We welcome back the new Italian roadster the Fiat 124 Spider. The original Fiat 124 Spider the Italian company sold in the 1960s and 70s, a low-slung, two-seat convertible, is still the best-selling Fiat ever in the U.S. market. Now in 2017 the all-new 124 Spider is built in Japan (Hiroshima) by Mazda.
The Fiat 124 Spider and the Mazda MX-5 Miata is the same car done differently, to put that in perspective the 124 Spider shares nothing with the Mazda MX-5 Miata aside from the windshield, the convertible roof, the side mirrors, the door handles, and the side marker lights.
Clearly taking cues from the original 124 Spider, the new car is an attractive roadster. Perhaps more importantly however is that it looks nothing like the MX-5 Miata, and though it doesn’t weigh much more than the Mazda, the Fiat looks like a larger car.
You get that same sensation after dropping into the 124 Spider’s driver’s seat. From behind the steering wheel, the Fiat’s scalloped hood appears to be higher, longer, and wider than the Mazda’s which, reinforces the impression that the 124 Spider is a substantially larger automobile.
Inside the cabin, the connection to the MX-5 Miata is far more obvious, but unique seat designs, different door panels, bespoke leather patterns, and revised gauge faces help to differentiate the Italian-flavored version of the car. Of course a huge “FIAT” emblem on the steering wheel helps, too.
The Mazda is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. The Fiat uses a 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder turbocharged engine found in other Fiat vehicles, designed and manufactured in Italy, that while smaller produces 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 184 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,500 rpm. It is said to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.7 seconds. Fuel economy is essentially identical between the 124 and MX-5 at an average of 30 miles per gallon.
The engine certainly demonstrates clear willingness to play once it gets into the thick of it’s power band. The Fiat engine is peppy, powerful and responsive. It makes a cheerful, throaty roar when pushed hard, and delivers impressive performance throughout all six gears, from low in the power band to near redline. It’s not a massive powerplant, but it makes this light sports car feel fast.
Aside from the powertrain, one of the most significant differences between the Fiat 124 Spider and the Mazda MX-5 Miata relates to suspension tuning. The Fiat delivers a soft, compliant ride, gliding over pavement irregularities and exhibiting a fair degree of body roll in corners. Depending upon who you are and what you prefer, this is a good thing or a bad thing. In fact, this characteristic is entirely in keeping with the sensation that the 124 Spider is a larger car than it really is. Besides, as it proved time and time again, it can still tackle a corner with verve, serving as a secure, predictable, and trustworthy partner on an unfamiliar road.
Like its Mazda counterpart, the overall Spider driving experience is very engaged. Fiat has created a 2-seat roadster with distinctive design, a differentiated interior, and driving dynamics that are unique to the 124 Spider. It might be based upon the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and it might be built in Japan, but this Fiat speaks with a clear Italian accent.
The Spider is available in three trim levels. The Classica, starts at $25,990. Spider fans who want a more luxurious roadster experience can have one. Fiat is selling a Lusso version that starts at $28,490, and an Abarth edition that starts at $29,190. Those models all use the same MultiAir engine. However the racier Abarth version offers different driving modes, and has been tuned for more dynamic performance to give more horsepower, with special calibrations to the engine, steering and suspension.
In fact, if you’re a fan of European cars and you’d never set foot in the Mazda, you probably wouldn’t guess the true origins of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider even if you drove them back-to-back. In the end the Fiat 124 Spider and the Mazda MX-5 Miata are just both great sports cars.