Ok, so the idea of this blog is to post about all things outdoorsy, however, one needs to get to the hills in the first place!
My car ownership has been rather limited. I learnt to drive in the family Fiat Strada then, after passing my driving test, I bought myself a Fiat Uno i.e. Start A cracking first car . I also occasionally borrowed parent’s Fiat Punto Mk 1
….see a theme here?!
After a year, I traded my Uno in for a Mk 2 Punto. I then continued through the Fiat Punto range owning pretty much every iteration, each time getting a slightly more powerful engine before purchasing the Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir Turbo.
A highly enjoyable car to drive but then along came Abarth who opened (and promptly closed) a dealership close to my home.
I’d never seen an Abarth up close. I’d read about them and had seen photos of these sexier, souped up versions of Fiat cars. They were the next ‘step up’ from Fiat and they’d introduced a version of the Punto just at the time I was about to trade in…it was a no-brainer!
In the Abarth, the drive around winding country lanes became as enjoyable as the walk I was driving to. I can unleash my inner ‘girl racer’ from traffic lights yet it is refined on long motorway journeys.
Without doubt, this is the best car I’ve ever owned but sadly Abarth pulled the model. Fiat and Abarth both concentrating on the popular 500 family
….then they threw a curve ball….
The original Fiat 124 Spider was released in the late 60’s with the Abarth version introduced in 1972.
Several years on, the Spider is making a return, with both Fiat and Abarth updating this iconic car.
The Fiat version is a very nice looking car with plenty of bells and whistles.
Abarth, however, take a good car and make it better with (slightly) more power, Brembo brakes and superior handling thanks to the mechanical limited-slip differential and Bilstein shocks.
It also look gorgeous!
The Abarth comes in two body styles; solid colour and, my favourite, the heritage pack which adds a contrasting matte black bonnet and boot. It has a real ‘Marmite’ response. People love it or hate it. Personally, I think it looks great with a definite nod back to the original styling.
The inside of the Spider is far nicer than my Punto, things have progressed a lot in the last 4 years. Thee dashboard is swathed in alcantara and a decent amount of equipment provided as standard including climate control, touch screen sat nav/entertainment and heated seats. Parking and rain sensors are available in an optional viability pack at an additional £1250.
It’s reassuringly nice to see an analogue rev counter and speedometer behind the steering wheel and, just in front of the gear stick, is the shiny ‘Sport Mode’ button. Much better looking than the plastic switch on the Punto. This firms up the ride a little more and makes the throttle more responsive. I doubt you’d ever want to take it out of Sport mode!
Underneath the bonnet is the 1.4 Multiair engine with a Garrett turbo, very similar to what is in my current Abarth Punto. It throws out 170hp but it’s the torque you notice, there is tonnes of the stuff.
The lump upfront gets you from 0 to 62 mph in 6.8-seconds. Abarth claim around 44mpg but my experience in the Punto would suggest closer to 33 – 35 mpg.
Boot space is minimal. My one worry with this car is it’s practicality, however, once the engine started I soon forgot about that, the sound is amazing! I would have happily have placed an order for the car simply on the noise made from the Record Monza exhaust!
But, the real test was out on the track. I put on my Abarth branded crash helmet and made my way out to the cars. The 124s were at the front, behind them were the new 595s and behind those the completely bonkers 695 Biposto….more about that in a bit!
I was asked to choose between manual or automatic. Despite being my first time in a left hand drive car I decided to try out the 6 speed manual and got in to one of the red and black cars.
I was mentally going through these ‘wrong way round’ controls as my instructor introduced me to the Silverstone track, arguably the most iconic track in England ….wow!!
We made our way back to the pits then it was my turn. I had 20 minutes to take this awesome vehicle around the international circuit.
“It’s your test drive”, I was told “go as fast or slow as you like”
Needless to say, I planted my right foot!
The 124 responded beautifully. I only need to use third and fourth gears which were easy to engage using the short throw shifter.
It responded quickly to both braking and acceleration and was very happy around corners with just a little bit of understreer on the more extreme corners. The 124 is responsive to small steering inputs and extremely confidence inspiring. It will be interesting to see how the stiff suspension handles bumpy, holey British roads but at Silverstone it works brilliantly.
Although based on Mazda this is a true Italian. The powertrain, Record Monza exhaust, the design and all the tweaks which makes the car so fun to drive is handled by Officine Abarth. Each car is tested and certified by an Abarth technician and moreover, it just feels like a nippy little Italian sports car should feel.
My laps were over far too quickly but my track experience wasn’t.
After a short break, I was back out for another 20 minutes of so in the 595. If I have to be honest, I admire what Abarth have done with what is a very popular Fiat model but, personally, I’m not a huge fan of the styling although it seems I’m alone in that!
Abarth have managed to squeeze 180 hp out of this little engine and it was a blast around the track. Like the 124, this car also has mechanical limited-slip differential and Brembo brakes.
Almost £10,000 cheaper than the 124, this is a great alternative and is still good fun to dive but there is no doubt which of the two I’d prefer.
The last car I tried was the 695 Biposto albeit as a passenger.
A stripped down car which is at the other end of the pricing scale at almost £33,ooo. Gone are the rear seats,door inserts, air conditioning and radio instead you get something which feels like a proper little track car, full of the classic Abarth insanity!
I occasionally glanced over at the G-meter on the dashboard, it is remarkable what this pocket rocket is capable of although it’s definitely not something you’d purchase for your trip to the shops.
As I left, I was handed a gift, a black envelope containing four beautiful drawings of the 124. These will look very nice on my wall.
Al in all, an unforgettable day an a car I am very tempted to purchase.
I hate to say too many good things about any Abarth cars as I love the exclusivity of the Abarth, waving to other owners and arranging meet ups….so no, don’t buy this car! (-:
A good, if slightly long, video review of the Fiat, Abarth and original 124 is available on the Autogefühl YouTube channel