A day at Willow Springs driving Fiat Abarths is molto bene!


Car reviews / Пятница, Октябрь 26th, 2018

Performance sells! Fiat’s Abarth performance line has proven to be a big boost to company sales. Granted, we’re not talking Ford F-150/Toyota Camry numbers here. Fiat sold just under 5,000 124s last year and almost 13,000 500s. But of those relatively meager sales, Abarths have represented 26 percent. Specifically, 14 percent of 500s and a serious 40 percent of 124 Spiders. That’s pretty good return on investment and something let’s hope other carmakers notice. Say it again: Performance sells!

Fiat added the Abarth name to its offerings in the U.S. six years ago on the cute little 500. Back then we noted that the chassis was 15mm lower, with new Koni FSD shocks to help increase roll stiffness 40 percent front and rear; there is a 0.9-degree increase in front end negative camber; and the rear suspension gets an antiroll bar where none existed before. Power rocketed up from 101 stock to 160 in Abarth trim, and torque rose from 98 to 170 lb-ft thanks to a tiny turbocharger, twin intercoolers and Fiat’s simple-but-effective MultiAir intake camshaft management system that hydraulically varies intake valve lift and duration to broaden and flatten power and torque curves. The current model year’s Pop and Lounge models of the 500 start with 135 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque, btw.

We drove a 500 Abarth back then — six years ago — at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in beautiful Pahrump, Nevada, and had a great time sliding it over the little whoop-dee-doo on that track’s western loop. It was as stable as your most emotionally secure spouse — no matter how we drove it. “We estimate the Abarth version of the 500 is roughly twice as much fun to drive as the stock version of the car,” we said then.

Four years after that, Fiat introduced the 124 Spider, riding on a Miata chassis and powered by a Fiat Italian drivetrain. The 124 Spider got the Abarth treatment in 2016, with 164 hp, 4 more than standard, and 184 lb-ft of torque. It rode, and continues to ride on, Bilstein shocks front and rear, with a mechanical limited-slip diff, front strut tower bar, sport mode selector and its own exhaust.

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1 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 22017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 2

2 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 32017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 3

3 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 42017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 4

4 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 52017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 5

5 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 62017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 6

6 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 72017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 7

7 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 82017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 8

8 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 92017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 9

9 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 102017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 10

10 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 112017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 11

11 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 122017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 12

12 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 132017 Fiat 500 Abarth Photo 13

13 of 14The turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth models with up to 160 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque; while Abarth-tuned hardware delivers track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires. &nbsp

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14 of 14Next Gallery: Chrysler and Fiat live to see another day midsize Ram truck on the way &nbsp

Last week Fiat brought a bunch of Abarths together at Willow Springs racetrack and let several of us press dopes commandeer them around the squiggly Streets of Willow road course for a day. I’m guessing Fiat wanted to remind the world that these are still fun to drive and that they are still available for purchase. Hey, anything that results in track time in fun cars is fine by me.

Just to make sure we stayed on the track at Willow, Fiat hired the Skip Barber Racing School to remind everyone to apex early and often. More specifically, we were guided by legendary race driving instructor Terry Earwood, who regaled us with backwoods Georgia/Florida humor (“Now here’s sumthin’ some o’ yew may notta evera seen, a diploma!”). If you can take a class taught by Earwood, take it. It’ll be worth its weight in driving tips but also in hilarity.

We were divided into two groups, those who mighta known what they were doing on a racetrack and those who admitted they didn’t. Somehow I got placed in the former. Yee haw! First laps were in a 124 Spider Abarth around a wet skid pad where I learned that I try too hard to recover after spinning out. I’m a recovering spinner. I had Earwood riding shotgun, so that was fun. “Ya gotta look where ya wanna go, not where ya already are!” he said. That was, like, life advice, too. Thank you, Terry!

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 12017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 1

1 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 22017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 2

2 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 32017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 3

3 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 42017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 4

4 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 52017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 5

5 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 62017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 6

6 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 72017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 7

7 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 82017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 8

8 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 92017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 9

9 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 102017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 10

10 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 112017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 11

11 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 122017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 12

12 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 132017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 13

13 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 142017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 14

14 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 152017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 15

15 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 162017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 16

16 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 172017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 17

17 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 182017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 18

18 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 192017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 19

19 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 202017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 20

20 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 212017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 21

21 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 222017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 22

22 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 232017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 23

23 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 242017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 24

24 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 252017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 25

25 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 262017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 26

26 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 272017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 27

27 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 282017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 28

28 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 292017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 29

29 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 302017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 30

30 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 312017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 31

31 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 322017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 32

32 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 332017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 33

33 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 342017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 34

34 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 352017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth first drive review Photo 35

35 of 36We drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth convertibles. The modern incarnation of an Italian classic, the turbocharged 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5, but it offers its own unique style and character. Photo by Fiat

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Then we got to lap The Streets of Willow in 500 Abarths. The 500, obviously, is front-wheel drive, an inherently safer setup less prone to crazy spinning out. Even in its performance Abarth trim, it was still stable as a nonradioactive isotope. My sense, after many laps going pretty darn fast, was that you could just toss the entire Abarth thing into any corner any way you wanted, at any speed, and come safely out the exit of the turn ready for more. Even with the drive mode selector in sport, it was waggly but safe, never scarily so and never really dangerously. You can always save yourself in a Fiat 500 Abarth. The little four-banger could easily pull around the Cinqucento, but sometimes you wish there was more power under the hood, especially when the powerband started falling off at around 6,000 or 6,500 rpm.

Then we were turned loose in the 124 Spider Abarths. These are different. The biggest difference — duh — is that they are rear-wheel drive, inherently less stable and inherently much more fun. Every lap was done with sport mode engaged and the rear end looser than the slots in Vegas’ No. 1-voted off-strip casino. My first outing I was on the bumper of one of the fastest, if not the fastest auto journalists ever born, just ask anyone, and I watched in horror, a scream caught in my throat just like Jamie Lee Curtis in "Halloween XXVII," as he got the car completely sideways right in front of me coming onto The Streets’ big, flat skid pad area. I backed off, expecting fire trucks, pace cars and maybe a rescue chopper or two to come roaring onto the track under full-course red conditions with black flags waving from every corner worker. But … no one cared. He straightened out and we proceeded on, me having dropped back about a block and a half out of sheer terror.

So I started pushing the limit, too. And, sure enough, the Fiat 124 Spider in Abarth performance trim began to wiggle around. The springs and shocks felt softer than I would have expected, there was some roll, some easy tail-happiness, maybe too much of it. Now, I was there at what was then called just plain old Laguna Seca when they introduced the Spec Miata race car about 400 years ago, and I remember thinking then that the Spec Miata Racer was so safe that it was almost boring. Don’t send in your hate mail, I’m just saying, or perhaps I should say, that I had the impression after several laps of the track then known as Laguna Seca that the Spec Miata at that time felt like it was set up to be very safe, you were unlikely to wind up in the weeds or even to spin out. Likewise, the Toyota 86 TRD Special Edition I drove at the Exotics Racing track outside Auto Club Speedway in Fontana three months ago did not even hint that it would be getting out of line at any point whatsoever. That was in contrast to the stock Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, which slides gracefully around all day, the tail moving out exactly as much as you want it to before tucking back in precisely when you tell it to tuck. This Fiat 124 Spider Abarth was far wilder and more tail-happy than the Spec Miata I drove many years ago and more so than the 86/BRZs I’ve driven, too.

Coming over that little hill on the backside of The Streets of Willow, I actually did start to see the rear end of my car wander out a fair amount once, though nowhere near as much as the World’s Greatest Car Writer had done only minutes before. I gathered it back inline immediately but, of course, the whole lead-follow procession then slowed down, as if I was a circus chimp that it was suddenly realized had somehow gotten hold of a machine gun. But I was far less out of line than that other guy! Just check the in-car video (of which there was, uh, none).

So what did we learn today? Who knows? What’s really required here is to do an on-track comparo between the Spec Miata, the 124 Spider Abarth and one or all of the BRZ/86 combinations of cars. Maybe the stock Mustang and Camaro four-cylinders should be considered, too. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and proclaim the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, in stock form, to be the most fun you can have in this class.

You decide.