The Fiat 124 Spider is a Mazda MX-5 Miata swaddled in Italian evening wear and implanted with a turbocharged Italian heart. A joint production agreement between Fiat and Mazda yanked the iconic 124 Spider nameplate from retirement to adorn a Miata that has had its curvy bodywork and naturally aspirated engine swapped for retro-inspired Italian duds evocative of the original 1960s 124 Spider, with a Fiat-made turbo 1.4-liter four for a more Italian aftertaste. This sauce is spread over a more forgiving al dente suspension tune that gives the Fiat a more relaxed overall demeanor than its Miata sibling.
What's New for 2017?
This modern 124 Spider was introduced for the 2017 model year. In place of the fourth-generation Miata's 155-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder and six-speed manual transmission, the 124 Spider utilizes a 160-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter four mated to the third-generation Miata's six-speed stick, which has ratios better suited to the turbo engine's powerband. Outwardly, the Fiat's windshield header, front glass, and interior layout are traceable?read ?nearly identical??to its Mazda donor's. The 124's interior materials and finishes are slightly richer than the Miata's, however.
Trims and Options We'd Choose
Fiat offers three versions of the 124 Spider: the base Classica, the richer Lusso, and the aggressive Abarth. The Lusso offers niceties such as heated seats, leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic climate control. On all three versions, the six-speed manual transmission is standard, and it's our preference. A six-speed automatic is a $1350 option on any of the three 124 Spider models. Since loud exhausts and funky stripes bring out our inner teenager, we'd opt for the sportiest 124 Spider, the $29,190 Abarth, which includes:
- Six-speed manual transmission
- Limited-slip differential
- Sport suspension
- Quad-outlet exhaust
Even with a power advantage of 5 to 9 horsepower and 36 lb-ft of torque versus the Miata's 2.0-liter four, the 124's turbocharged 1.4-liter four is the lesser engine. It's laggy, lazy, and delivers less all-out performance than the Miata's mill.
How is this possible? The turbo limits the wee four-cylinder's usable torque to a narrow slice of real estate midway up the tachometer; at low engine speeds, the 1.4-liter has little to give, and its gusto wears off well before the tach needle hits redline. So in spite of its Miata-beating output, the Fiat is slightly slower to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile and far less responsive around town.
It can be fun trying to keep the 124's engine on boil by constantly working the buttery six-speed manual, but the nonlinear power delivery (peak torque drops like a hammer at 2500 rpm) makes the task tricky. At least when kept in the middle of the range, the Fiat engine amuses with solid punch and a brassy exhaust note.
Read more on Car and Driver.