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.