When Fiat decided to revive its famous 124 Spider nameplate last year, the company chose a partner known for making great modern roadsters: Mazda. Indeed, much of the 124 Spider's underlying structure comes courtesy of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. But the 124 is more than just a Mazda MX-5 in a costume. Fiat uses its own engine, transmission and suspension tuning, which in turn give the 124 Spider a distinct character all its own.
Like the Miata, the 124's diminutive figure is both part of its appeal and the cause of many of its shortcomings. Similarly, the small, turbocharged engine is likewise a distinctive trait with its own appeals and pitfalls: It's punchy and eager high in the rev range, but it's distinctly underpowered at low to medium rpm.
The Lusso and Classica express these traits very differently from the hot Abarth. The former two are softer, and in some ways more relaxed, while the latter pairs exceptional handling with a ride that borders on harsh. Knowing what you want from the 124 Spider is important in choosing the right trim.
Other convertibles on the market ask for far fewer compromises. The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro convertibles offer more interior space, more usable trunks and back seats (small as they are), and they are available with significantly more power. The Mini Cooper convertible presents small-car aesthetics and is easier to drive while asking for fewer sacrifices than the 124. Buyers looking at the Abarth might consider the Toyota 86 and Ford Fiesta ST for driving enjoyment. Then there's the Mazda Miata, which has been the best distillation of the small-roadster ethos for almost 30 years.
None of these competitors, however, offer quite the same experience as the Fiat — especially the Abarth. The right buyer, one who knows what they're in for, might decide that there's simply no substitute for the 124.
For 2018, the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth gets minor updates to its options packages.
The Abarth is truly the standout of the 124 lineup (especially with the optional Brembo brakes), dramatically improving handling for a moderate price increase over the midtier Lusso. However, for buyers who aren't interested in canyon carving or who prefer a slightly more forgiving ride, the Classica trim with the Technology Collection package should cover most of the bases, and the extra tire sidewall on the smaller wheels will help with ride quality. In either case, we highly recommend the manual transmission since the automatic is frustratingly ill-matched to the small engine.
The 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 164 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Power goes to the rear wheels through either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, cruise control, a manual tilt-adjustable steering wheel, a performance-tuned suspension, a limited-slip differential, selectable drive modes, automatic climate control, leather and microfiber-trimmed seats, a 7-inch screen, a rearview camera, voice controls, streaming music app integration, satellite radio, GPS capability (GPS navigation is a separate dealer add-on), and a four-speaker stereo system with a 3-inch display screen and two USB ports.
The Comfort and Convenience Group includes heated auto-dimming mirrors, rear parking sensors, a security alarm, universal garage door opener, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Opting for the Navigation and Sound Group adds navigation and a nine-speaker Bose stereo system. The Visibility Group adds turn-adaptive LED headlights and headlight washers.
Brembo brakes and a hand-painted racing stripe are exclusive options for the Abarth.
Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (turbo 1.4L inline-4 | 6-speed manual | RWD).
NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the current 124 Spider Abarth has received some revisions to the distribution of options in its packages. Our findings remain applicable to this year's 124 Spider Abarth.
This convertible is a delight on winding roads, where its small size and light weight come together with excellent handling, an easy-shifting gearbox and communicative steering to make for a distinctive driving experience. The small engine is less thrilling in day-to-day driving, however.
The tiny motor is lively and feels strong high in the rev range, but doesn't make much power down low. You'll be caught flat-footed if you're not paying attention. In Sport mode the throttle response is delightfully sharp. Our 7-second time to 60 mph shows it's acceptably quick but no muscle car.
The optional Brembo brakes are worth it for their feel alone. The pedal is firm and communicative; the braking force is easy to modulate. Hard stops bring on ABS early, but the car stays straight and stable. Our measured 111-foot panic-stop distance from 60 mph is unexceptional for a sports car.
The steering is quick and very precise and offers useful road feel. Weighting is lighter than many sports cars, but good for something so small and maneuverable. On the downside, the Abarth gets darty at freeway speeds.
This is a poised little car that's a blast to put through twists and turns. It stays flat, taking a set almost immediately and changes directions without hesitation. Traction control isn't intrusive, and with it turned off, the car is communicative about its limits and recovers smartly.
The manual transmission's shifter is light and accurate. Pedal placement and clutch feel are good, with clear engagement that makes smooth shifts easy. Unfortunately, the small engine bogs down readily, so quick starts can be difficult to manage smoothly.
Comfort isn't the 124 Abarth's strength. The cramped confines and tight seats won't fit everyone, the cabin is noisy with the top up, and the ride is tuned for handling, not comfort. Fortunately the climate control is up to the task of regulating the 124's interior, even on hot days.
These seats are quite narrow. For larger drivers, the bolsters are prominent enough to be uncomfortable, but they're not big enough to effectively hold you in place. There's no lumbar support to speak of, and the headrests with integrated speakers are uncomfortably hard.
The Abarth's handling comes at the cost of compliance; the ride borders on harsh. It's more forgiving than the ride some high-performance cars, but expect to feel every imperfection and be jarred by larger bumps. Stretches of uneven freeway can start to feel like an endurance test.
Noise & vibration6.0
Wind noise with the top down is well-controlled below 50 mph. With the top up, engine noise is almost always intrusive. It's fun during spirited driving, but it never goes away. There's engine drone at freeway speeds, but at least it helps mask the high level of wind and tire noise.
The knob controls are straightforward, and make switching between automatic and manual modes easy, though temperature selection isn't really graduated. The system can combat even high heat but works hard to do it. Having only three vents can add frustration to driving with a passenger on hot days.
Some buyers will value the 124's diminutive stature, but there's no getting around the fact that being such a small car forces compromises in seat adjustability and ingress/egress. Being a convertible, it also has some visibility issues, but the manual top is exceptionally easy to use.
Ease of use7.5
This car's small size brings all of the controls within easy reach. Drivers with long arms will find the infotainment control knob's placement awkward, especially when drinks are in the removable cupholders. Its few controls are clearly marked and easy to understand.
Getting in/getting out6.5
The door is long enough, but the tall, wide sill and low roof with the top up create some problems. Taller drivers and passengers will just about fold themselves in half to get in or out. The experience is about average for such a low-slung convertible sports car.
The seatback must be upright for the seat to slide fully aft, so tall drivers must choose between legroom or reclining. Beyond that frustration, the driving position is appropriate, with the seat set low in the car. More adjustments might be nice, but there's no room for them in the cramped space.
The 124 is tiny, and it feels tiny on the inside. Not much lateral leg space or elbow and shoulder room. The low and thick windscreen frame adds to the claustrophobic feeling, even with the top down. The transmission tunnel takes up passenger-side floor space, making for a cramped experience.
Forward visibility is good, and rearview mirror visibility is better than average for this type of car thanks to the low, sloping rear deck. Rear three-quarter visibility is laughably bad with the top up, and the side mirrors are quite small, so blind-spot monitoring is a helpful extra.
There's a mishmash of Mazda and Fiat bits in the cabin, so it doesn't feel all that cohesive. The sense of quality is a bit hit-or-miss: Soft-touch surfaces mix with flimsy-feeling plastics, and some pieces (notably in our tester, the rearview mirror) felt looser than we'd like.
The manual top is easy and straightforward to operate. It can be opened and closed very quickly, and it requires only mild contortions to reach. Sound insulation is minimal. Taller drivers should exercise caution; if they lean too far outboard, they'll find their skulls in the path of the frame.
You can't expect much utility from a tiny, two-seat convertible, and the 124 certainly doesn't deliver much. A weekend trip for two is about the most this car can handle. Other convertibles might offer more practicality, but that typically comes at the cost of size, weight and nimbleness.
The tiny armrest box is just enough for a wallet and keys, and there's a cubby for a phone in the center console. The "glovebox" behind and between the seats, while big enough for a purse, is difficult to access, and it's blocked if you're keeping something in the removable cupholders.
The trunk is minuscule, with a small opening that's flat in the rear deck. Fortunately, the car is low to the ground, which keeps the liftover height from feeling overly problematic. Two soft overnight bags will fit, but don't plan on packing for much more than a weekend.
The 124's infotainment system — borrowed from Mazda — is an easy-to-use unit with a good knob-based interface. It offers the features you expect, with the biggest omission being Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Driver aids are optional, and there are only a few.
Audio & navigation7.0
Navigation is easy to use, although it's not the easiest system to navigate points of interest with. Audio quality is middling, and the system has to be turned up quite a bit to compete with all the background noise. The tinny in-headrest speakers feel more like a gimmick than a necessary addition.
Bluetooth is easy to connect and works well, including displaying incoming messages — although it will only recognize one message and one email app, at least with an Android phone. There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but two USB ports mean passenger and driver can each charge a device.
Optional blind-spot monitoring is a welcome addition with the small side mirrors, as is rear cross-traffic alert thanks to poor top-up visibility. The rearview camera makes it easy to take advantage of the 124's small size in tight spaces.
The Mazda-sourced system does a reasonable job of interpreting commands, and offers prompts to help you along. It's capable of entering navigation destinations and finding points of interest. Still, only a limited set of functions is available, and there's no Google or Siri compatibility.
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.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.