At town speeds, off boost and under 3,000rpm, the engine is not much to shout home about – like Mazda petrol units, it’s a rev-happy beast. But luckily the six-speed manual shift is hugely satisfying (it comes with the option of an automatic, presumably for the American market – no thanks), so it’s no chore to keep down-shifting and keep the revs up and the turbo active. At about 4,000rpm, this car is on song: it sounds the business and it feels the business, with 170bhp, which is 32bhp more than the Fiat’s effort with the same engine, and 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds.
The handling of the Abarth is marked by its limited-slip diff, which adds a certain flavour to the standard rear-wheel-drive Fiat version, and a Sport switch, which frankly the car doesn’t really need for character, but it adds yet another layer of fun. The steering is as direct and linear as the MX-5’s, although the brakes don’t quite match the immediacy of the chassis.
But the question mark comes with the price: at £29,850, it’s a good deal more than the Fiat or MX-5, and, significantly, about £5,000 more expensive than the Sport Recaro MX-5. On the other hand, you have that stunning Abarth badge, an unbeatable exhaust noise and that limited-slip diff, which some heavier, more premium-badged two-seater sports cars don’t offer. Then again, the Toyota GT86 feels meatier, more focused and more dynamic.
And yet… there’s just something about this car: a little bit of la dolce vita, which has captivated us.