2017 FIAT 124 Spider Review

Consumer Reviews
3 Reviews
2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Kirk Bell Kirk Bell Editor
June 7, 2017

Like its Mazda MX-5 Miata doppelganger, the Fiat 124 Spider is a pure driver's car, with a comfortable ride and extrasensory handling.

Fiat expands its lineup for 2017 by adding the 124 Spider, a two-seat sports car based on the Mazda MX-5 Miata.

The Fiat earns a 6.6 overall score on our ratings scale with points for performance, but room for improvement in features and comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Styling and performance

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While the engineering is mostly shared between the Mazda and the 124 Spider, the Fiat's look is very different. It's 5 inches longer overall, with all that length coming in the front and rear overhangs. The styling is inspired by the previous 124 Spider, which was designed and built by the Italian firm Pininfarina. Inside, the look is much the same at the Miata's, right down to the infotainment system and steering wheel, but Fiat adds a layer of quality with nicer soft-touch materials in place of the Miata's plastics.

The engine is the biggest difference between the two cars. The Fiat features Fiat-Chrysler's single-overhead cam, turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder, which makes 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. A hint of turbo lag and the weak low-end power of a small-displacement engine make the Fiat slower to 60 mph than the Miata (6.8 versus 6.0 seconds), but the greater torque probably means the Fiat pulls better at higher speeds. We prefer the immediacy of the Miata's naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder.

Despite its smaller size, the 1.4-liter isn't quite as efficient as Mazda's engine. It is rated at 25 mpg city, 36 highway, 29 combined with the automatic transmission and 26/35/30 mpg with the manual, while both versions of the Miata get 30 mpg combined.

Buyers have a choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The manual is a joy to shift, with short throws and positive engagement, but the automatic highlights the engine's weak low-rpm power. Available shift paddles can fix that issue, but they are not offered in all models.

The 124 Spider does capture the Miata's frisky driving character, and that's a very good thing. A featherweight in base form at just 2,436 pounds (104 more than the Miata), the 124 Spider delivers smile-inducing ride and handling. It's steering is light and direct, the ride is smooth, and there is notable body lean in corners, which translates to feedback. When driven hard through a turn, the suspension compresses and the car rotates steadily and predictably. Its most impressive trait is its ability to shift its weight from side to side, immediately take a set, and head off in the opposite direction. Few cars can jitterbug from one direction to the next as willingly, especially the Abarth model with its firmer Bilstein shocks.

Quality, safety, and features

In addition to using more soft-touch materials, Fiat made more effort to block noise than Mazda did with the Miata, adding an acoustic windshield, a thicker rear window, and sound deadening material in several areas. With the top up, it's still somewhat noisy, and rear tire noise is especially noticeable, but it's a calmer environment than the Miata's.

The rest of the interior is taken almost entirely from the Miata. The seats employ the same netting and urethane structure instead of springs. We find them comfortable for a few hours at a time, but they may not offer long-trip comfort. Interior storage is light, the same movable cupholder stalks are used, and the cloth top is easy to operate with one arm.

Fiat's model lineup consists of Classica, Lusso, and the Abarth trims. Pricing starts within a few hundred dollars of the Miata, at about $26,000. The Classica's equipment is quite basic, but the luxury-oriented Lusso gets such features as automatic climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen radio, leather upholstery, heated seats, and 17-inch wheels on summer performance tires. The sportier Abarth features a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks, a unique exhaust system that adds four horsepower, and aluminum-accented sport pedals. The Abarth is offered with Brembo brakes and Recaro sport seats.

Safety equipment includes the usual required features, and buyers can opt for a rearview camera, rear park assist, and a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert. The Fiat 124 Spider won't be tested by either of the crash test agencies.

7

2017 FIAT 124 Spider

Styling

The Fiat 124 is longer than its Mazda Miata sister and it isn't quite as butch, thanks to nods to the original.

The 2017 Fiat 124 is a modern take on the 124 roadster sold from 1966 to 1985. The 124 and Miata use the same platform and have the same 90.9-inch wheelbase, but the cars share no body panels and the design of the 124 makes is 5 inches longer overall. All of that extra length is in the front and rear overhangs, and most of it is at the back.

The Fiat 124 doesn't strike us as better looking than the Miata, but the sports car exterior and dimensions are always good looking in our eyes. We gave it a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Fiat's nose features headlamps with an eyelid signature and a honeycomb-pattern grille that is set higher than the Miata's scowling maw. Depressions in the hood mimic, in reverse, the powerdome bulges of the vintage 124, and a pronounced character line starts at the front wheel, flows over the door handle, and resolves into the top of the rear fender line. While the Miata's rear end tapers, the Fiat's emphasizes width.

The overall effect isn't quite as butch as the Miata, but it has more than a few nods to the original 124 Spider and it is more coherent in person than in pictures.

Inside, the Fiat enhances the Miata's design with higher quality materials. The door tops, which are body color plastic pieces to bring elements of the exterior to the interior of the Miata, are soft-touch black parts in the Fiat. The two cars also share the same infotainment system, which features a rotary dial on the center console and a 7.0-inch screen that perches atop the dash and looks like a bit of an afterthought.

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8

2017 FIAT 124 Spider

Performance

The 2017 Fiat 124 combines a smooth ride with agility that few cars can match, making it an absolute joy to drive.

The 2017 Fiat 124 weighs in at a featherweight 2,436 pounds in its base form. That's very light, but it's 104 pounds heavier than the Miata. Not too worry, though. The car delivers the same kind of smile-inducing ride and handling character as its Japanese counterpart.

The Fiat 124 makes its bones in performance. It's fun to drive, with a good transmission, good handling, and fun (but not particularly fast) engine. We gave it an 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 124's steering is light and direct, the ride is as smooth as you would expect from a family sedan, and there is notable body lean in corners. However, when driven hard, the suspension compresses and the car rotates through turns steadily, predictably, and with a lot of feedback as it approaches the limits of traction. Its most impressive trait is its ability to shift its weight from side to side, immediately take a set, and head off in the opposite direction, especially in the Abarth model with its Bilstein shocks. Few cars can jitterbug from one direction to the next as willingly.

Under the hood lies the biggest difference between the 124 and the Miata. The Fiat is powered by Fiat-Chrysler's single-overhead cam, turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder. This engine produces 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and the Abarth gets 4 extra horsepower thanks to a unique exhaust system. While those numbers best the 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque that Mazda generates from its naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, the Miata's engine is actually stronger in the real world. A hint of turbo lag and the weak low-end power of a small-displacement engine mean the 124 takes 6.8 seconds to run up to 60 mph. That's pretty quick, but the Miata, with its more immediate punch, needs only six seconds. The extra torque of the Fiat probably means it would win a quarter-mile race, but we prefer the immediacy of the Mazda's engine.

The issue can be mitigated slightly by revving the engine in the sweet-shifting manual models; the automatic just makes the power gap more prominent. The transmission shift paddles in the Abarth also help a bit, but they are not available in the Lusso model.

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5

2017 FIAT 124 Spider

Comfort & Quality

The Fiat 124 has a mission; utility and long-distance comfort aren't it.

As a two-seater, the 124 offers little interior space for people, cargo, or even small items. Interior storage is just a small cubby between the seats and a tray at the base of the center stack. The two cupholders are stalks that install in three slots: two at the back of the center console and one on the right side of the center console, where it interferes with passenger leg room.

It scores a 5 out of 10 on our scale for good front seats, but poor utility throughout. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The interior layout is very similar to that of the Miata, down to the same infotainment system and rotating dial controller. This dial is placed down low, behind the shifter, where it’s difficult to get to without bumping elbows against the covered bin at the back of the cabin.

Like the Miata, the seats employ the same netting and urethane structure instead of springs. We find them comfortable for a few hours at a time, but they may not offer long-trip comfort.

However, to Fiat's credit, the 124 Spider's cockpit is a step up from the Miata. Fiat chose higher quality materials that resulted in a bit more flair. Where the Miata uses hard plastics for the dash and the door tops, the 124 has soft-touch materials. The shift knobs have a more involved design, and the hood of the instrument panel is wrapped instead of bare.

Fiat also made more effort to block noise, adding an acoustic windshield, a dash panel insulator, polyurethane-backed carpeting, glass-wool tunnel insulation, trunk area and rear floor insulation treatments, a rear wheelhouse mudguard, and a thicker rear window. With the top up, it's still somewhat noisy, and rear tire noise is especially noticeable, but it's a calmer environment than the Miata's.

The 124's extra length gives it more trunk space. Trunk volume is 4.94 cubic feet compared to 4.59 cubic feet for the Miata. It's not much, but when your trunk is that small, every little bit helps. It's good for two soft-sided gym bags or one piece of roll-aboard luggage.

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2017 FIAT 124 Spider

Safety

Fiat's 124 Spider hasn't been crash tested, and we don't anticipate it will any time soon, either.

The Fiat 124 Spider comes with standard safety equipment you'd expect on a new car. Optional safety equipment includes a rearview camera, rear park assist, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert.

Neither the government nor the IIHS has crash tested the Fiat 124 Spider, and neither are likely to do so any time soon as sports cars are usually not tested.

We're withholding our scored rating until more data is available. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Perhaps one of the oldest—and most forgotten—safety features is the Fiat's ability to sharply corner and evade crashes when drivers can see them. We encourage all drivers (but especially sports car buyers) to seek out instruction from a professional driving coach to learn the safety features of their car, including braking distance and proper correction.

Learning to make the most out of a car's controls on a closed circuit can potentially save lives.

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5

2017 FIAT 124 Spider

Features

The 2017 Fiat 124's base equipment is modest, but it's a real value, and higher line models won't break the bank either.

The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider starts just under $26,000 for the base Classica model, while the luxury-oriented Lusso tops $28,000, and the sportier Abarth adds $600 to the price of the Lusso. For its part, Fiat boasts that the 124 is the most affordable turbocharged roadster available today.

The Fiat 124 gets a 5 out of 10 for features because it manages to offer just enough—but not a lot—of base content and customizable features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Standard equipment on the Classica model includes power adjustable mirrors, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, cruise control, AM/FM radio with six speakers, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, an auxiliary input jack, a six-way manually adjustable driver seat, a four-way adjustable passenger seat, a tilting steering column, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

Optional for the Classic is a 7.0-inch touchscreen radio, a rearview camera, a multimedia controller, and keyless entry.

The Lusso adds automatic headlights, fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated seats, and 17-inch wheels on summer performance tires.

A Comfort and Safety package for the Lusso includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, auto-dimming and heated side mirrors, a universal garage door opener, a blind spot monitor with rear cross path detection, and rear park assist. A Premium package adds the equipment from the Comfort and Safety package plus adaptive LED headlights with washers and auto-leveling, LED daytime running lamps, a Bose sound system, satellite radio, a navigation system, and an alarm.

The Abarth model gets a limited-slip differential; Bilstein shocks; a unique exhaust system that adds 4 horsepower; a unique “Sport” mode that adjusts dynamic systems such as the engine, transmission (automatic only), electric power steering, and stability and traction control; a more aggressive front bumper; a blacked-out hood; leather upholstery; a unique instrument cluster; aluminum-accented sport pedals; and a special gear shifter. Options for the Abarth include uprated Brembo brakes, Recaro sport seats, and a hand-painted hood stripe.

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2017 FIAT 124 Spider

Fuel Economy

The 124's light weight, small size, and small turbocharged engine make it easy on gas.

The Fiat 124's engine may be smaller than Mazda's, but it isn't quite as efficient. It is rated at 25 mpg city, 36 highway, 29 combined with the automatic transmission and 26/35/30 mpg with the manual, while both versions of the Miata get 30 mpg combined.

Fiat recommends 91 octane fuel for best performance.

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January 18, 2018
2017 FIAT 124 Spider Lusso Convertible

The Best, Most Funnest Car I've Ever owned... EVER !!

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I've owned a LOT of cars in my life, plenty of V8 Camaros, Mustang GT's, etc.. but THIS CAR.. Is the Sweetest car of my entire life. The moment I heard it was actually going into production.. I knew I had to... + More »
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December 3, 2016
2017 FIAT 124 Spider Lusso Convertible

Fun to drive

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A fun car to drive. Power and steering matched with just the roll to make long drives in the country a blast
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September 14, 2016
2017 FIAT 124 Spider Lusso Convertible

Better than a Miata

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Have not had much issues with it yet (knocking on glass). Paint job could be a little better very easy to scratch or pit paint job. Wish it had more available accessories (bra's, car covers, mirror bra's... + More »
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6.6
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 5
Safety N/A
Features 5
Fuel Economy 8
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