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- Highs Quieter inside, nicer interior, and slightly more trunk space than the Miata on which it's based.
- Lows Doesn't drive as purely as does its Miata counterpart, laggy turbo engine.
- Verdict A slightly less focused and more refined Miata.
Any discussion of the two-seat Fiat 124 Spider convertible—a revival of the 124 nameplate from the 1960s and 70s—turns inevitably to comparing and contrasting it with the Mazda MX-5 Miata on which it's based. The 124 sets itself apart with styling cues plucked from the original version, making for a substantially different exterior appearance than the Miata. From behind the wheel, the Fiat is a more relaxed take on the Mazda, with a welcome reduction in interior noise due to extra sound-deadening measures, higher-quality materials inside, a more powerful turbo engine, and slightly more trunk space. However, the engine lacks responsiveness, and despite the extra power, is actually slower than the Miata. And make sure you fit, because, like the Miata, the 124's cabin is quite compact. Overall, it's a very good small roadster that lives in the shadow of the even better Miata.
What’s New for 2020?
Nothing aside from a new side-stripe and hood-decal package available on Abarth models that highlights the scorpion featured on its logo.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
Usually when it comes to selecting a manual-transmission, rear-drive roadster we'd be tempted to gravitate to the sportiest model; in the 124's case, that is the Abarth with its optional rorty exhaust and upgraded brakes, along with Abarth-specific suspension tuning and a limited-slip differential. But if you're looking for a pure-driving roadster, the Miata is an even better choice. In this case, we'd stick with the most affordable version, the Classica; since the 124 Spider is about the simple joy of piloting a wind-in-your-hair roadster, why pay more for extra features that don't add to that experience?
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Engine, Transmission, and Performance
All 124 Spider models come with a turbocharged four-cylinder making 160 horsepower in Classica and Lusso models and 164 horsepower in the Abarth. It can be fun trying to keep the 124's engine on boil by constantly working the buttery six-speed manual (a six-speed automatic is optional), but the nonlinear power delivery makes the task tricky. At least when kept in the middle of the range, the Fiat engine amuses with solid punch and a brassy exhaust note. At low engine speeds, the 1.4-liter has little to give, and its gusto wears off well before the tach needle hits redline.
Where the Toyota 86 and the MX-5 Miata are autocross and track-day darlings, the softer-handling Fiat is the small roadster to buy if you prioritize sunny-day cruises over track events. The stiffer-sprung Abarth model is more of an eager little scamp, and every 124 benefits from quick, feedback-rich steering and good body control when the road deviates from the straight and narrow. The 124 Spider rides decently for a small, flyweight roadster.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Seeing as it's lightweight and small—and powered by a tiny engine—it's no surprise that the Fiat earns sparkling fuel-economy estimates on the EPA's test cycle. In our real-world highway fuel-economy test, the 124 Spider with the manual transmission bested its highway EPA rating of 35 mpg with a 39-mpg result.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Base-model 124 Spiders have manual climate controls, while Lusso and Abarth models gain automatic climate control and heated seats, but don't expect many other luxuries. Cabin space is tight, especially for drivers and passengers measuring more than six feet tall. The top, when raised, arcs tightly over the cabin, and the small rear window contributes to the interior's confining nature. At least when the soft top is folded behind the seats, as it should be as often as possible—remember, this is a roadster!—the sky's the limit on headroom.
If you were holding out hope that the 124 Spider might swallow cargo better than it gulps two people, dash that optimism here and now. The Spider has a small trunk and barely any cabin storage for phones, knickknacks, and the like. We fit just one carry-on suitcase inside the Fiat's trunk.
Infotainment and Connectivity
All 124 Spiders ship with a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Users can also operate the touchscreen via a center-console knob and its shares the infotainment software with the Miata. The setup is straightforward and benefits from shortcut buttons for audio, navigation, and home menus placed around the control knob. Bluetooth, an auxiliary audio input, and redundant steering-wheel audio and phone controls are standard, but the rest of the technology is rudimentary. Smartphone connectivity platforms such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't offered.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested a 124 Spider, and driver-assistance features are extremely limited. Key safety features include:
- Available blind-spot monitoring
- Available rear cross-traffic alert
- Available rear parking sensors
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Perhaps in an effort to dispel buyers' preconceived notions about the Fiat brand's checkered past when it comes to reliability, the 124 Spider comes with a better limited warranty and longer-term roadside assistance than the Miata.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance