You know when you’re looking for a car, but you have no idea where to start?! Well you’re further along than some if you’ve decided on an Abarth, but what model do you choose? Danni Bagnall puts the two models to the test. So, you know you want an Abarth, but you’re not sure which one? Well, allow me to hopefully lend a hand. With just two models in the range, you’d think it’d be an easy decision. Well, it’s not as simple as you’d hope; the 595c and the 124 Spider have their pros and cons and for very different reasons.

Allow me to explain. First off, they both use the same engine, but that’s really where the similarities end – that and the badge, of course. The 124 is based on the MX-5 Miata model from Mazda, so it makes sense that it’s rear-wheel drive. The 595c, however, is your standard hatchback front-wheel drive set-up. Although, it’s far from standard… Based on the Fiat 500, Abarth (Fiat’s performance arm) took the model and stuck a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol unit in it. The very same engine powering the 124, except power output in the 124 (170bhp) sits at 5bhp more than the 595c (165bhp). Both are mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. The 124 is also a convertible and the 595c, despite our test model being the Turismo version with fold down roof, is predominantly a hatchback.

Abarth 124 Spider front

Looking around the two models and they both look great, featuring styling that makes them stand out from their standard siblings; the Fiat 124 and Fiat 500. They also sound different. Yes, you still have the four-cylinder undertone but they both sound awesome with a deep grunt that is sure to get you noticed. The red Brembo brake calipers to both also add something extra. Wheel wise, I prefer the 17-inch Gran Turismo wheels on the 595c to the black 17-inch Corsa alloy wheels on the 124.

Abarth 595c front

Upon getting inside, you do get more of a sense of luxury from the 124. Its Alcantara finishes seemingly everywhere oozes sporty class. The 595c gets a 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, while the 124 receives an extra two inches on that, plus multimedia controls. The folding roof of the 595c is operated electronically via a button to the inside, while the 124’s roof is but manual. Black leather features through both interiors, but again the 124 just feels that more plush. Space is also minimal, in both, but slightly worse in the 595c. The 124, despite having a lower height, is actually more roomy than the 595c – this is because the seating position is super low in the 124. The seating in the 595c is much higher. I’m 5.6 and even I had a roof clearance of about three inches at a push.

Abarth 124 Spider interior

But the real question is how do they drive? Well. This is where it gets interesting. I’m going to be blunt here and say the 124 Spider is better and more fun to drive than the 595c. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons. The first being suspension. The 124 is fitted with Abarth sport suspension by Bilstein, while the 595c gets the Koni rear suspension with FSD technology and with that comes a much stiffer ride. I’m used to coilovers and I found the ride to be pretty awful. Acceleration in the 124 is also more impressive, partly thanks to the rear-wheel drivetrain. Performance stats are better for the 124, but not drastically; the 595c has a 0-62mph of 7.3seconds, while the 124 reaches it in 6.8seconds.

Abarth 595c interior

In terms of handling, the 595c just isn’t as agile as the 124. I tested them both on the country lanes of Hertfordshire heading toward Luton from Hitchin. There were some uneven parts, but where is there not in the UK?! And both cars performed completely different; the 124 took corners and dips in the road like a dream, the 595c not so much. I’m all for a driver’s car, but I was genuinely exhausted by the end of the journey and the end of my time with the 595c. The 124 allows you to drive it with 100% pleasure spread across your face. It soaks up the lighter of dips in the road, while being poised enough to take corners well. A real pleasure on the road, to be sure. The 124 also gets a higher top speed of 144, as opposed to the 135mph of the 595c. With that extra power, though, comes a higher emission of 148g/km of CO2, with 139g/km from the 595c.Torque figures sit at 250Nm at 2500rpm for the 124 and 230Nm at 3000rpm for the 595c. The 595c is, however, slightly more economical with a combined mpg of 47.1, compared to the 124’s 44.1.

Abarth 124 Spider rear

Key standard features on the 124 also blow the 595c out of the water. Although, do remember that the 124 is just over £9k more expensive than the 595c, so should probably be expected. Key features on the 595c that I haven’t previously mentioned include rear parking sensor, automatic dual zone climate control, seven-inch instrumental display, with sports mode, aluminium sports pedals and knob, fog lights, high performance BMC air filter and sports leather steering wheel with controls. The 124’s key features include Abarth D.A.M (Sport Mechanical Limited Slip Differential reinforced strut brace, Racing Alcantara kit, complete with Alcantara instrument panel cover, handbrake and gear stick gaiter, lower dashboard covering and arm rest), engine start button, sports steering wheel with red detailing, heated seats, air conditioning with automatic control, two USB ports and one AUX, Bluetooth, Aluminium sport pedals with bottom-hinged accelerator, sport instrument cluster with central red rev counter, drive mode selector with sport mode, keyless go, as well as cruise control.

Abarth 595c rear

In terms of cost, the 595c starts at £20,290, while the 124 can be had for £29,565. But the real question is which one do you go for? It’s a tough one because they’re very different cars. One is a convertible with two seats and one is a dainty hatchback with four seats (at a push). One is £29k and the other is £9k cheaper, respectively. But in this case you do get what you pay for. The 124 is a dream to drive. It’s smooth, without being too smooth… It wants to be driven and thanks you for it. If you’ve ever driven an MX5 you’ll know what I mean, except this sounds so much better. It gets so many looks on the road, too – it’s not just the exhaust that attracts attention. Some people wonder what it is and others admire it for what it is. For example, I came out of Wickes at the weekend and some chap was talking to me about them. An Abarth geek I’m sure he’d have no qualms in me saying. He told me how the Scorpion symbol was from the racer’s (Abarth) birth sign (October) – something I didn’t know and was excited to learn from the friendly chap admiring the car. There seems to be a good following and support group with the Abarth marque and the 12 is a real head-turner – a car now firmly on my ‘want’ list.

© Danni Bagnall