by Roger Biermann
The 2019 Fiat 124 Spider is the revival of the 1970's compact Italian convertible sports car of the same name. It's a retro style roadster based on the same core structure as Mazda's venerable MX-5 Miata. The retro styling cues are obvious in the Spider's front end with features akin to the classic Fiat 124 Spider. The 124 Spider produces 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque ceded from its 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder MultiAir engine and represents an alternative to the MX-5 Miata's 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine. In classic sports-car tradition, the 124 Spider is rear-wheel-drive with a standard six-speed manual gearbox, but there's an optional automatic transmission too. It seats two people and has a manually folding soft top in an effort to save weight, making the 2019 Fiat 124 Spider a low-power sports car for the driving enthusiast who enjoys the purity of a top-down jaunt rather than outright power.
For 2019, all 124 Spiders now come standard with FIAT Connect 7.0 with a seven-inch touchscreen and a standard reverse camera. Some new personalization options include a new Ceramic Gray exterior paint color and new custom center-strip designs. For the Classica model, new "Double Rally" and "Retro" stripes are added to the options menu. Remote proximity entry and Sirius XM Radio are now available with the Technology package.
The 2019 Fiat 124 Spider keeps its standard retro-roadster bodywork with rounded halogen headlights and squared LED taillamps on all trims. Dual exhaust tips are also standard across the range. Wheels range in size and design from 16-inches on the Classica to 17-inches on the Urbana and Lusso models. The Classica and Urbana models get a range of exterior striping options, while the Urbana receives additional Piano Black exterior highlights, and the Lusso features silver trim around the windscreen.
The 124 Spider has always been small in size and lightweight by keeping to compact dimensions, with its bodywork designed to resemble the 1970's roadster of the same name. The 2019 model spans 159.6 inches in length, making it longer overall than an MX-5, while a wheelbase of 90.9 inches matches that of the Mazda. A width of 68.5 inches is marginally broader than that of the MX-5 Miata upon which it's based. All trims share the same curb weight of 2,436 lbs with a manual gearbox, with the 124 Spider carrying an extra 100 pounds over its Miata twin. The Automatic adds 40 lbs to the overall weight.
For 2019, the Fiat 124 Spider boasts a color palette of eight hues including Hypnotique Red, Moda Gray Metallic and Puro White Tri-Coat. New "Double Rally" or "Retro" stripes can be added to the Classica model. All models feature a standard black convertible soft top, but the Lusso has the option for a Bordeaux Red convertible soft top.
All 124 trims perform identically sourcing their power from a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. This engine combined with the Spider's compact and lightweight body results in a 0-60 mph time of 6.4 seconds with the manual gearbox on its way to a top speed of 130 mph. The manual transmission performs best, clearing the quarter mile in around 15 seconds, but the lighter MX-5 upon which the 124 is based is stronger, sprinting from 0-60 mph in under six seconds and with a top speed nearly 10 mph higher.
All 124 Spider models are standard rear-wheel-drive keeping to historic sports car traditions, which delivers better handling dynamics at the limit. All-wheel drive alternatives are available, but only from Audi and at nearly double the price, while chief rivals - Mazda's MX-5 Miata and the Toyota 86 - are both rear-wheel drive only.
All 2019 models of the Fiat 124 Spider are powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine developing 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Drive is sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox by default, with an available six-speed automatic also available. Off the line, acceleration is sub-par with substantial 'dead-space' before the turbo comes on song. Thereafter there's a solid punch, but it's short-lived as the MultiAir engine gets asthmatic at the top end. Those seeking immediacy of response are better off looking at a Mazda MX-5 Miata's naturally aspirated engine, as the 124 Spider has pronounced turbo-lag that takes some pre-empting.
The automatic transmission upshifts too eagerly, prioritizing fuel efficiency, which often leaves the car with insufficient power. The manual transmission, however, is top-notch and gives better performance off the line and a more enjoyable drive compared to the automatic, with slick shifts and a notchy action. It might not quite be as good as the MX-5 Miata, but it's a close second.
The precise steering, powerful brake response and light curb weight of the 124 Spider provides an abundance of agility, giving the driver a good sense of control and confidence on the road. The steering is light and offers decent road feel, while it's precise at city speeds and makes the 124 easy to maneuver around traffic. But it can feel a bit skittish at highway speeds by virtue of not being weighty enough. The roadster is nimble at changing directions, with a good sense of composure from the front end.
Ride comfort at a cruise is decently comfortable, suited to the overall softer demeanor of the 124 Spider. Abrasions and minor bumps and dips are well-absorbed by the 124 Spider's comfort-tuned suspension, while undulations and larger uneven surfaces are felt pretty obviously through the cabin due to the sports car's low proximity to the ground.
The MX-5 Miata is famed for its top-tier handling and ability to deliver a fun driving experience and the 124 borrows many of these traits. But the suspension is softer, resulting in more pronounced body-lean, albeit with more linear suspension responses than the Miata. Those seeking something a little firmer from Fiat should look at the Abarth-tuned version instead.
All 124 Spider models score the same impressive result in the EPA fuel-economy tests earning a gas mileage estimate of 26/35/30 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles with the manual transmission and 25/36/29 mpg on the same cycles with the automatic transmission. This estimate is impressive compared to other sports cars within the category, and comparable to the Mazda Miata's 29 and 30 mpg combined estimates with the manual and automatic gearboxes, respectively. All models take gasoline (premium unleaded is recommended) with a fuel tank capacity of 11.9 gallons. A full tank of gas should give buyers a range of 357 miles in the manual-equipped model, while the automatic will manage an around 345 miles.
The 124 Spider portrays a sporty-inspired look with elements of luxury-comfort, not much different to the MX-5 Miata's interior in design, but of higher quality in terms of the overall feel. Where the Mazda cuts back as part of a weight-saving 'gram strategy,' the Fiat's interior has more substance, despite inheriting key aspects of design and functionality. All trims feature a leather-wrapped ergonomic steering wheel and premium cloth or leather bucket seats for impressive amounts of lateral support through corners. The compact nature of the car does, however, create a claustrophobic environment suited to shorter drivers and passengers, but allows for excellent ergonomics and an exceptional driving position. The driver is positioned comfortably behind the pedals, low slung and immersed in the sports car experience, and all controls, buttons, and the soft top's manually operable grip are in easy reach.
The soft top convertible is a two-door two-seater, and as such it carries limitations with regards to practicality and spaciousness. Entering and exiting the roadster can prove problematic. The doors open widely but the confined space and low-mounted seating position of the Spider don't exactly create much room for graceful ingress and egress. The seating position is wonderful, low and immersive with supportive sport bucket seats, but the limited steering wheel adjustment and small range of movement on the seats doesn't cater to taller occupants particularly well. Driver's shorter than six feet tall will be fine, but for anyone taller than six foot two inches it'll be a tight squeeze. The transmission tunnel takes up substantial amounts of legroom, with a snug fit for even the slightest of builds. Visibility is decent with minimal blind spots, but the low, thick windscreen frame and the small rear window hinders visibility to a small degree, particularly with the roof up.
A leather-wrapped steering wheel and sports seats are standard across all Fiat 124 trims. On the base Classica, sports seats are upholstered in black cloth, while the Lusso trim receives leather-upholstered seats available in a choice of either Black or Saddle colored leather, the former with silver-colored contrast stitching. Urbana Edition models receive Urbana leather and microfiber combination seats, while the Red Top Edition Lusso receives Ivory colored leather surfaces.
The Classica receives silver interior dash accents, while the Urbana receives matte gray and the Lusso receives Piano black accents.
The 124 Spider's trunk is accessible through a small opening leading to a relatively compact space measuring just 4.9 cubic feet. Practicality isn't high up on the 124 Spider's list of priorities, but there's room to fit enough luggage for a weekend getaway for two, provided you pack light. The roadster's limited trunk and cargo space do not allow for comfortable long-distance or long-term travel. The MX-5 Miata shares the same limited trunk space as the 124 Spider, but at 6.9 cubic feet the Toyota 86 offers a decent amount by comparison, plus usable rear seats for additional storage.
As for the 124 Spider's internal storage spaces drivers shouldn't expect to get in more than just the bare necessities. There is a sleek armrest box on either door and a small cubby in the center console. The glovebox compartment is behind and between the seats and is difficult to reach and is inaccessible if you're keeping something in the removable cup holders.
The 124 Spider offers a moderate assortment of interior features, with all models featuring keyless entry, cruise control, and for 2019, a standard rearview camera. The steering wheel is height, but not reach, adjustable and comes with audio controls. The Classica comes standard with manual climate control whereas the Lusso and Abarth come with automatic climate control and heated front seats. There is also a voice command system sourced from Mazda capable of only a limited set of functions such as navigation, but with no Google or Siri compatibility. Other available features include blind-spot monitors, rear parking sensors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated side mirrors, and universal garage door opener.
The 124 Spider features a seven-inch touchscreen display also controllable via a rotary dial on the center console, similar in appearance and function to BMW's iDrive system. The infotainment hardware and software is a complete Mazda system inherited with the Mazda MX-5's platform. The system features navigation which is easy to operate but not effective at navigating to points of interest. There is a four-speaker audio system featured in the 124 Spider while the infotainment system caters to SiriusXM satellite radio functionality. Optionally, buyers can equip a nine-speaker Bose audio system upgrade. There is Bluetooth media streaming and hands-free telephony, auxiliary audio connectivity and two USB ports for smartphone devices, but Fiat doesn't offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality. The steering wheel includes controls for audio and phone.
In sharing the platform with the MX-5 Miata, Fiat has inherited Mazda's reliability for the 124 Spider, and as such, there have been few complaints from buyers. Even so, the 124 Spider comes with a better limited warranty and longer-term roadside assistance than the Miata does, with a limited warranty covering four years or 50,000 miles, but notably without complimentary scheduled maintenance.
Around eight thousand Fiat 124 models have been recalled, spanning 2017-2019 year models equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission due to incorrect programming of the transmission control module. These vehicles had the potential to unexpectedly downshift and abruptly decelerate within certain conditions which increased the risk of an accident.
Despite being on the market for three years, neither the NHTSA or the IIHS has completed safety and crash tests on the Fiat 124 Spider. The Mazda MX-5 has also not been crash tested.
Despite not being crash tested, the Fiat 124 features several standard safety features like four-wheel ABS, stability control, daytime running lights, engine immobilizer, front airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and a rearview camera. The Lusso and Abarth include front fog/driving lights and dusk-sensing headlamps.
Additional safety mechanisms are available as optional extras including an enhanced post-collision response system, blind-spot monitoring, cross path detection, and electronic stability control.
The Fiat 124's high levels of maneuverability and impressive handling make for guaranteed fun, with the top-down experience adding an element of lifestyle not found in the likes of the Toyota 86. It's marginally cheaper than rivals at its base point, even undercutting the MX-5 Miata with which it shares a platform. The well-balanced mix between sportiness and comfort make the roadster a great weekend companion, but unfortunately, the small size of the car precludes it from being a practical daily driver.
The compact dimensions and limited seating adjustments also result in a negative impact on comfort for taller occupants, best suiting adults shorter than six feet tall. Besides being cramped the interior looks and feels high-quality with elements of plushness that positions it higher than the MX-5 in interior feel. The 124 Spider does fall short in terms of horsepower compared to the MX-5 Miata's 181 hp but trades up in torque, the turbocharger giving a good midrange boost to performance. But it has extra weight to contend with, too, and with the addition of a turbo, there's turbo-lag to contend with as well, robbing the 124 of a true purist's driving experience. The Japanese underpinnings combined with the Italian aesthetic have created a beautiful and highly enjoyable roadster, but it's one suited to lifestyle and comfort rather than hard-edged performance, so if the latter is what you're after you'd be better off looking at the MX-5 Miata.
The cheapest Fiat 124 Spider comes in the form of the Classica and carries a base MSRP of $25,190 with a manual gearbox. From there, the Urbana Edition is priced from $26,185, while the range-topping Lusso trim carries a base price of $27,795. A six-speed automatic is available on all trims for an extra $1,350. All prices are excluding tax, registration, licensing, and a $1,495 destination charge.
The 2019 Fiat 124 Spider range comprises three trims: Classica, Urbana, and Lusso.
The Classica is the base trim of the selection and comes standard with 16-inch wheels, air conditioning, keyless entry, push-button start, a rearview camera, a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and two USB ports and a four-speaker sound system with a seven-inch touchscreen display.
The Urbana is a limited edition trim delivering extra features such as black 17-inch aluminum wheels, foglights, gloss black exterior accents on the mirror caps, A-pillar and roll bar covers, upgraded interior surfaces, black interior accents with red accent stitching, sporty leather, and microfiber seats, and SiriusXM satellite radio functionality.
The Lusso trim features silver 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded interior surfaces, premium silver roll bar covers, automated headlights, air conditioning with automatic temperature control, leather upholstery, and heated seats. More personalization options and packages are available with the Lusso trim.
While the 124 Spider's trim lines cater to most major additions of features and styling, Fiat makes available a few package options. The Classica trim has the option of the Technology Group package which features proximity entry and satellite radio for $395. The Technology package is standard from the Urbana Edition.
The Lusso trim has options to equip a Navigation and Sound Group package at $1,295 which includes GPS navigation and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with subwoofer, a quality upgrade from the standard four speakers. Also available to the Lusso is the Comfort and Convenience Group package at $1,495 which includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated auto-dimming exterior mirrors, the ParkSense rear park assist and blind spot monitoring systems, rear cross path detection, a security alarm, and a universal garage door opener. The $995 Visibility Group package fits the Lusso with daytime running lamps, adaptive LED headlamps with an automatic leveling system, and headlamp washers.
With not many obvious differences in the various trims deciding on the best model comes down to pure aesthetics and each trim's optional packages. The Lusso caters to a greater range of personalization, but also boasts additional creature comforts of automatic climate control, leather upholstery, and heated seats. It also unlocks several additional packages, of which the Navigation and Sound Group package is a worthwhile investment.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is the 124 Spider's direct rival, and also the vehicle with which the 124 Spider shares a chassis. The MX-5 gets the benefit of additional horsepower for 2019, exceeding the 124 Spider's power rating by 21 hp but falls short on torque compared to the 124's turbocharged engine. The Fiat may have more mid-range punch, but the Mazda's engine is smoother and responds quicker, doesn't have turbo-lag, and enjoys being wound out until redline, where the Fiat runs out of puff quickly. Both handle sweetly, but the Miata is more driver-focused, while the Fiat delivers higher levels of comfort and refinement. Both cars have options for a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Where the Miata offers a little more than the Fiat is in the availability of a hardtop on the RF derivative, offering a quieter cabin and better all-weather usage, albeit at a higher price. The Fiat, on the other hand, undercuts the Mazda's base price marginally. It's a tough choice, but if performance is high on your priority list, which it should be here, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is a better buy.
The 2019 Toyota 86 is a coupe-styled sports car with similar performance expectations heaped upon it as a back to basics driver-focused experience. The 124 Spider and Toyota 86 are both rear-wheel-drive and have options for a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, but the manual is the one you'll want, and the Fiat's is just a little better to use. The Toyota boasts a Subaru-sourced 2.0-liter flat-four with 205 horsepower (200 hp with the automatic) and a sub-optimal 156 lb-ft of torque, leaving the 124 Spider's 184 lb-ft of torque reigning supreme, but responses from the 86's engine are smoother and more enjoyable. The 124 Spider makes for fun driving nine-tenths of the time whereas the Toyota 86 is more capable at ten-tenths, feeling better equipped to handle more strenuous performance ambitions. The Toyota also has more trunk space and semi-usable rear seats, giving it the advantage when it comes to practicality. Again, it comes down to whether you prioritize performance or a top-down lifestyle. If performance is the priority, then the Toyota 86 will reward you far more when you reach its limits, and it'll be more comfortable to live with daily.