2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

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The Abarth scorpion now graces the hood of the sportiest Fiat 124 Spider (Harvey Schwartz)

Abarth & C’s association with Fiat goes back to the early 1950s. Abarth is to Fiat what AMG is to Mercedes—the high performance arm of the car company. Up until now, the Abarth scorpion badge (Carlo Abarth’s astrological sign was Scorpio) only appeared on a singular model in Fiat’s current line: The 500. That’s now changed. If you’ve longed for the return of Abarth on a bonafide sports car, you’re wish is here: The sign of the scorpion now graces Fiat’s top performing variant of the sporty new 124 Spider. Harvey Schwartz rides the back of the newest scorpion.

Story and photographs by Harvey Schwartz

The all-new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth adds fun-in-the-sun driving dynamics, unique exterior styling, a more powerful turbo engine, specially tuned suspension and a sportier interior. I tested an Abarth edition with a 6-speed manual transmission for excellent pure driving thrills. The all-new 124 Spider Abarth won Motor Trend magazine’s ‘Purist Shootout’ and they nailed it.

My test Fiat 124 Spider Abarth came with these options to make the ride more enjoyable and safe: Sirius Satellite radio, sport leather bucket seats, 9-speaker Bose Audio with subwoofer, Blind Spot & Cross Path detection, GPS Navigation, Adaptive/LED front headlamps with washers, Automatic Headlamp Leveling system, LED DRLs, Power/Heated Exterior Mirrors, Auto Dimming Rearview mirror, Universal Garage Door Opener and a Security Alarm. It is modern inside and out.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

The design is aggressive with sporty looks starting with a streamlined low silhouette featuring a long front hood with dual powerdomes, steeply raked A-pillars, black side sills enhancing high-speed stability, turning lamps, flared fenders with 7X17 Gun Metal aluminum wheels wrapped with sticky and grippy Bridgestone Potenza 205/45R17 low-profile tires.

The unique front fascia has LED headlamps/foglamps/DRLs, black upper/lower hexagonal shaped grilles with a splitter. Out back is a sport tuned, chrome quad-tip exhaust, horizontal LED lamps, a rear diffuser and a lip spoiler. The monocoque ultra-lightweight construction, just 2,477 pounds, features front/rear suspension subframes allowing suspension, steering and noise-vibration-harshness tuning to contribute to a refined, yet very responsive ride. The easy-to-operate manual convertible top for sun in your face and wind in your hair is made of three layers for a quiet ride when up.

This lightweight rocket 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds, and is easily toss-able when entering steep turns. Just switch off the ESC button, mash the shifter, put the pedal to the metal and the rear quickly slides out giving a thrilling ride pointing just where you want it to go. That is the result of the double-pinion electric power assist rack & pinion steering system which is so responsive to my inputs with excellent feel for the road. Push the ESC button to on and the rear slides out just slightly when cornering hard but keeping you in full control of your desired direction.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

Rocket ship acceleration, 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds comes from the unique 1.4 liter turbocharged 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine. It features a cast-iron block and an aluminum bedplate. Lightweight cast-aluminum, hard-anodized pistons contribute to overall strength of the reciprocating assembly and the engine’s high-5,500 rpm capability. The throttle is very light, just a slight touch and it starts moving up, it is remarkably high-revving. It makes 164 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 184 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm but the sweet spot is in third/fourth gear at 3,500-4,500 rpm for exceptional acceleration.

The engine also features piston-cooling jets located at the bottom of each cylinder, contributing to consistent power delivery and efficient fuel usage by squirting oil on the bottom of the pistons to help maintain piston temperatures and reduce the possibility of hot spots along the cylinder walls or at the top of the piston, which could lead to detonation. The 1.4 liter MultiAir Turbo engine’s induction system includes a front-mounted intercooler designed to remove heat in the air charge that the turbo generates while compressing incoming air (higher air density for more power). Reducing heat provides a cooler, denser air charged that helps increase the potential for more power while reducing detonation sensitivity. More high-performance engine components include a new fresh-air intake system, a high-flow air filter and smooth-flowing plumbing for max power.

My test Abarth came with the exciting, fun and easy-to-use short-throw, 6-speed manual transmission that is directly connected to the gearbox featuring a simple structure with a compact, lightweight design. Its die-cast aluminum housing, control over the flow of transmission oil and material use contributes to its lighter weight. Shifts are direct and smooth. The clutch pedal is optimized to control acceleration G-forces and delivers easy, quick shifts.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

The balanced front-to-rear weight distribution is combined with a lowered yaw inertia moment (achieved by moving the engine rearward and adopting aluminum components at the front and rear ends of the body) and a lower center of gravity to deliver a light, dynamic driving experience. The rear mechanical differential unit features a ring gear optimized to support the amount of torque produced.

The thickness of the aluminum casing is reduced, maintaining strength and noise/vibration/harshness performance characteristics. The unit is compact, and the shape of the inside of the unit is optimized to create smooth flow of oil from the rear differential gears. It really puts the power down. For even more performance is the center console mounted Sport mode selector that changes the calibration of the engine, electric power steering and dynamic stability control.

The lightweight body structure applies the basic concept of using straight beams and creating a continuous framework wherever possible to the various individual sections to function in harmony. In addition, the use of aluminum and high-tensile steel provides safety and rigidity. The straight high-mount backbone frame from the front tunnel section-a crucial component for an open-top vehicle-and the large cross section contribute to build a strong structure. Enhancing rigidity, suspension and steering precision response is the front strut tower brace.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

More driving performance is enhanced by the application of lightweight aluminum parts on the body and chassis. They include aluminum hood, trunk lid, front/rear bumper reinforcements, seatback bars, underbody crossmember and bulkhead panel.

The real thrill of driving the 124 Spider Abarth is its fully independent sport-tuned suspension that firmly holds the car to the road. It uses a double-wishbone layout up front with Bilstein shocks, coil springs and stabilizer bar for sharp turn-in and hard cornering. The multi-link rear suspension features Bilstein shocks, coil springs and a stabilizer bar to help improve control while cornering.

The shocks are connected directly to the hub supports, delivering a 1:1 damper level ratio in relation to the suspension stroke. The mounting position of the dampers is optimized to minimize changes in ratio, helping to improve the grip of the tires. The axis of wheel deflection is set behind the point of contact with the road in response to lateral input from the tires. This creates link positioning that uses lateral force from the tires to increase toe-in, even under higher G-forces while cornering for greater stability while turning.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

Braking to a safe, short stop is achieved with the standard power-assisted steel disc system with ABS and ESC. Up front are 11 inch vented discs clamped with dual-piston calipers and 11 inch rear solid discs clamped with large single piston calipers. The total package is thought out from the beginning by Fiat engineers to be a real ‘kick-in-the-pants’ when taking the two-seat sports car to its limits. For even more braking power for the track are optional Brembo brake calipers—four pistons up front and dual pistons in the rear.

Moving over to the interior further shows the skill of the engineers and designers at Fiat that perfectly blends both together. It reflects the performance-oriented details for which cars sporting the Scorpion badge are famous. The red leather seats features side/bottom bolstering, keeping you in place during hard cornering, there is red stitching throughout including the tilting, leather-wrapped steering wheel, wrapped instrument cluster hood (a matte black instrument panel bezel with a giant 8,000 rpm centered tach (with a window showing gear selected and sport mode on), mph gauge to the right and important reconfigurable white on black readouts to the left, the lower instrument panel, and a unique knobby stick shifter.

There is also a rear backup camera, remote proximity keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers/washers, aluminum air-vent bezels/center console and aluminum-accented sport foot pedals. For true performance enthusiasts, leather and Alcantara Recaro seats are optional. Other standard interior features include push button start/stop, express down windows, power door locks, map light, dual vanity mirrors, cruise control, storage on the back between the seatbacks, and a remote trunk opener with cargo light.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

Standard safety features include dual stage front airbags, dual front side airbags, and dual 3-point safety belts with pretensioners, front/rear crumple zones, tire pressure monitor with enhanced accident response system.

The all-new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is the real deal in compact, pure two-seat sports cars with superb comfort, fun, thrilling and easy driving, with a distinctive exterior design/sporty interior, that differentiates itself from its 124 stable mats and from the Mazda Miata that it shares a platform with.

© Words and pictures by Harvey Schwartz

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)


2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

$28,195.00/$33,185.00 as tested with $995.00 destination charge

EPA fuel mileage:
26mpg/city, 35mpg/highway

1.4 liter Turbocharged MultiAir I-4, SOHC, 16-valves, Cast-Iron Block/aluminum alloy head

164 at 5,500 rpm

184 pound-feet at 3,200 rpm

The turbo engine in the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (Harvey Schwartz)

6-speed manual/6-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Double pinion power assist rack & pinion

F-independent double wishbone, Bilstein shocks, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R-independent, multi-links, Bilstein shocks, coil springs, anti-roll bar

F-11 inch steel vented discs with dual-piston calipers R-11 inch steel solid discs with large single-piston calipers; ABS, ESC

Wheels/Tires: 7X17 inch gun metal aluminum wheels/205/45R17 inch Bridgestone Potenza RE-050A tires

Length: 159.6 inches
Width: 68.5 inches
Height: 48.5 inches
Curb weight: 2,477 pounds

EPA size classification*:

* Passenger car classes are designated by the EPA based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except the ones classified as special vehicle. A two-seater is classified as a car with no more than two designated seating positions.

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