If you have ever attended any HPDE day, you are likely going to see many Mazda Miatas. The current Mazda MX-5 is great, but Fiat also uses the same chassis to produce its 124 Spider, and it is an extremely fun car that will bring smiles to the driver’s face lap after lap. The Fiat version uses a Japanese transmission and Italian engine and is assembled in Japan by Mazda.

The Fiat 124 is available in three versions. The entry-level model is the Classica and starts at $24,995. The next model is the Lusso, which includes some more luxury items such as heated leather seats and 17-inch wheels for $27,495. The top-of-the-line version is the Abarth, which gets really serious with Bilstein dampers, limited slip differential, performance exhaust and Brembo brakes. The Abarth will start at $28,195 which is an amazing bargain. Our fully optioned Abarth was $34,680, which included blind spot monitoring, navigation, park assist and other items that you can go without. Why would you need parking assist in a Fiat 124?

We also managed to get our hands on a 124 Spider Lusso with an automatic transmission, which is probably what most buyers will choose. Most of our time was spent with the Abarth, which was significantly more fun to drive.

All 124 models come with the same turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine, delivering 164 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. If you order your Abarth with the automatic transmission, you get the Abarth-exclusive sport mode that changes the calibrations of the engine, transmission, electric power steering and dynamic stability control system to give you a sportier experience.

Whether you get the automatic or the manual, the Fiat feels quick. If you have driven an older Miata, you will love the turbo power of the 124. Response is great except for down really low in the rpm range. And it sounds great, too, especially with the Abarth exhaust. The automatic transmission is one of the better ones on the market, but why would you choose that when you can have a proper manual transmission with a great shift linkage that is a joy to use?

The Abarth has an aggressive appearance, with unique front and rear fascia, black side sills and 17-inch gunmetal aluminum wheels. The combination on our white test car was gorgeous. We were not the only ones who liked the exterior of the Abarth. It turned heads wherever we went and most people did not know what it was. We even had a police officer stopping to ask questions about the car.

The interior is cozy and tight. It offers enough room for two people and not much more. The optional Recaro sport seats are awesome and hold you well while being comfortable. The 124 is a bit more luxurious than a Miata, but it still will not be confused with a Bentley anytime soon. However, for a car with a base price of around $25,000, it is nicely appointed, and the fit and finish is excellent.

The Abarth adds a mechanical limited-slip differential, featuring a low torque bias ratio that improves traction and handling, as well as launch performance and power delivery during cornering. The Abarth’s unique mono-tube Bilstein front and rear dampers really help as well. The dampers not only improve handling, but also improve ride quality, which is always nice on a car with a 91-inch wheelbase.

Take the Abarth on the track and you will find a willing partner that is eager to play all day long. The Bridgestone Potenza RE-050A tires on the Abarth provide lots of grip despite their small 205-45-R17 size, but the Abarth only weighs 2,477 pounds. The car is well balanced and can be seduced into oversteer if the driver desires, but it is very gentle with you and you are never scared that this scorpion is going to sting you.

If you want a track-day toy that you can drive every day, the Abarth is a fantastic choice. It is fun to drive and will make a better driver out of you. With 164 horsepower on tap, you can’t get yourself in too much trouble, and a low purchase price means that you can spend money on other things like entry fees and NASA membership.

Specifications

Engine: 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged DOHC Inline Four
Horsepower: 164 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 184 @ 3,200 rpm
Front suspension: Double wishbone with stabilizer bars
Rear suspension: Multilink rear with stabilizer bars
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Axle ratio: 3.454:1 limited slip, std. on Abarth
Curb Weight: 2,477 lbs.
Base MSRP: $24,995
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Image courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles