by James Allen
The Fiat 124 Spider Is a great all-round sports car, but isn't quite the best-in-class .
The year 2017 will see the triumphant return of the Fiat 124 Spider. At first glance it looks like Mazda's very own MX-5, and that would be right as the 124 and MX-5 use the same chassis. However, with Fiat's Italian styling and expertise as you'd expect they've done this properly. While the new Fiat 124 is close in design to Mazda's MX-5, the Fiat comes with its own set of features and where it counts Fiat inserts its own Italian characteristics and in some ways, idiosyncrasies. The exterior is where the similarities stop, as the Fiat 124 handles differently, accelerates differently and is priced fairly, with similar options to the MX-5 but slightly cheaper. What's important to consider is the Fiat 124 is not a MX-5, but if you're going to take a chassis and put your own sticker on it Fiat know just how to do it.
The whole interior is ergonomically designed.
The Fiat 124's interior is, as you'd expect, identical to that of the Mazda MX-5. Everything is covered in leather, the seven-inch touch screen and dials are placed in convenient locations and the steering wheel has lots of small buttons. Overall, the whole interior is ergonomically designed, where nothing is too far to reach and the heated seats hug the driver with a comfortable embrace, Since the Fiat is built on the same platform as the Mazda, there are similar conveniences that filter in. There's plenty of space near the pedals for optimal foot-placing, the door doesn't stick too far in so the driver isn't cramped, and the gearshift sits right in front of the armrest, so the driver's arm can rest and shift gears with ease.
The car is built for sporty rides and not road trips.
Like many sports cars of its kind, the Fiat 124 suffers from a loss of practicality. Of course since there's no back seat, there isn't a whole lot of room for storage. There's no glove box, but there's a smart little cubby that opens above the armrest in between the seats. Also like the Mazda MX-5, trunk space in the Fiat 124 is something to be desired: at 4.9 cubic feet, the cargo capacity is miniscule. However, as the car is built for sporty rides and not road trips, we doubt many owners will find that to be too problematic, and the Fiat 124's trunk is big enough to accommodate a larger duffle bag.
This Italian roadster is still a very fun and engaging car to drive.
The Fiat 124 may be identical in a lot of ways to the Mazda MX-5, but driving doesn't seem to be as close-knit. The Fiat 124 seems less aggressive than the Mazda, which has a twitchier style that makes the Fiat feel less responsive when driven back-to-back. That said, the Fiat 124 still feels quick on its feet and has slick steering responses, so this Italian roadster is still a very fun and engaging car to drive. Having a slightly softer edge when compared to the Mazda, though, does make the Fiat 124 a marginally more comfortable car. Whereas the MX-5 is a bit more adaptable to a harder driving style, the Fiat 124 is more than happy with keeping a steady course; swallowing up lumps and bumps with its softer-in-comparison ride. It's an interesting dynamic that we're sure will appeal to some as much as it will be a turnoff for others.
The driver sits quite low, but this doesn't warrant any discomfort.
If driving under normal circumstances in the Fiat is anything like the Mazda that means several things that aren't going to be very surprising. The visibility will be fine looking forward and backward, and as long as the top is down looking off to the side shouldn't be any issue. As soon as the fabric roof is fixed in place, though, the Fiat falls into the same pitfalls that most convertibles face. When the driver looks over their shoulder for a quick moment before changing lanes, they are stared down by black canvas (or cloth, or hard top) and can do nothing about it. Where the Mazda was quite loud on the inside, the Fiat is subtler. What helps this are the little things, like what's called an acoustic windshield to keep the interior noise level low and a lot of insulation inside the floor. These features do add up to more than 190 extra pounds extra on the MX-5, but the difference is a much quieter, more relaxing ride quality. The driver sits quite low, but again this doesn't warrant any discomfort and is to be expected in a car like this.
Fiat's 124 comes equipped with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine.
The engine range is another area where the Fiat 124 sets itself apart from the Mazda MX-5. Fiat's 124 comes equipped with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine, producing 160-hp and 184-lb ft of torque, in the Classica and Lusso trims. This contrasts with the Mazda's 2.0-liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated gasoline engine, which gives the driver a more modest 155-hp. The Abarth trim level even manages to squeeze out an extra 4 horsepower. Again, the Fiat 124 does well to be less aggressive than the Mazda, and some of that sentiment comes from the power delivery. Turbo lag is somewhat present, and unfortunately not a lot can come in the way of lag beating out-and-out throttle response. In the Fiat, power takes a few moments to come out of the engine; in the MX-5 the power is immediately present and readily available.
The Fiat's turbocharged four-cylinder can come mated with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.
The Fiat's turbocharged four-cylinder can come mated with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission, much like the Mazda. However, also like the MX-5 the manual transmission is the one to choose in a sports car like the Fiat 124. The Fiat 124's manual comes equipped with a short shifter, which makes the action of shifting from gear to gear much quicker. The manual transmission will also help with the lag, as shifting gears makes it possible to spool the turbo ahead of time. The Fiat 124 observes an estimated 26mpg city/35mpg highway across all trims. This is also identical to what the MX-5 is estimated to get in terms of gas mileage.
The Abarth trim level, unlike the Classica, comes with performance suspension and things like a sports steering wheel and a limited-slip differential.
The Fiat 124's trims start with the Classica, from around $25,000, or if the driver is so inclined they can go for the Abarth, which jumps the price to around $28,000. The Abarth trim level, unlike the Classica, comes with performance suspension and things like a sports steering wheel and a limited-slip differential. This is comparable to the Mazda MX-5, as in order to get things like a limited-slip differential and performance parts the club trim level is needed, which also starts at around $28,000. No matter what though, the MX-5 can start at $30,000, something that the Fiat does not do. Official reports of engine reliability in the Fiat are hard to come by, but the simple fact that the engine is Italian might give some owners an uneasy feeling.
The Fiat 124 comes loaded with a laundry list of safety features.
The same can be said for the absent safety ratings but fear not. The Fiat 124 comes loaded with a laundry list of safety features, including a plethora of airbags spread out around the car, night vision, brake assist, stability control, an emergency trunk release and much more. Being that it is a small sports car, expect to walk away from a fender bender but not necessarily from a game of chicken against a semi.
All in all, the Fiat 124 is the car for a driver to get, if they're looking for a Japanese sports car that is inherently Italian. The styling, though understandably similar to the Mazda MX-5 in certain places, has that characteristic Italian flair, and the driving experience can perhaps be best summarized as "like an MX-5, but slightly softer" It's the aspects where the Fiat 124 tries to forge its own identity, though, that may put more dedicated driving enthusiast's off. The aforementioned suspension, for example, may turn away those who'd prefer a more connected, seat-of-the-pants driving feel, and the turbocharged engines aren't the most responsive you'll find in this segment. Overall, if you're a die-hard sports car enthusiast, you may not be overly bowled over by the Fiat 124 Spider. However, if you're after a less aggressive and softer sports car that you'll want to use every day, the Fiat 124 is definitely a sports car we reckon you should consider.