The Wonderfully Mixed Messages of the 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

The symbol on the badge of the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is actually a scorpion. Spider? Scorpion?

Abarth is the premium trim of Fiat Spider and 500 models (not the 500L or X). Its hallmark is performance and the name salutes legendary Italian race car maker Carlo Abarth and its logo has long included a sharp graphic scorpion.

Meanwhile, according to Road and Track magazine, the term spider (or “spyder”) predates its roadster associations. In fact, it even predates cars and was a popular term from a horse-drawn carriage.

 Whichever arachnid symbol you prefer, the meaning is clear. You’re close to the ground and enjoy an exceptional sense of speed and control behind the wheel.

Starting at just under $38k with dealer prep charges, the Abarth trim comes well equipped. A 1.4-litre MultiAir four-cylinder turbo engine achieves 160hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. That may not sound like much. (I switched it earlier this week for the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk whose Brobdingnagian engine tops out at a breathtaking 707hp and 645 lb-ft.)

But the 124 Spider is a featherweight. It needs far less power to dance through the traffic — and fit through the narrowing passages barring other urban drivers. Nyah, nyah! Moreover, so low to the ground, it’s a thrill to drive, even for the most mundane reasons (aka, let’s face it, your daily commute). Its fuel consumption comes in at the low end of two-seater cars: 7.9 L/100km combined city and highway driving. They range from 6.7 to 19.7, according to Energuide, Canada.

Did we mention the Spider is fun to drive? In sport mode, the Blitstein performance suspension is especially noticeable. The Spider’s 6-speed manual transmission is so rare that we may have to change the title from ‘standard’ to ‘remember stick and how much fun it was?’.

Beneath the removable canopy, you’re surrounded by leather, from the shift knob, past the lower instrument panel and cluster hood and back to the seats, though the deliciously comfortable sports seats are an extra $1,295.

Otherwise, the Abarth trim’s opening price includes most essentials: a rear-view backup camera; anti-theft engine immobilizer; handsfree communication with Bluetooth streaming (you’ll need your hands for steering and shifting); all this riding on fat 17×7” gunmetal aluminum wheels and performance Bridgestone tires. Careful you’re not bitten.

Base for Fiat Spider 124 Abarth: $37,995

As driven: $50,875

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