What makes a two seater roadster a thoroughbred Gran Turismo? A difficult question for all of us, but the men at Abarth have the anwser. On the basis of the Mazda MX-5 they got to work, and added all the unique ingredients to make a sporting masterpiece. It is built in Hiroshima, but finished in Turin, to give it that special Abarth zest and look, for all of us who love Italian four wheeled panache. Just read further…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Pushing the starting knob and you are entering the Abarth world. As you know, Abarth started out as a manufacturer of “marmitti” or exhausts. Tifosi in those glorious fifties and sixties mounted them on their four cylinder Seicento’s, and as a result their Fiats sounded fit for a racing circuit. Revving it up, it truly sound like a thoughbred. Well, the engine of the Abarth 124 GT IS a unique unit.
It is the trusted MultiAir 1,4 liter engine. Ingenious, with a turbo and its unique Multiair technology, this engine already won numerous prizes, such as the International Engine of the Year in 2010. The technology is based on direct control of the intake air, cylinder by cylinder and stroke by stroke, without a throttle valve.
So you can imagine the sound: “Vroaaap”!, it answers you when you push the starting button, revving up as to clear its throat, and to warm up the catalyser as soon as possible. The feast can start. Your eyes are riveted on the large rev counter right in front of you, and your right hand falls intuitively on the short gearlever. “Klick”, the gearchange is precise, the throws are ultra short. You feel the beast through the gearstick gently throbbing in the palm of your right hand. Off you go.
The bolide is already totally one with the seat of your pants, the steering feels and fits like a glove. “Vroaaap”, klick, “Vroooaaaap”, klick, your gearchanges just briefly interrupt the staccato sound coming from the four exhausts behind your ears, you already feel that this Abarth has everything what it takes to shoot you forward, but you just let her warm up a bit, before you hit the high revs and she devours the road in front of you.
The standard equipment of this Abarth indeed includes the Record Monza exhaust with dual mode system capable of modifying the path of the exhaust gas according to engine rpm and of generating a satisfying, deep roar…
Your eyes glide over the stunningly beautiful instrumentation, with most knobs and handles remembering you of the Mazda Mx5, with also the steering wheel being something you held in your hands before. The central touchscreen, the navigation, all this is common with the Mx5.
Not that you mind, it is all well done, and it lets you focus on the heart of this car, its engine. It is a formidable unit. Its torque delivery is rather more robust, with a maximum of 250 Nm at 2500 rpm. Powerful, responsive, full of thoroughbred character. It has 170 hp at 5500 rpm, and as said, develops ample torque of 250 Nm. The engine reacts immediately with a burst of power at the slightest blip of the throttle, emitting, as we said, the most beautiful staccato a four cylinder petrol engine can produce.
Despite all this thoroughbred zest, the engine is utterly docile and you can potter along in all gears at 1200 rpm or so, accompanied by a deep growl, which remains music in your ears. Already under “normal” driving mode’ pulling power is a dream, and the responsiveness is just great. You need to rev it close to 2000 rpm to really feel the punch though. Moreover, things really start to happen when you choose the “sport” mode. With the slightest movement of your right foot and the right gear, you are pressed against your seat and the most delicious sporting note engulfs you.
The gearing of the third generation MX-5 six-speed box Fiat uses, is fitted with its own unique ratios. Final drive gearing also differs between the Fiat and Mazda manuals, to match the very different torque characteristics of these engines. Performance leaves nothing to be desired: top speed is 232 km/h and acceleration from 0 to 100 is only 6,8 seconds. Fuel consumption, according to the manufacturer, is 8.5 l/100 km urban, 5.1 l/100 km extra-urban, 6.4 l/100 km combined, with CO2 emissions being 148 g/km.
Perfect balance throughout is the hallmark of this Abarth. It is wonderful how the chassis copes with the fiery 170 HP which are unleashed on the rear wheels. This Abarth offers a delicious balance through curves, which is hardly disturbed no matter how brutal you are with your right foot. This Abarth truly awakens the better driver in you, as you are totally one with this car. You feel all the physical forces with uncanny purity, and you learn how to react to it and have a dialogue with it.
Rather sooner than later you learn and understand everything about handling, how it is influenced by power and steering angle, and soon your eyes have the same knowing glance than expert rally and racing drivers, as the Abarth has taught you all there is to know about driving at the limit. The latest generation Mazda MX5 is already a fine handling car, but the Italian magicians have added their knowledge to make things truly superb.
We were totally smitten by the way one could power out of tight corners on damp tarmac, the Abarth hardly lost grip and only needed a subtle twist at the wheel to counter the gentle oversteer. The car packs 17-inch OZ Ultra-Light alloy rims, which are about three kilograms lighter than standard wheels and guarantee improved handling. All the weight of this 1060 kg light car is concentrated within the wheelbase, the engine is installed behind the front axle.
Furthermore, the perfect 50/50 weight distribution ensures excellent feedback and agility. The suspension features high double wishbone suspension on the front and a five-arm multi-link on the rear with calibrated setup specifically designed to increase cornering and braking stability.
But there is also everyday pleasure to be had for the happy sporting owner.
We already mentioned the excellent docility of the engine, the slick gearbox, coupled to a smooth and progressive clutch. This makes lengthy urban stop and go traffic hardly a problem, it is rather an occasion to concentrate and enjoy even more the deep throbbing and growling sound of the engine, which distinguishes you from ordinary mortals standing beside you in the next lane.
Yes, driving this Abarth’s is a total adventure and experience, every day you drive it, and you will agree with us that it is very hard to part with this thoroughbred.
Our test car came with a beautiful hardtop, which is made of carbon fibre, and elegantly shows this too in its surface finish, adding sporting elegance to the car. The hard top weighs just 16 kilograms and contributes to improving the compactness and overall torsional rigidity of the car.
It guarantees thermal insulation and soundproofing, while ensuring ample rear view. It takes little technical knowledge to remove the hard top, leaving you with the soft top which only takes one movement from your right arm to swiftly move it up or down in seconds. The seats are also specific for the Abarth, and are beautifully shaped for spirited yet comfortable driving.
Luggage space is adequate for two for a week long Gran Turismo tour, and as you know, less is always more.
There are cars to have and cherish, keep them for life and or pass them on to following generations. Like its iconic predecessor, the 124 Sport Spider, which was born in 1966, this Abarth has a ticket for immortality. It is the purest Gran Turismo we have come across for quite a while, with an unparalleled sporting character, panache and charm, with everything in place where it should be, engine in the front, rear wheels driven, all timelessly proportioned and with almost ideal dimensions.
It you ever have a heart for cars, this is the one which should be on your list, for those unforgettable moments with just the two of you.
Hans Knol ten Bensel