Twins are either identical or fraternal, but the 2019 Fiat 124 Spider and 2019 Mazda Miata fall somewhere in between identical and fraternal. Identical twins come from the same egg and look at least somewhat alike. In the case of the Fiat Spider and Miata, they basically come from the same egg, but bear little outward resemblance to one another. This may be more biology than you want in a car review, but it explains what is going on here fairly well.
These two cars share most of their physiology. That is, they operate and function similarly, but each has a unique soul. In the Fiat Spider you get a healthy dollop of Italian attitude, but at its core, the Spider is a Miata. We think this is a good thing. The Miata is, without a doubt, one of the best sports cars out there. For the most part, the cockpit is shared; but the Spider gets a Fiat-sourced 1.4-liter turbo engine in place of the Miata’s normally aspirated 4-banger. It gets a livelier exhaust, as well. Overall, these cars have noticeably different driving characters.
So is this Italian-flavored Miata better than the real thing? We’d say no, 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 2019?
Rear backup camera and Fiat Connect with 7-inch touchscreen now standard across the board. A reconfigured Technology Group features satellite radio and remote proximity entry. There’s a new Ceramic Gray exterior color. New options include a more throaty exhaust and appearance package for Abarth, as well as new stripe-design options for Classica.
What We Like
Fun and easy to drive; 1-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
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. Prices include the $1,295 factory delivery fee.
Standard equipment on the Classica ($26,290) includes 16-in wheels, cruise control, air conditioning, driver’s-seat adjustable under-thigh support, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, Bluetooth, Fiat Connect 7.0 with a 7-in touchscreen, a backup camera and a 4-speaker sound system with a traditional radio interface sourced from Mazda. The Technology and SiriusXM Group adds proximity entry and satellite radio.
The Lusso ($28,890) includes the Technology Collection items plus 17-in wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights, automatic wipers, automatic climate control and heated leather seats.
The Abarth ($29,590) gets a bit more power, a sport-tuned suspension, a quad-tip exhaust, a limited-slip differential, 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.
The Lusso and Abarth are eligible for a number of optional packages. The Navigation and Sound Group adds integrated navigation and a 9-speaker Bose sound system. The Comfort and Convenience Group adds rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning systems, a security alarm, heated mirrors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Visibility Group adds adaptive LED headlamps with washers and auto leveling. The Lusso’s Red Top Edition includes a red cloth roof and the contents of the Visibility Group and the Navigation and Sound Group.
Every 2018 Fiat 124 Spider comes standard with a backup camera, antilock brakes, traction and stability control and front and side airbags. Optional content on Lusso and Abarth includes parking sensors, blind spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic warning system.
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 Miata such a wonderful car to drive carries over to the 124 Spider. Fiat knew where to leave well enough alone. The sensational, feelsome steering transmits every nuance of the road to your hands. The snick-snick manual transmission is easy on newbies and rewarding to veterans. The lightweight, rear-wheel-drive setup 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
2019 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. You may or may not like it better.
2019 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 most fun and rewarding cars on the market for decades. Porsche also has an excellent certified pre-owned car program.
How much are you planning to drive your 2019 Fiat 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.