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2017 FIAT 124 Spider: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2017

The 2017 FIAT 124 Spider is the Super Mario of cars. It may look Italian and have an Italian name, but in actuality it was created in Japan. You see, if this FIAT looks a bit familiar, that's because it's a Mazda MX-5 Miata under the skin. But is there more here than just some different badges?

Well, for the most part, FIAT kept what makes the Miata one of the best sports cars money can buy intact, while modifying just enough to alter its character and give you an actual choice to make between the two. That modification includes new styling exclusive to FIAT -- the proportions are quite clearly shared, but the body work is also quite clearly unique. The interior is a virtual carbon copy, but given Mazda's strong cabin quality and design, that's no bad thing.

The other crucial difference lies under the hood, where FIAT supplies its 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which produces a bit more power and considerably more torque than the Miata's naturally aspirated 4-cylinder. The FIAT engine isn't as responsive, but its stronger low-end power gives it a different driving character that'll appeal to many. The sportier Abarth trim level adds a snarling exhaust to the mix that the Miata can't match.

So what you have here is an Italian-flavored Miata. Is it better than the original? Probably not, but its differences are substantial enough that you have more to consider than just which dealer will give you a better price. Plus, unlike Italian sports cars of the past, this one comes with the reassurance of made-in-Japan reliability and a lengthy warranty that actually outdoes that of its Mazda sibling.

 What's New for 2017?

The FIAT 124 Spider is a new model.

 What We Like

Fun and easy to drive; one-handed top operation; superior manual transmission; Mazda reliability but with a longer warranty; punchy turbo engine; snarling Abarth exhaust

 What We Don't

Cramped interior, especially for the passenger; small trunk; dash-mounted screen washes out in sunlight.

 How Much?

$25,000-$28,200

 Fuel Economy

Every 124 Spider comes with a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, but the output differs slightly by trim level. The Classica and Lusso trim levels produce 160 horsepower, while the Abarth is good for 164 hp. All produce 184 lb-ft of torque.

Fuel economy with the standard 6-speed manual transmission is 26 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in combined driving. With the optional 6-speed automatic transmission, it returns 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined.

 Standard Features & Options

There are three trim levels available: the Classica, Lusso and Abarth. Standard equipment on the Classica includes 16-inch wheels, push-button start, cruise control, air conditioning, driver's-seat adjustable under-thigh support, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and a 4-speaker sound system with a traditional radio interface sourced from Mazda. The Technology Collection adds keyless/passive entry, a rearview camera and Mazda's 7-in infotainment display (which includes a console-mounted controller).

The Lusso includes the Technology Collection items plus 17-in wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights, automatic wipers, automatic climate control, leather upholstery and heated seats. The Premium Collection adds adaptive LED headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, a navigation system integrated into the standard 7-in display, satellite radio and a 9-speaker Bose audio system.

The Abarth gets a bit more power, a sport-tuned suspension, quad tailpipes, a strut tower brace for improved handling, a Sport driving mode, special styling, sport seats upholstered in a leather/microfiber mix, and a sport steering wheel. Upgraded Brembo performance brakes can be added to the Abarth. Its Luxury Collection is identical to the Lusso's Premium Collection, but it does add full leather seating. Alcantara faux suede upholstery can supplant that leather as an option.

Both trims can equipped with the Safety and Comfort Collection, which includes just the auto-dimming mirrors, parking sensors, and blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems.

 Safety

Every 2017 Fiat 124 Spider comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and front and side airbags. A rearview camera, parking sensors, and blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems are optional.

The 124 Spider has not been crash-tested by a third party. Neither has the MX-5 Miata.

 Behind the Wheel

So much about what makes the Mazda MX-5 such a wonderful car to drive carries over to the 124 Spider -- FIAT knew where to leave well enough alone. The sensational, feelsome steering that transmits every nuance of the road to your hands. The snick-snick manual transmission that's easy on newbies and rewarding to veterans. The lightweight, rear-wheel-drive setup that encourages you to fling it about, whether on a mountain road or zipping through town.

Yet there are key differences. The most obvious is under the hood. The Miata's free-revving naturally aspirated 4-cylinder is replaced by FIAT's small, turbocharged 4-cylinder. This engine is a little less zingy on the top end of its rev range and can't quite match the Miata's superlative throttle response, but the turbo's greater amount of power and torque pushes you into your seat with enough extra punch that it'll feel a bit quicker. The Abarth's louder quad exhaust adds a little extra spice to the proceedings as well. The 124 also has subtle suspension differences that make it a bit more comfortable than the Miata (less so with the Abarth) as well as more controllable at the limit (with all 124s).

Inside, the 124 is virtually identical to the MX-5 apart from the badge on the wheel and the seat upholstery (leather is more widely available in the FIAT). That's a great thing, since quality is excellent, although Mazda's tech interface is less user-friendly than FIAT-Chrysler's touchscreens. There's also no getting around how tiny the cabin is. A 6-footer can technically fit comfortably in the driver's seat, but the passenger footwell is smaller than the driver's and space is therefore poor for most. There's also very little space around the driver, with the windshield and rear window closer to you than in any other car. With the roof up, it's claustrophobic. Luckily, however, lowering the roof requires you to only undo a latch, flip the roof back and tap it into its locked position behind you. Putting it back up is almost as easy and can be done with minimal effort while inside.

 Other Cars to Consider

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata -- It's about 85 percent the exact same car, but with a different engine, different styling and less warranty coverage. It's also available in the RF body style not available on the 124 Spider.

2017 Toyota 86 -- It's not a convertible, but the 86 and its Subaru BRZ twin are the closest thing you'll get to the 124's lightweight, rear-wheel-drive setup.

Used Porsche Boxster -- Its higher price will mean you'll likely need to look at used versions, but that's okay, as the Boxster has been one of the funnest and most rewarding cars on the market for decades. Porsche also has an excellent certified pre-owned car program.

 Autotrader's Advice

How much are you planning to drive your 124 Spider? If you're just looking for a cost-effective weekend toy, there's little reason to spend extra for the niceties included on the upper trim levels. The Classica is far from basic and you'll get virtually the same joyful driving experience. Otherwise, if you're okay with paying a bit more, go for the Abarth. It looks and sounds cooler, and when we're talking about sports cars, that counts for a lot.

Find a FIAT 124 Spider for sale

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 FIAT 124 Spider: New Car Review - Autotrader