By now you’ve probably heard of the Fiat 124 Spider, a car that was developed jointly by Fiat and Mazda, giving birth to the 124 Spider and the MX-5 Miata. The two cars were developed jointly but there are quite a few differences between them, more on that later.
Fiat has resurrected an old name for their new roadster, a name/car that was first introduced 50 years ago in 1966. The old Fiat 124 Spider was pretty successful in North America, it was sold from the late 60’s to early 80’s; my father-in-law actually owned one back in the 1970’s. Below is a picture of the old Fiat 124 Spider, look familiar?
Late last week we were invited by Fiat to San Diego, California for the official launch of the new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. We spent half a day driving the 124 Spider on some very tight and twisty back country roads, and the other half of the day was spent driving the 124 Spider Abarth on an autocross set up in the parking lot of Qualcomm stadium.
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is offered in three trims: Classica, Lusso, and Abarth. The base trim, Classica, has a starting price of $24,495, the Lusso starts at $27,495, and the Abarth starts from $28,845. There’s also a launch edition model that comes in special blue paint with some extra badges, only 124 of those cars will be available, priced at round $35,000. These prices are in USD and are for the American market, there is currently no word on prices for the Canadian market.
All three trims are powered by the 1.4 liter turbocharged MultiAir 4-cylinder engine, the same engine found on the Fiat 500 Abarth, it’s the first time this engine is used in a rear-wheel drive car. The little engine produces 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, in the Classica and Lusso trims, and 164 horsepower on the Abarth trim and the same torque as the other two trims. All three trims are offered with 6-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
The Fiat 124 Spider has 5 more horsepower (or 9 in the Abarth) than the MX-5 and 36 more pound-feet of torque. Although the 124 Spider is about 100 pounds heavier than its Japanese cousin, so in terms of power they’re about the same, but the extra torque does make a difference.
Aside from the engine difference, the biggest difference is the styling between the two cars. The Fiat 124 Spider is 5 inches longer than the MX-5 and the design pays homage to the original 124 Spider, with a modern 21st century take on it. There are quite a few similarities between the old and the new, the headlight look like a modern iteration of the old and there is also a crease in the door that kicks up as it approaches the trunk, a hat tip to the old car’s design.
Overall I think the 124 Spider is pretty decent looking car, it certainly looks better in person than in pictures and it also looks very retro yet modern.
Another area the 124 Spider differs from its Japanese cousin is in the comfort department. The MX-5 is more of no-nonsense sporty car, the Fiat 124 Spider introduces luxury into the top-down experience. The overall looks of the two interiors is the same but the 124 Spider features more sound-deadening materials, including thicker glass (which accounts for some of the added weight). The leather seats and other surfaces have a more upscale feel to them. The headrests on the seats can also be equipped with speakers, helping you enjoy music more clearly during top-down drives. The way the doors shut, also feels more solid on the 124 Spider, there is a nice thump when you close the door.
The added measure to decrease noise in the cabin does really improve the drive quality. Driving the 124 Spider top-down was pretty easy on the ears, and there isn’t much wind buffeting in the cabin, except for when you’re going well above legal speed limits. Taking the roof down or up takes only a few seconds, by unlatching the holder above the rear view mirror and pushing it back behind the seats.
The ride quality is also improved, on the Classica and Lusso, the suspension is sporty but it’s also very comfortable for daily driving. The 124 Spider Abarth has a much stiffer suspension, as that’s the car better suited to those wanting to enjoy track days rather than going on long cruises. Another difference I noticed was the steering weight, the steering on the 124 Spider is heavier than the MX-5’s, it feels more European.
Driving the Fiat 124 Spider is quite fun, it isn’t massively powerful, but its made for carving canyon roads. The 160 horsepower may not seem like much, but it’s plenty for a small car like this (of course I want more power, but I was happy enough with what I had) and the 184 pound-feet of torque really gets this little roadster moving once you’re above 2,000 rpm.
The exhaust on the lower two trims is pretty quiet during normal driving, it does make some noise at higher rpms. The Abarth makes more noise and there are accessories available to make it even louder, but overall I prefer the exhaust sound the MX-5 makes, a turbo can never compete with a naturally aspirated engine when it comes to sound.
Most of street driving was done on a car with the automatic transmission, obviously I would’ve loved to be in the manual, because 1) manuals are always more fun, and 2) a manual really gives a good workout to a small engine and pulls out a lot of the performance that an automatic just can’t seem to do. The automatic transmission does a decent job and there’s is the option to shift gears “manually” to make things a little more lively. I did drive the manual car briefly and I definitely preferred that over the automatic.
The 124 Spider handles really well, I’m no race car driver, but I had a lot of fun driving on the back roads of San Diego area. The car provides lots of grip and gives you lots of confidence, due to its small size and power; you always feel like you’re in control, you’d have to do something really stupid to get things wrong in this car.
Overall, our trip to San Diego for the launch of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider was a very fun one. I got to enjoy first hand what this car was all about and I was part of a select few people from around the world to experience this roadster.
Comparing it to the Mazda MX-5, it is a hard comparison to make. If you’re cross shopping between the two, you’ll need to drive both cars back to back. One of these cars is more basic and more track oriented, the other is more luxurious and relaxed. One has Japanese KODO design, the other is a new take on classic Italian styling. At the end of the day the choice is yours, and you get to decide what your wants and needs are from a roadster. For more information visit fiatcanada.com.