Fiat's modern presence in the United States is defined by its pint-size 500 coupe and the 500L and 500X small crossovers. But back in the 1960s, another car defined the Italian automaker's reputation in America. With a body shaped by the legendary Pininfarina design house, the 124 Spider roadster became the best-selling Fiat in the U.S. by the time the company exited the market in 1983. Now, the vehicle that made Fiat famous is back, and this time the seductive Italian sheet metal conceals a very familiar face indeed.
The newest iteration of Mazda's iconic Miata provides the underpinnings of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, but this is more than just a Miata wrapped in a modern interpretation of Pininfarina's original design. Fiat has replaced the Miata's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque) with its own turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder mill found in the Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and 500 Abarth. In the 124 Spider, it makes 160 hp and 184 lb-ft in the Classica and Lusso trims, while a less restrictive exhaust on the Abarth version bumps it to 164 hp.
The new Fiat 124 is based on the Mazda Miata, but revised styling and unique headlights and taillights give it a distinctive look.
The body is slightly bigger, with an extra 3 inches in front to accommodate the engine and two inches in the rear for proportionality, which also slightly increases the size of the trunk (4.9 cubic feet versus the Miata's 4.6 cubic feet of space). The 124's wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) is unchanged, so the cabin is the same size and looks nearly identical, save for a few key differences. The body-colored plastic that adorns the top of the Miata's doors has been replaced by soft-touch plastic. Extended use of sound-deadening material makes the 124 Spider noticeably quieter, especially at highway speeds. Both fabric and leather upholsteries feel a bit more upscale in terms of quality than those found in the Miata. The suspension is a completely different tune, one that makes the 124 feel more comfortable and relaxed on pocketed roads.
Sounds good, right? It is. It might be worth your while to still check out the Mini Cooper convertible, though. It's still fun to drive, is more comfortable and can be personalized to a much higher degree. It also has a backseat, albeit a very small one. And if you're willing to spend a bit more, you could get the Nissan 370Z roadster with its 332-hp V6. Even among these competitors, though, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider stands apart. If you're looking for an affordable roadster that expertly combines luxury and thrills, this newly reborn Fiat is certainly worth strong consideration.
Standard safety features on the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider include antilock disc brakes, side airbags and stability and traction control. A rearview camera is available on all trims, while a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors can be ordered on the Lusso and Abarth via the Safety and Comfort package.
trim levels & features
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a two-seat roadster offered in three trim levels: Classica, Lusso and Abarth. There is also a Prima Edizione version based on the Lusso trim. It is limited to 124 units.
Standard features on the base Classica include 16-inch alloy wheels, a manually retractable black soft top with a glass rear window, LED taillights, air-conditioning, push-button ignition, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power accessories, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a USB port, an auxiliary input and a 3-inch display screen.
The Classica is available with a Technology package (Fiat calls their options packages "Collections") that adds keyless push-button entry, a rearview camera, an additional USB port, HD radio and a 7-inch touchscreen.
The touchscreen comes standard on the Lusso and Abarth.
Stepping up to the Lusso adds 17-inch wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, bright exhaust tips, automatic wipers, automatic climate control, heated seats, leather upholstery and the contents of the Technology package.
The Abarth includes all of the above, plus different exterior and interior trim, quad exhaust tips, a limited-slip rear differential, a sport-tuned suspension, adjustable driving modes and microfiber inserts for the seats. Stand-alone options include full leather or leather/simulated suede upholstery and Brembo performance brakes.
There are two packages for the Lusso and Abarth. The Safety and Comfort package includes auto-dimming mirrors, heated exterior mirrors, a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors. To this, the feature-heavy Premium (Lusso) and Luxury (Abarth) packages add adaptive LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, navigation, a nine-speaker Bose audio system and satellite radio.
The limited-edition Prima Edizione is based on the Lusso and adds special blue "Azzurro Italia" paint, a two-tone interior and a numbered production plaque.
Additional parts and accessories, including visual and performance upgrades, are available through Mopar.
The rear-wheel-drive 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. It is rated at 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque on the Classica and Lusso, while the Abarth sees a slight power bump with 164 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic (with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters on the Abarth) is optional on all trims.
Although its horsepower and torque ratings are higher than the Miata's, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is heavier and therefore feels pretty similar in real-world driving. It's still a light car by any other measure, though, and it feels plenty quick and even a bit punchier at highway speeds than the Miata.
The manual transmission is excellent in everyday use, and the pedals are set up for effortless heel-and-toe shifting. The automatic transmission, however, isn't very responsive to your gas pedal inputs, so getting a downshift requires a fairly heavy foot on the pedal. The Abarth's exclusive "Sport" driving mode should sharpen the responses of the automatic. Enthusiasts should consider that version strongly, as it also adds suspension upgrades and a quad-tip exhaust that gives the engine a bit more character than the barely perceptible note with the standard exhaust.
You can have a lot of fun driving the Fiat 124, even at modest speeds.
Driving the Spider is a cinch. The precise steering and rear-drive layout give you plenty of confidence when entering a corner at high speeds. The compliant suspension dampens road imperfections and harsh impacts, making it suitable for extended highway stints. Also adding to its long-distance ability is the 124's increased amount of sound-dampening material compared to the Miata that makes the cabin noticeably quieter at highway speeds.
The Fiat 124 Spider's cabin is simply designed, but it never feels cheap. Soft-touch plastics cover the majority of the interior and feel good to the touch, especially when compared to the hard, body-colored plastic panels that adorn the perimeter of the Miata. The air-conditioning dials are simple and easy to use, as is the Mazda-sourced touchscreen that is the centerpiece for the dashboard. The interface's menus are intuitive and require little attention from the driver to operate successfully. Note that touchscreen functionality is locked while the vehicle is in motion. It is otherwise controlled by a knob located just below the shifter, which can get in the way if you are shifting your own gears.
We like the way Fiat has outfitted the 124's interior. The design is simple and trimmed in pleasing materials.
Given the Spider's compact footprint, it should come as no surprise that the cabin is fairly snug. As low-to-the-ground sports cars go, getting in and out isn't very difficult thanks to the narrow sills and shallow seat bolsters, but head- and legroom will be an issue for anyone over the 6-foot mark. Driver and passenger are likely to bump elbows, and the cabin feels especially cramped if the removable cupholders are secured in their slots at the rear of the center console. The seats themselves are very comfortable, and all seating materials feel high-quality.
The manual convertible top is so easy to use, you'll wonder why other two-seat roadsters use heavy power-operated ones. Simply unlatch the locking mechanism and throw the top over your shoulder. Practiced operators will be able to do it in just a few seconds without leaving the driver seat. Raising it is just as painless. Although the trunk is slightly larger than the Miata's, it measures at just 4.9 cubic feet, small even by roadster standards.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
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