by Roger Biermann
The Fiat 124 Spider is one of the most affordable sports cars in America, packing a 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque consigned to a rear-wheel-drive powertrain. Suiting the sporty-appeal of the 124 Spider is a six-speed manual transmission as standard, with a six-speed automatic available as well. Underneath the classic European styled bodywork are the borrowed underpinnings from the acclaimed Mazda MX-5 Miata, pairing retro-Italian design and turbocharged performance with reliable Japanese engineering. This fun-to-drive roadster offers nimble handling dynamics and iconic retro-Italian styling, but it's small interior exhibits disadvantages in passenger comfort and cargo space.
Updates for 2018 remain minimal, with only basic cosmetic additions and minor package reconfigurations, and no performance upgrades or adjustments. Gliding into 2018 the 124 Spider receives three additional exterior color options, package options have been reconfigured for the Lusso trim to allow for more flexibility in options, and also available for 2018 is the all-new 124 Spider Red Top Edition which is based on the Lusso trim.
The 124 Spider body design and cosmetic cues are reminiscent of the original Spider, just reimagined for 2018. It holds a perennial low-slung presence and features well-balanced proportions with a sporty cabin-to-hood ratio. The base-level Classica trim features 16-inch alloy wheels, a dual-tip exhaust, black roll bar finish, and body-color header, side sills, and door handles. The Lusso is equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, silver-painted A-pillar header and roll-bar cover, and a dual-tip chrome exhaust. The Lusso Red Top Edition receives an exclusive red soft-top.
Based on the underpinnings of the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the 124 Spider shares very similar dimensions, differing slightly due to its rugged body styling as compared to the sleeker Miata. The 124 Spider spans a length of 159.5 inches and has a total body width of 68.5 in. making it 5.5-in. longer than the Miata and slightly wider, whilst the Spider's height of 48.5in. makes it a little shorter. With the six-speed manual transmission equipped, the 124 Spider boasts a curb weight of 2,436 pounds and 2,476 lbs with the six-speed automatic, making it considerably heavier than the Miata trims which range between 2,331-2,388 lbs. Both vehicles share an identical wheelbase of 90.9 inches.
From last year's choice of five exterior hues for the 124 Spider, three new options have been added to the list, including Puro Bianco Perla (Tri-Coat White Pearl), Grigio Chiaro (Silver Metallic) and Blu Scuro (Dark Blue Metallic), extending the color palette to eight. Colors carried over from 2017 include, Rosso (Red Clear Coat), Bianco Gelato (Arctic White Clear Coat), Nero Cinema (Jet Black Metallic), Grigio Moda (Meteor Gray Metallic), and Bronzo Magnetico (Bronze Metallic). The Lusso Red Top Edition is a bit more limited in options, available with the original color palette of five. All the color options are available at no additional cost, other than the Puro White Tri-Coat Pearl which adds $595 to the total cost of the vehicle.
All the 124 Spider range trims perform identically, each sharing the 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that sends 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. The 124 Spider is no race-car, but it is still fast, clocking 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds and reaching a top speed of about 130 mph, which is almost identical to its chief rival, the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Like all great sports cars, Fiat has equipped the 124 Spider with rear-wheel-drive for the improved handling dynamics it delivers. No AWD variations are available for the 124 Spider or its chief rivals, with only Audi offering an AWD alternative but at nearly double the price.
The roadster comes standard with a tried and trusted 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbo engine, which is the engine's first application in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. This turbocharged engine generates 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, sending it rearwards through either the standard six-speed manual transmission or an available six-speed automatic. The turbo engine is generally peppy, but at lower engine speeds it feels lethargic as the 124 struggles to come on boost. Once on song, there's an abundance of forward shove courtesy of the forced induction. To make the most of the turbo motor, it pairs best with the manual transmission rather than the automatic. The manual allows for greater control of boost levels, unlike the automatic which often results in lackluster acceleration on downshifts as it fails to find the right gear consistently. The manual transmission, however, gives an added sensation of control, central to the ethos of a compact roadster like the 124 which typically doesn't offer great pace.
The MX-5 Miata's larger 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine delivers more linear power delivery and sharper responses which typically define this segment, making for a more refined drive and easier operation with the sweet-shifting manual transmission.
The standard RWD powertrain is traditional in sport-car engineering and contributes to the roadster's phenomenal handling dynamics. Steering in the 124 Spider is highly responsive and road feel is communicated accurately, however, the light weighting makes for sharp and erratic maneuvers at higher speeds with slight inputs. But the rear-wheel-drive nature of the 124 means that you can steer with the throttle, making use of the limited grip to control trajectory by more than just the turn of a steering wheel. It's this balance that gives the 124 such credibility as a genuine sports car.
The braking pedal is firm and communicative, complementing the roadster's handling capabilities by instilling confidence in the driver, while precise responses enable trailbraking for further aptitude through corners.
Overall drive in the 124 Spider is pleasant, with minor road abrasions absorbed suitably, whilst the low ground clearance and low slung nature of the roadster makes for rougher rides at higher speeds and over larger undulations. The suspension plates up a fair amount of body roll under duress, adding to the theater of speed even at a modest pace.
Along with the quiet exhaust system, the interior has been constructed with noise vibration and harshness enhancements, including an acoustic front windshield and insulation treatments to help deliver a refined, quieter ride. Even so, road and engine noise within the cabin is definite at higher speeds, which is not surprising considering the 124 Spider's soft-top.
The standard 124 Spider trims have been focused more toward a luxury top-down driving experience rather than performance, with the Abarth trim representing the standalone performance-based model.
The 124 Spider offers class-leading EPA fuel economy ratings, scoring estimates of 26/35/30 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles equipped with the manual gearbox and 25/36/29 mpg on the same cycles with the automatic transmission. It holds a maximum gas tank capacity of 11.9 gallons which when full enables a range of 357 miles with the manual gearbox and 345 miles with the automatic gearbox in mixed driving conditions. The Mazda MX-5 Miata compares similarly, achieving 26/34/29 mpg and 26/35/30 mpg with its manual and automatic transmissions respectively.
Many similarities can be found within the 124 Spider interior to that of the Mazda MX-5 Miata on which it is based. Some buyers may appreciate the pastiche, but some would have preferred some more attention from Fiat in the design and available amenities. Even so, cabin quality is relatively high with only a few down-market materials used here and there. The compact cabin puts everything in easy reach, though taller drivers may find it a tight squeeze with limited seating and steering adjustment. Riding in the 124 Spider is more comfortable than the Miata, with its seats more cushioned and a quieter cabin making for pleasant extended drives in typical GT fashion.
The roadster is a two-door soft-top convertible seating only two occupants. Unfortunately, the compact nature of the 124 Spider has greatly minimized occupant and storage space, as well as limited seat and steering wheel adjustability. Occupants over six foot two inches tall will find little comfort in this roadster in terms of legroom, headroom and positioning. That being said, occupants under six feet are seated comfortably behind the steering wheel and pedals, with ample forward visibility. The low, thick windscreen frame and small rear window do hinder visibility slightly, and with the roof up there are noticeable rearward blind spots. Headroom and visibility are optimized with the manually operable soft-top retracted, a simple maneuver to execute.
In the Classica trim, seats are finished in premium Nero (Black) cloth, soft-touch materials line the upper-door and dash panels which in turn feature light silver accents. There is also a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, molded black-accent style bar, and the convertible soft-top is standard in black cloth. The interior of the upper level Lusso trim features premium leather-trimmed seats in Nero (Black) or Saddle, the cluster brow and lower instrument panel is wrapped in leatherette, and Piano Black accents are splayed throughout. The Lusso Red Top Edition comes standard with Ivory interior colors and premium leather-trimmed seats.
Trunk and cargo space are not strong suits for the 124 Spider, with design leaning more towards leisure driving than practicality. Accessible through a lid-like opening is the shallow trunk with space of a mere 4.9 cubic feet or enough room for light luggage for two on a weekend getaway. In the same vehicle class drivers looking for more storage capabilities should consider the Toyota 86, which holds a trunk space of 6.9 cubic-feet and has rear-seats that can be folded down for additional space.
In-cabin storage is no more impressive, offering only the bare minimum in compartments including two small door pockets and a small bin found in the center console. Between the seats is a small glove box compartment which becomes inaccessible if you're using the removable cupholders.
The most notable feature of the 124 Spider is its easy-to-use convertible soft-top that is manually operable from within the cabin via a release handle. Other features include air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, keyless entry, push-button start, and a manually tilt-adjustable leather-strapped steering wheel and shift knob. Stepping up to the Lusso gets you a rearview camera, automatic climate control, and leather-upholstered and heated seats, along with a seven-inch infotainment system. The Lusso Red Top Edition features all of the above including all the optional packages that are otherwise additional options for the latter trims. Unfortunately, small sports cars of the 124's ilk make do without advanced driver assistance features.
In the Classica, a three-inch color display is featured, aggrandized in the Lusso to a seven-inch touchscreen display. The infotainment system is inherited from the Mazda's MX-5's Miata and carries similar functionality, catering to AM/FM radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth streaming and hands-free connectivity. Also integrated is functionality with Pandora, Aha, and the Stitcher app. Disappointingly, Fiat does not offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, crucial requirements in any modern vehicle. The standard four-speaker setup is mediocre and is easily drowned out by exterior noise, especially with the soft-top retracted. For better sound quality and enjoyment, the nine-speaker Bose upgrade is recommended.
A recall has been issued by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for about eight thousand automatic transmission-equipped 124 Spiders models manufactured between 2017 and 2019 due to a software problem that caused the transmission to unexpectedly downshift. Sharing the durable underpinnings of the Mazda MX-5 Miata has boosted the 124 Spider's reliability and has instilled confidence in buyers with no complaints logged for the 2018 model.
With the purchase of a 2018 124 Spider, Fiat offers a 50,000 mile/four-year basic and drivetrain warranty, along with four-years complimentary roadside assistance.
Neither the NHTSA or the IIHS have evaluated the 2018 124 Spider in crash-tests or safety rankings. It's common for low-powered sports-cars not to be crash-tested, with the Mazda MX-5 Miata also not evaluated by government rating agencies.
Safety features in the 124 Spider are very rudimentary, the Classica comprising of daytime running headlamps, electronic stability control, a tire pressure warning system, and an enhanced accident response system that in the event of an accident automatically cuts off fuel to the engine, unlocks the doors, blinks the hazard lights, and turns on the interior lights. The Lusso and Lusso Red Top Edition feature the above with the addition of only a rearview backup camera, which is available for the Classica in the $1,395 Technology Package, while rear park sensors are also available. Dual front airbags and front side airbags ensure occupant safety in the event of a crash.
The 124 Spider is a fun and comfortable car that can be enjoyed in true top-down driving fashion. Its compact nature and traditional sports-car design along with the Miata underpinnings make the 124 Spider an exceptionally maneuverable car with exemplary handling and control. Though it has a high-quality cabin, it offers very base-level features in both infotainment and safety, leaving it lagging behind its chief rivals, but making the cut in an effort to achieve an affordable price tag.
People over six foot two inches should opt for an alternative convertible as the 124 Spider's compact cabin gravely limits adjustability, making it difficult to compensate for either the limited legroom or headroom. The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro convertibles offer more interior and storage space, which would better suit taller drivers, but they also feel less nimble and cost far more.
Performance-wise the 124 Spider clenches class-leading EPA fuel economy scores, along with ample acceleration figures. That, along with its relatively low MSRP, makes the 124 Spider perfect for the buyer on a budget looking for a fun and excitable roadster with attractive classic Italian flair.
FCA claims the 2018 Fiat 124 Spider is the most affordable turbo-powered convertible in America, with the Classica trim starting at an MSRP of $24,995. The mid-level Lusso comes with a few more comfort and entertainment focused features at a mildly increased MSRP of $27,595. The Lusso Red Top Edition comes with exclusive cosmetic stylings and all the features and optional packages as standard for an MSRP of $31,440. For an additional $1,350 a six-speed automatic transmission can be equipped to either of the 124 Spider trims.
The 2018 124 Spider range comprises of three trims: Classica, Lusso, and Lusso Red Top Edition.
All trims perform identically and share the same 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that generates 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. All are also RWD and have the option for a six-speed automatic transmission in place of the default six-speed manual. Starting at the base trim, standard features comprise of a three-inch infotainment display and four-speaker infotainment system, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, premium cloth upholstery, cruise control, keyless entry, push-button start, and a manually tilt-adjustable leather-strapped steering wheel and shift knob.
The Lusso trim receives an upgraded seven-inch touchscreen display, and additional features atop the Classica, including a rearview camera, automatic climate control, and leather-upholstered and heated seats. With the Lusso Red Top Edition comes with all the above along with the optional packages equipped as standard.
On Classica models, buyers can equip the Technology and SiriusXM Package, which for an additional $1,395, swaps out the standard three-inch infotainment screen for the seven-inch touchscreen featured in the Lusso. It also includes integrated voice command with Bluetooth and satellite navigation, while the package adds a rearview backup camera, remote proximity keyless entry, and SiriusXM satellite radio functionality. This package is recommended with the purchase of the Classica trim.
The Lusso receives access to the Comfort and Convenience Group which comprises an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated auto-dimming exterior mirrors, rear park assist system, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross path detection, a security alarm, and a universal garage door opener for $1,495. The $1,295 Navigation and Sound Group installs a nine-speaker Bose audio system and GPS navigation. For adaptive front headlamps, an automatic headlamp leveling system, LED daytime running lamps, headlamp washer, and LED headlamps the Visibility Group can equipped at an additional $995.
The Midrange Lusso trim is recommended from the range, purely for the step up from the Classica's three-inch infotainment touchscreen display to the seven-inch display with the rearview backup camera functionality. Along with those improvements come a comfort boost with the leather-upholstered and heated seats and automatic climate control. And with access to the Comfort and Convenience package, the Lusso simply offers more at only a slightly increased price compared to the Classica. The available options packages for the Lusso give buyers the option to expand on the luxury even further than what the Classica allows for, with the Visibility Group and Navigation and Sound Group packages particularly worth looking at.
The 124 Spider shares its underpinnings with the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and whilst keeping the Fiat engine and suspension, the reliable Japanese engineering is coupled with iconic European performance and style. The Miata possesses a bigger 2.0-liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine compared to the 124 Spider, however, this bigger engine generates less power at 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. Both roadsters perform similarly in speed and handling exercises, but the Miata is more fun, delivering a more refined and excitable driving experience than the 124 Spider. Where the 124 Spider leads is in its comfier cabin, with higher quality materials and slightly better noise insulation. The Miata also exhibits a bit more body roll taking turns at speed than that of the 124 Spider, but even so, driving twisty roads in the Miata is a blast. Both vehicles are similarly priced, so making a decision comes down to whether comfort or driving experience is the priority. The Mazda is a little more spirited, while the Fiat is a more comfortable touring car.
The 2018 Subaru BRZ is a two-door coupe, and while it lacks a convertible top, the base BRZ is only incrementally pricier than the 124 Spider and shares similar specs as a subcompact rear-wheel-drive vehicle. Where the BRZ notably exceeds the 124 Spider is in its trunk space which is substantially larger. With the addition of rear seats that can be folded down, that space is further expanded. The BRZ holds greater power from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine which produces 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, making it slightly quicker with a 0-60 mph time of 6.2 seconds. Where the BRZ also provides greater value is in its standard seven-inch touchscreen display complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, of which the 124 Spider is found lacking. The 124 Spider is however far more comfortable than the BRZ, offering better-cushioned seats and a quieter cabin, but the BRZ is louder for a reason: it gives more of a race-car experience and would appeal to the enthusiast.