Naturally, the Abarth shares its major body panels with Fiat’s version of the Spider, although that hasn’t prevented easy differentiation between the two.

In large part, that’s because of the tuner’s ‘racing anti-glare kit’, which is a splendidly facetious description for the matt black treatment enacted on the 124’s long bonnet. This signals its maker’s sentimental awareness of recent history and places the car in homage-like context – but there’s more besides.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Every time I have to crank my wrist backwards to use the infotainment dial, I think ‘what a pain’…

The car’s aggressive front bumper has been significantly redesigned to accommodate larger air intakes and the rear has a ‘Record Monza’ quad exhaust to go with further scoops in the panelling.

The pipes are connected to the same turbocharged 1.4-litre Multiair engine as in the Fiat 124 Spider, albeit in a heightened state of tune here, the previously modest 138bhp at 5000rpm wound up to 168bhp at 5500rpm.

That’s slightly more than is developed by Mazda’s naturally aspirated 2.0-litre lump, but it is the heftier peak torque, delivered 2000rpm sooner, that distinguishes the Italian four-cylinder unit from its Japanese opposite.

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Beyond the engine bay, the Abarth probably shares more mechanical components with the equivalent MX-5 than its Fiat sibling.

Like Mazda’s most expensive variant, the Abarth gets the Bilstein dampers and rear limited-slip differential not available on the cooking model, although the front double-wishbone and rear multi-link suspension are standard throughout both ranges.

As you might expect, the specific chassis tune is Abarth’s own and its 124 gains stiffened anti-roll bars and a higher specification of Bridgestone Potenza tyre than Fiat’s Spider.

As Turin’s engineers did, Abarth claims to have maintained the MX-5’s perfect 50/50 weight distribution despite having the same longer nose and weightier engine as the cheaper 124 Spider.

We didn’t have a chance to check that weight distribution but we’d be mildly surprised if it didn’t replicate the 55/45 spread recorded by the Fiat.

We also haven’t yet driven the six-speed Sequenziale Sportivo automatic in the UK.

The auto is popular overseas, although our experience suggests that the short-throw standard manual gearbox, tested here, is the smarter investment.

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