Pulling off an appealing new take on a classic without seeming lame is easier said than done. Regardless of how much you may admire your old man’s 1970s sense of fashion after bingeing on the dearly departed HBO show Vinyl, you wouldn’t dare pair one of those psychedelic shirts with a Tom Ford suit in 2016.
Well, at least you shouldn’t.
Fiat seems to get it, which makes the return of its iconic roadster to the U.S., in the form of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, so special.
The new spin on the classic Italian convertible not only recaptures the spirit that has made the car a hot collectible 50 years after its introduction, but it also sells you on the idea even if you aren’t a fan of the previous models. Some may want to write the new Spider off as simply a rebadged fourth-generation Mazda Miata, but rest assured: This Italian roadster is a completely different animal from its Japanese counterpart, despite the two cars’ shared platform.
Nowhere does this become more apparent than behind the wheel of the 124 Spider Abarth (pictured). Of the three new Spider variants (not counting the Prima Edizione, a limited offering of 124 vehicles), the Abarth is by far the more sinister interpretation of the convertible. The other two models are the Classica, a purer, entry-level version, and the more premium Lusso, which means “luxury” in Italian.
All three come with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with basically the same amount of power: 164 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque in the Abarth, compared with 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque in the Classica and the Lusso. But the 124 Spider Abarth, which starts at a little over $28,000, is a far better fit for those drivers who prefer their classics with a little more edge.
In addition to unique design cues such as gunmetal accents and matte-black lids, the Abarth features a number of performance enhancements, including a sportier Bilstein suspension system and a low-growling, quad-tip exhaust—both of which make it a lot more fun to drive.
Fortunately this update also includes all the modern tech features we’ve come to expect: USB ports, Bluetooth, rear camera. About the only thing lacking is Apple CarPlay, but for a true sports car there are worse sins. Opt for the engaging short-throw standard six-speed manual transmission and you won’t even miss it.