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Abarth 124 Spider vs Fiat 124 Spider

Small roadster options are so scant, the Fiat 124's arch rival is made by Fiat

There’s a bit of a shortage of small, affordable sports cars. The fact Fiat based its 124 Spider on the Mazda MX-5 proves how hard it is to make these things profitable. That one of the 124’s closest rivals is made by Fiat itself (well, Fiat’s performance car arm) only hammers the point home.

For around £6,000 more than the Fiat 124, you can have the pumped-up Abarth 124. The extra cash not only buys you an aggressive styling makeover – with optional retro rally colour schemes – but an extra 30bhp (168bhp in total), a new suspension tune, a limited-slip differential and more powerful Brembo brakes.

And an obscene exhaust system. This car is louder aurally than it is visually, believe it or not. That is not a compliment. In town, pedestrians will stare at you, while on the motorway you’ll have to turn your music up really loud to disguise its droning.

Its more driver-focused chassis also makes a meal out of urban roads. Fiat’s 124 is one of the easiest going roadsters on sale, Abarth’s is not. After one drive home I concluded Abarth has made a louder, less comfortable 124, confident Fiat’s is the right one to have.

Three days later and the Abarth had talked me round and convinced me all other cars need to stop taking themselves so seriously. Yes, it thumps its way through town. But on an enjoyable piece of road its extra precision over its Fiat base car is tangible.

The 124’s immediate body roll into corners has gone and the rear axle is much more trustworthy. It’s noticeably quicker, too, though the engine feels more vulnerable to turbo lag and you have to work the gearbox harder to keep the Abarth on the boil. Which is fine, because the six-speed manual shift remains fantastic.

Inside, the Abarth is a mixed bag. Alcantara is pointlessly on the dashboard rather than usefully on the steering wheel, but the red rev counter pleases my inner child and Abarth’s logo is a more inspiring thing to have staring at back at you from the ‘wheel than Fiat’s.

Worth the extra six grand? Objectively, no. Fiat’s roadster would be far easier to live with, considerably less embarrassing in traffic and it’s not that much slower. But flawed as it is, the Abarth is the clear winner if you enjoy driving. Which I do.

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