Last year we saluted Fiat for the canny reasoning that resulted in the 124 Spider, its first rear-drive sports car since the original model was discontinued in the early 1980s.
Although the amalgamation of Mazda MX-5 mechanicals and Italian styling was not a flawless integration by any means, it delivered the kind of desirable product that was so obviously missing from Fiat’s limited and conventional line-up.
However, to Abarth, Fiat’s feisty tuning division, the 124 is of arguably much greater import. Where its parent, through minimal investment of resource, gained a useful image bump (particularly in the US) and a very decent roadster, Abarth gets the chance to apply its underused talents to an already admirably talented piece of kit – a dramatic shift from its current norm of uprating the Fiat 500’s modest abilities.
The fact that there is also a manifest gap in the market for Abarth’s version does it no harm, either.
Mazda is famously conservative when it comes to boosting the MX-5’s power, and although the Spider doesn’t dramatically increase its established output, the 36lb ft of additional peak torque (and a much greater dose of it at lower revs, of course) supplied by the turbocharged 1.4-litre Multiair engine promises to be significant in a car that weighs not much more than a tonne.
Furthermore, by returning the mechanical limited-slip differential denied to the cooking versions of the 124 Spider, Abarth has been allowed to set out its stall.
This looks like an authentically sporting sort of spider – and potentially the small Italian roadster we’ve been waiting for since long before the misconceived Fiat Barchetta was axed.
Certainly, it will need to be if Fiat is to justify the asking price: starting at £29,565, the Abarth is almost £6k pricier than a top-spec MX-5. Those are fancy, feelsome boots to fill – but the pay-off ought to be the best scorpion-badge-wearer since the Autobianchi A112 Abarth of the mid-1970s.