The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is about to hit showrooms this summer, giving sports car enthusiasts another option in the top-down market.
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The 124 was engineered in conjunction with Mazda, which essentially means it borrows heavily from the MX-5 Miata. It rides on the same chassis, has the same basic structure and the interior is almost identical. It’s even going to be built by Mazda in Hiroshima, Japan, on the same assembly line as the Miata.
So what’s so different about the 124, and why should anyone buy one over a Miata? Let’s take a deep dive and find out.
The 124 was designed at Centro Stile in Turn, Italy, and the goal was to capture the essence of the original 124 in a modern vehicle.
Up front, the 124 has recessed headlights that look similar to the classic roadster but are modern, LED headlights. The hexagonal, honeycomb grille is another nod to the past. On the hood, two raised areas that Fiat calls “power domes” are taken from the second-generation 124 of old.
When viewed from the side, the 124 looks the most Miata-like. The character lines are a little different, but it’s easy to see Mazda’s KODO design lurking beneath the surface. Out back, though, Fiat designers gave it a more 124-like appearance, with an integrated spoiler, horizontal lamps and a center-mounted license plate holder.
Looking at a 124 and Miata side-by-side, it’s obvious that they are related. They have the same stance, but it’s also obvious that none of the bits from one will fit on the other. Fiat did a commendable job of differentiating the Spider from its donor car. They did more than just pour Marinara sauce on sushi.
Inside, however, the 124 is mostly Mazda. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – Mazda has some of the best interiors in the business, thanks in no small part from being heavily “inspired” by Mercedes-Benz. Fiat touts Italian craftsmanship, but unless they’ve filled the Hiroshima plant with Italian workers, the 124 is decidedly Japanese inside.
The seats are different than a Miata’s, with more European design and feel. The top bezel for the instrument cluster is also lumpier than in a Miata. Otherwise, expect the 124 to feel very much the same. It’s very similar to being in a Scion iA – put your hand over the Scion badge (or the Fiat badge in the 124’s case) and you just know you’re in a Mazda.
The biggest difference between the Miata and the 124 is what’s under the hood. Gone is the Miata’s 2.0-liter, naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. In its place is the same engine from the Fiat 500 Abarth – a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder making 164 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque.
This is significantly more than the Miata’s 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, but the 124 is heavier. The MultiAir turbo engine is heavier, and the 124 also uses the previous-generation Miata manual transmission, which is heavier than the current generation’s tranny. So performance-wise, both cars should be very similar.
Interestingly, both cars are recommended to use 91-octane gas, so neither one has an advantage there. Fuel economy for the 124 is 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined for the manual and 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined for the six-speed automatic. Mazda rates the Miata at 27 city for both manual and auto, with the auto beating the manual on the highway, 36 to 34 mpg.
Suspension is also the same as a Miata, with a double-wishbone front suspension and multilink in the rear.
Pricing and trim levels
The 124 is available in three trim levels – Classica, Lusso and Abarth. The base-model Classica starts at $25,990 with destination for a manual and $27,340 for an automatic.
The Classica is the most basic model, with a black-painted rollbar, cloth seats and 16-inch wheels and tires. Color options, taking away the fancy Italian names, are basically red, white, black, gray, darker gray, and bronze.
The Lusso model adds some upscale features like the silver-painted A-pillar and rollbar, 17-inch wheels, leather seats, leatherette (a.k.a. fake leather) on the instrument binnacle and lower instrument panel and piano-black accents. One more color is also available, crystal while pearl. For these extras, the Lusso costs $28,490 for a manual and $29,840 for an automatic, including destination.
The Abarth model, which unlike the 500 doesn’t come with any power bump, comes with an upgraded Bilstein suspension with firmer settings, a limited-slip differential, front strut tower bar, quad-tipped exhaust and a sport mode selector. The Abarth has special gun-metal gray 17-inch wheels and gun-metal accents, including an available hand-painted hood stripe. Color choices are limited to white, red, black, gray and crystal white. The cost of the Abarth model is $29,190 for a manual and $30,540 for an automatic, including destination.
Fiat is also offering a limited-edition launch model called the Prima Edizione Lusso. It’s the only one available in blue and comes with leather saddle-colored seats. Each one will be individually numbered, and owners get niceties like a matching blue leather bag, journal with pen, and poster. The special edition 124 costs $35,995 with destination.
So why would anyone buy a 124 over a Miata? A lot of it comes down to taste. The 124 looks very much like a Miata designed by Italians, which is a good thing, especially for those who like Italian style over Japanese style.
Pricing is about the same, as is fuel economy. The fact that the 124 is made in Japan by Mazda should assuage any fears over Italian craftsmanship (fix it again Tony, indeed). The MultiAir engine is still made in Italy and shipped to Japan for assembly, but otherwise the 124 should benefit from its Japanese builders.
It’s that engine, along with the styling, that will determine if the buyer chooses the Miata or the 124. The cars are so similar, that it will largely come down to preference of styling and turbo vs. naturally-aspirated.
In the end, though, it’s the car enthusiast who wins, as there is another viable option in the sports car market. That is reason enough to applaud Fiat for creating the 124 in the first place.
TFLcar’s Roman Mica had a chance to drive the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider next to some of its competition, including the Miata. Check out the full video below: