convertible of 2017

We can argue all day about whether the Abarth 124 Spider is a "real" Italian sports car.

As is well-known, Fiat's drop-top is based on the Mazda MX-5 and is even built in Japan. Those are actually two very good things if you care about driving enjoyment and quality.

The MX-5 remains one of the sweetest rear-drive sports cars you can buy. We reckon the Abarth version adds some stuff that enthusiasts have long wanted from the Mazda: more muscle and a more aggressive character.

The Spider gets a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) MultiAir 1.4-litre turbo engine, which feels pretty perky in the mid-range. It also sounds suitably throaty.

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The gear ratios (manual or automatic) are unique to the Abarth, it rides on sports suspension with Bilstein dampers and Brembo brakes, and there's a limited-slip differential at the back, which enhances the rear-drive feel of this retro-inspired sports machine.

It also allows you to go to track days and do skids. That's very important for a cool toy like this.

There's no mistaking its Mazda parentage, but the Abarth also still looks the part, with plenty of exterior details that pay homage to the classic 124 Spider of 1966. Quad exhaust pipes at the rear as well.

In fact, the only exterior panel shared between Spider and MX-5 is the windscreen header rail. And while the Abarth picks up much of the Mazda's interior equipment and switchgear, its dashboard architecture is also significantly different. Even the seats are unique.

Point is, no need to pretend the Abarth 124 Spider is something it's not. But equally, don't underestimate just how different from the base material this car behaves and feels.

Price range: 
$52,990 (manual) to $54,990 (automatic).
Powertrains: 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four with 125kW/250Nm, 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, rear-drive.
Fuel economy: 6.4-6.6 litres per 100km.

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