Friday, 3 November 2017

COLUMN – October 2017

Here is another chance to see my column from the October editions of The Local Herald and The Clitheroe Local. The theme this month is 'sports cars', and I have a couple which have been put to the test. First up is the Abarth 124 Spider, a 2-seater convertible with a 1.4-litre engine and some bonkers styling. Next up is the Subaru BRZ, a car which has been called the 'modern MkII Escort' in some circles. Neither car will keep up with the likes of a Porsche Boxter, but then they are half the price. So would they still be able to offer thrills? Read on to find out. As always full write ups on the Reviews page.

I have driven some rather fast cars over the last few years. I get my test cars for a week, which is just enough time to get to grips with them and have some fun. But I have felt with some of the cars that they’re unnecessarily fast. The kind of cars that if you owned one, you’d be trying to hold on to your licence. That’s why there’s always been a market for small sports cars. They’re light, so they don’t need heaps of power to be sprightly and fun. This month I’ve tested a pair, so let’s get to it.

First up we have the Abarth 124 Spider. Essentially this is a Fiat 124, a car built in the same plant and on the same platform as the Mazda MX-5, which has been breathed on by the Fiat tuning branch: Abarth. That means this 124 Spider has been beefed up. With a quad exhaust at the back, graphite wheels and a bonkers paint scheme of white/black/red, it really does look the business. Inside it had sumptuous leather seats, alcantara on the dashboard, and a huge red rev counter in the middle of the instrument cluster. Everything about it screams “sports car”.

And it’s not just all show either, thanks to the turbocharged, 1.4-litre petrol engine. It produces 170PS and 250Nm of torque. It has a 6-speed manual gearbox and mechanical limited-slip differential. 0-62mph takes 6.8 seconds and the top speed is 143mph. Pretty much the same as the likes of a Fiesta ST and 208GTi then. But the Abarth also gets a tuned exhaust. It’s pretty throaty, in fact at times it seems unnecessarily loud. But with the roof down on a country lane it is nice to have a suitable soundtrack.

And it is easy to put the roof down. No heavy electrics here; simply undo the catch and push the roof down. Takes but a second. And the resulting kerb weight of 1060kg is the reason it’s fast. It also means that it will do 44.1mpg. And the cost? Well, it starts from £26,920 which sounds steep, but you do get proper kit on this car, like Bilstein suspension and Brembo brakes.

My second car this month is one that’s been around a bit longer: the Subaru BRZ. It’s just had a facelift, and the subtle changes have made it look better. The front bumper has been redesigned, giving a wider and more aggressive stance. The 17-inch alloy wheels are a new 10-spoke design, and a tweaked rear spoiler, full-LED headlights and revised tail lamps complete the package. Inside the BRZ has a new multi-function steering wheel and revised dials which incorporate a 4.2-inch information display.

The engine is still the same as before: a 2.0-litre, flat-four boxer engine. Whilst you can tell that the distinctive boxer thrum is there, there’s no real engine sound through either induction or exhaust, which is a shame. Also a shame is that the 200PS and 200Nm are only enough to achieve a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 143mph. That makes it slower than most hot hatches. Granted, this is still a fun, rear-wheel drive coupe, but you always find yourself wanting a bit more oomph.

This is a relatively easy car to live with, providing there’s only two of you: I’m 5ft7in and there was virtually no legroom behind my driver’s seat, to the point of Subaru should have just made the BRZ a two-seater. The boot is a decent size, and despite its low stature visibility is surprisingly good. Prices for the BRZ start at £26,495, for which you could get a Ford Focus ST, a car that’s better in pretty much every way.

Dan

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