Every article you’ll read about the Fat 124 Spider will make reference to its Miata roots. And, without question, Fiat chose the best possible partner for its small roadster effort, particularly since it couldn’t do its own from scratch. With that said, it seems only people who are truly “in the know” make the connection. Most people we met during our time with the car had no idea the 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is related to the Mazda MX-5.

This speaks well to Fiat’s restyling effort. Remarkably, the “Italian” version of the car is arguably less sleek than the “Japanese” version. Where the Miata’s lines are fluid and curvaceous, the 124 Abarth’s are more rectilinear, with abrupt edges. Exterior styling elements distinct to the Abarth version of the 124 include scorpion badges on the hood and trunk, along with an optional hand-painted matte-black hood and trunklid. The Abarth 124 also gets an open grille design rendered in black and a darker colored lower grille. Gunmetal finishes for the side mirrors, roll bars and 17-inch wheels complete the look.

Inside, you’ll find Abarth-specific accents, including red upholstery stitching, a matte-black instrument panel and aluminum-trimmed pedals. Microfiber is combined with leather for the standard seat, while full leather seats can be had too. Recaros upholstered in leather and Alcantara are offered as an option.

Love it or hate it, the Italian stylists did a reasonable job of incorporating heritage design cues from the much beloved 124 Roadsters, last offered in the States in 1985. This is most obvious in the shape of the grille and the twin scallops in the hood. By the way, those scallops are evocative of the twin humps in the hood of the original car, which in turn reflected the twin-cam design of its engine. This new powerplant is a single cam design, which could be why the decision was made to go with scallops rather than humps. Ironically, the Miata’s engine does employ a twin-cam configuration.

With that said, the 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth’s 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is good for 164 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. This means if you really want the Spider Abarth to do its best, you’ll need to keep the revs at or above three grand. Let them drop, turbo lag becomes a bit of an issue. But if you keep it boiling, you’ll get reasonably satisfying thrust.

Mechanical bits specific to the 124 Abarth include a limited-slip differential with the six-speed manual transmission. There’s also a more aggressive suspension system with a strut tower brace, monotube Bilstein front and rear shock absorbers, a sport-tuned quad-tipped exhaust system and optional Brembo brakes.  The six-speed manual is standard, while a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is offered as an option.  Incidentally, the exhaust system accounts for the four-horsepower increase in the 124 Abarth over the standard model’s 160. The Abarth also gets a “sport” mode, which advances throttle response.

On the road, all of this adds up to an entertaining sports car, whose chassis is biased a bit toward oversteer. Turn in is crisp and there’s considerably less body roll than you’ll find at the wheel of the MX-5. However, ride quality is stiffer as well. The turbocharged engine is remarkably quiet for the character of the car, which makes it more comfortable on long stretches of highway. Interestingly though, the Abarth-tuned Fiat sounds better outside than it does inside. So at least the people you drive past will hear it. Of course, nobody should buy any 124 for cruising the interstate. This is a car for two-lane twisties, that’s also reasonably comfortable for day-to-day driving.

All in all, it’s a nice alternative to the Miata. The roadsters are different enough to stand as separate models, and yet most of the best characteristics of the Miata carry over to the Fiat. Still, when all is said and done, we question the value of the 124 Spider Abarth. Yes, the numbers are bigger, but in all honesty, you don’t really feel it on the street. Yes, you do get more equipment and a more aggressive appearance. But performance-wise, there’s no real appreciable difference between the Abarth and the standard 124 Spider.

Pricing starts at $28,295.

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